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.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Whole Foods rooftop patios

Years ago I wrote about the Whole Foods flagship store in its headquarters city of Austin, Texas, which has a patio, garden, and playground on the second floor. 

From that point forward, the company has developed more inside spaces that function more like restaurants and taverns, although for the most part, these spaces are within the standard footprint of the store.  For example, the new Whole Foods on H Street NE has a tavern on its mezzanine level.

The Roof, Brooklyn Whole Foods.  Photo credit: DNAinfo/Nikhita Venugopal.

A new Whole Foods store in Exton, Pennsylvania (outside of Philadelphia) will have a roof top patio with food and drink service. 

It turns out that they already have such a facility in Brooklyn, called "The Roof," which can even be rented out for special events.

Since 2010, Eataly has a rooftop restaurant called Birreria, with special beers produced on site by Dogfish Brewery.

It would be cool, in the various buildings that have supermarkets on the ground floor, to think about how they might be able to deliver rooftop restaurants as part of mixed use developments, activation, and destination retail.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday

-- MLK Day, National Day of Service, Corporation for National and Community Service
-- "National parks free to all on Martin Luther King Jr. Day," ABC News

Is an opportunity for reflection on the rise of white nationalism and its support from segments of the Republican Party and President Trump.

-- "Why Donald Trump said 'shithole countries': He was playing to his racist supporters. Afterward, conservative pundits tried to defend him," Joan Walsh, The Nation

From the article:
Let’s look at what really distinguishes Norway from Haiti. Norway is a social-democratic country with a high tax base, one that invests in its people, providing health care, college education, and childcare. It has also made a remarkable commitment to gender equity. The reason we don’t have a lot of Norwegians clamoring to live here is that it would, for most of them, likely represent downward mobility. Haiti, meanwhile, is a failed experiment in colonialism, capitalist brutality and, yes, racism. The tiny island country has never recovered from the global punishment imposed by slave-holding, colonial powers after a slave revolt made it a free if impoverished nation more than 200 years ago. The mentality that chooses to compare the essential worth of the residents of the two nations, rather than the conditions that prevail in them, is just a high-falutin’ variation of racism. ...

Meanwhile, it must be said: Trump is working hard to turn the United States into a shithole country—one that is run by a corrupt kleptocracy, that funnels money to a comparative handful of ruling families and impoverishes the rest of us. One that imposes work requirements on Medicaid recipients. One that imposes tax cuts for the wealthy and refuses to provide medical care to children. If Trumpism succeeds, Norway might have to make room for refugees from another shithole country. What a global embarrassment this is.
2. Jerry Large, columnist for the Seattle Times, has a column ("Martin Luther King Jr. predicted backlash against economic and racial progress") discussing the forthcoming book “To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice,” (W.W. Norton, April 2018). From the article:
King aimed for a deep transformation of America, not just the sweet vision of children holding hands that is so often celebrated on his birthday. We need to understand more about that if we are going to get back on a road to what he called “the beloved community,” in which all people would be valued and treated with dignity.

Michael K. Honey has spent decades studying King and writing about him, and he is determined that more people understand King the way historians do.

Civil rights for all Americans was just the beginning of what King sought, Honey said. King wanted to eliminate poverty, assure everyone could have good health care, education and housing, and turn the country away from war. ...

Since King’s death, we’ve seen voting rights under attack in many states. We’ve seen the tremendous progress that civil-rights laws made possible stalled in the decades after. Affirmative-action efforts have been pared down, schools resegregated, and economic inequality is increasing.
3. Jon Talton, business columnist for the ST also took the opportunity to write about Dr. King ("King on capitalism: The uncomfortable MLK).
... people of color still face significant disparities in the economy and society. For example, December’s jobless rate of 6.8 percent for African-Americans compared with 3.7 percent for whites and 5.1 percent for Hispanics. Minorities are segregated in poorly funded schools, too, an impediment for future achievement.

Which brings us to the uncomfortable MLK, the one you’ll hear little about as we mark the holiday. Although King believed — like Frederick Douglass in the 1860s — that the vote was essential to minority empowerment, he increasingly focused on economics and inequality toward the end of his too-short life. ...

When he was assassinated, King was planning a Poor People’s March on Washington. He advocated a universal basic income that would raise everyone — poor minority, poor white — to middle-class level. And remember, this was the late 1960s, when the (mostly white) American middle class was at its high point, and the rich were taxed at 70 percent. Yet he said:

“We have come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market operation of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. The poor are less often dismissed from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent.”

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A very basic (and excellent) ad promoting bus transit by GRTC/Richmond, Virginia


I have written a lot about:

-- the graphic design of bus liveries
-- how transit agencies like the Port Authority in Pittsburgh use their buses as rolling billboards to promote transit; and
-- exemplary examples of transit promotion in advertising

but the idea of being so very direct in the way that the GRTC is in Richmond escaped me--an attractive ad on the side of a bus communicating how many people ride/use the transit system each day.

In a city like Washington, the daily ridership is much higher 500,000 people or more, even if ridership is dropping, and many lines have between 10,000 and 25,000 riders per day.

Obviously, most people don't have this kind of information, aren't aware of it, etc. For example, how 300 bus runs/day carry upwards of 40% of the total person throughput on a main arterial like H Street NE -- 300 bus runs over 23 hours compared to 20,000 to 25,000 motor vehicle trips.

So this kind of advertising on a bus makes a lot of sense and there is a lot of opportunity for transit agencies in developing marketing campaigns along these lines.

I can also see doing this by line, so that there would be ads on the 16th Street bus lines saying, this line carries 25,000 riders each day and compare it to motor vehicle traffic on the same road, etc.


Better understanding of how to benefit from sports tourism

The Boston Globe has an article, "Tourism and sports win big by teaming up," extolling the value of sports-related tourism, such as the creation of halls of fame, the under construction Olympics Museum in Colorado Springs ("U.S. Olympic Museum breaks ground in Colorado Springs," Denver Post), and people who go on "pilgrimages" visiting every baseball stadium in the US, etc.

The story didn't mention any sports tourism failures, such as the NASCAR Hall of Fame ("Nascar Hall of Fame Leaves Charlotte Home With Bank Debt"," Bloomberg).  And the difference between focusing on the sports industry, such as how Indianapolis has made attracting association headquarters a key economic development initiative ("(i) on Economic Development: Indy Doubles Down on Sports," Inside Indiana Business), how Oklahoma City is developing a focus in white water sports ("Oklahoma City's RiverSport Rapids, 'revitalized Oklahoma River," Daily Oklahoman), Colorado Springs being the headquarters of the US Olympic Committee, how increasingly the value of football bowls is as television programming, not as an augur of economic activity in the place where the game is played ("How college football bowl game system mixes socialism, capitalism," USA Today), or the lack of much economic return from supporting training camps for professional football teams ("Redskins camp is a bad deal for the RVA," Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Separately, the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot is covering the plan to construct a new "sports tourism" oriented field house in Virginia Beach, one specifically built to attract tournaments and other events generating hotel rooming nights, rather than a facility designed to meet the needs of area residents ("Virginia Beach selects firms to build and operate a new field house at the Oceanfront").

This coverage reminds me of the failure of many communities to replicate "the Bilbao Effect" ("Why can't the Bilbao Effect be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning").

Like with the success of Bilbao's broader economic redevelopment agenda as well as the related insight that arts museums tend to be better at generating high attendance than other museum forms, the success or failure of "sports tourism" is more complicated, and ephemeral events such as the Olympics ("Big sporting events (World Cup/Olympics), economic development and trickle down economics" and "More thinking on "return on investment" from different types of sports facilities and DC, and an Olympics in DC") or annual events like the Super Bowl or All-Star Game rarely have the kind of immediate economic impact that is touted ("Economics of the Super Bowl and other big sports events") because these events stoke very narrow segments of the local economy -- food and beverage, some labor associated with hotels, and some limited transportation.

Certain types of events and activities are likely to have great positive impact, other types are not, and it is important to develop a framework to distinguish between the various types, comparable to the framework I have been developing concerning sports arenas and stadiums -- it's not that I think public funding is a good idea, I don't, but recognizing that the likelihood of successfully warding off public funding in most cases is remote, let's figure out how to best capitalize on the spending, to reap the greatest possible amount of benefit.

For arenas and stadiums, I came up with this framework:

Characteristics that support successful ancillary development associated with professional sports facilities: 
  • isolation or connection: how well is the facility integrated into the urban fabric beyond the stadium site and does it leverage, build upon, and extend the location and the community around it;
  • size of the facility (baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer), bigger stadiums--football stadiums specifically--are harder to integrate in the urban fabric;
  • frequency of events held by the primary tenant--baseball has 82 home games/year, football about 10 including pre-season, basketball and hockey have 41, soccer about 17--so football stadiums are very rarely used (according to the Chicago Sun-Times article "Emanuel mulling 5,000-seat expansion to Soldier Field," the facility holds about 22 events including annually, 12 non-football events);
  • how many teams use the facility, maximizing use and utility of the building--for example, Verizon Center in DC is used by professional men's and women's basketball, hockey, and one college basketball team for more than 100 sports events each year;
  • are events scheduled in a manner that facilitates attendee patronage of off-site businesses--a business isn't an anchor if it aims to not share its customers; the earlier events are scheduled, the harder it is to patronize retailers and restaurants located off-site, at night during the week, there is limited post-game spending as well, on the weekends it's a different story with more opportunity to patronize off-site establishments--teams manipulate scheduling to reduce spending outside of their on-site and 100% controlled facilities;
  • use of the facility for non-game events drawing additional patrons--such as concerts and other types of programming; and
  • how people travel to events: automobiles vs. transit--if automobiles are the primary way people get to events, then large amounts of parking usually in surface lots needs to be provided, making it difficult to foster ancillary development because of lack of land and poor quality of the visual environment, whereas if transit is the primary mode, then more land around a facility can be developed in ways that leverage the proximity of the arena. 
which is discussed specifically in this 2014 entry, "An arena subsidy project I'd probably favor: Sacramento," and is based in part on the arguments laid out in this 2012 piece, "Hampton Roads-Virginia Beach Kings professional basketball team."

Past entries that complement this listing include "Stadiums and economic effects," "Sports stadiums (and arenas) and local economic development and a DC soccer stadium," and "Stadiums and arenas as the enabling infrastructure for "money-making" platforms ."

WRT other sports tourism elements, more criteria need to be added to the above list, and a more honest evaluation of the economic impact on food, beverage, lodging, transportation, and other retail.

Like with Indianapolis, and note that Richmond's SportsBackers initiative is similar ("Case study in created events: Richmond's Sports Backers," Sports Planning Guide), a wide ranging plan specific to sports on the scale of what I call a "Transformational Projects Action Plan" is likely to be more successful than various one-off ventures.

... who knew that there is Sports Destination Magazine?

Note that wrt local-regional museums and exhibits on local sports, the Heinz Center in Pittsburgh does a particularly good job with its Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.  The failure of the Sports Legends Museum in Baltimore ("Sports Legends Museum closes its doors," Baltimore Sun) likely demonstrates that stand alone regional museums dedicated to local sports are less likely to be successful than those programs which are part of larger museums.

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Making lemonade out of lemons wrt Hawaii's false ballistic missile emergency warning

In the 1950s and 1960s, the US had a very active program for promoting "civil defense" and creating a system of shelters in urban areas to help the nation respond to the threat of nuclear war.  "Robert Blakeley, Who Created a Sign of the Cold War, Dies at 95," New York Times.

In recent coverage of the ability of citizens to deal with an earthquake in Mexico, much was made of the fact that Mexico City held their annual earthquake emergency drill just two hours before ("Hours after an earthquake drill in Mexico City, the real thing struck," CNN), so that people were well prepared to deal with an actual earthquake. From the article:
Each year on September 19, cities across Mexico stage emergency disaster simulations and evacuations that bring people out in droves. The drill falls on the anniversary of an 8.0-magnitude earthquake that shook Mexico's capital in 1985, burying nearly 10,000 people amid its rubble.

The annual drill began in Mexico City around 11 a.m. on Tuesday, just like it does every year. The alert went out over radio, television, phones and public loud speakers. People left homes, offices and shops and headed to designated safe areas promoted days ahead of time. ...

The irony of the situation was apparent to Mexicans, for whom the drills are a way of life, even a minor annoyance. Many noted the contrast between the orderly, almost mundane quality of some drills and the chaos of real life.
Hawaii nuclear missile warning. While there is no question that Hawaiians had to be terrified ("'This Is Not A Drill': A False Ballistic Missile Alert Shakes Hawaii," NPR) by the false warning of an incoming ballistic missile--likely from North Korea--why not try to make lemonade from the failure?  From the article:
Hawaii residents and tourists alike were shaken shortly after 8 a.m. local time Saturday when a push notification alerted those in the state to a missile threat, causing an immediate panic until officials confirmed it was a false alarm.
"BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL," read the message, which also blared across Hawaiian televisions stations.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, confirmed the false alarm on Twitter 12 minutes after the errant message was sent. But it took about 38 minutes for another push notification to arrive on phones declaring there was no real danger. ...

In a televised press conference, Vern Miyagi, the agency's administrator, apologized and said the false alarm was caused by a "human error," when the wrong button was pushed during a shift-change drill.

"It was a procedure that occurs at the change of shift where they go through to make sure that the system, that it's working," Gov. David Ige told reporters. "And an employee pushed the wrong button." These shift changes happen three times a day, every day of the year, he added.
What about instituting nuclear missile disaster drills in the west?  This sounds crazy, but by instituting emergency drills in the Western states most at threat from such a terror, not only would people be better educated about what to do in case of a dire emergency (and yes, when I was an 8 year old, I sent away for a Civil Defense brochure on how to build a backyard bomb shelter), but wouldn't it put greater pressure on the federal government to engage with North Korea?

Or is this a sign of weakness?  OTOH, it could be argued that instituting such drills would "weaken" the perception of US superiority, which would be used against North Korea to try to get them to stand down from the posturing and other threats they've been making.

OTOH/2, preparedness demonstrates the country's ability to ward off, withstand, and respond to such threats.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Another green bridge: Eleanor Schonell Bus Bridge, Brisbane

In response to the previous post proposing that the Long Bridge expansion project be conceptualized as a DC area "Green Bridge" devoted to sustainable modes, our NZ e-correspondent Nigel calls our attention to the Eleanor Schonell Bus Bridge in Brisbane, Australia, which is a "green bridge" serving bus traffic, pedestrians and cyclists ("At last, a public transport bridge," Brisbane Institute).  

This Schonell Bridge opened about a decade earlier than the Portland bridge, although it's shorter and doesn't support as many modes as Tilikum Crossing.

In terms of constrained vision and/or design, Nigel points out that the bridge access is truncated on the University of Queensland St. Lucia side of the bridge, where there is a cul-de-sac, so that buses turn around and return to the Eastern Busway.  Cross-bus traffic via the bridge, connecting to other parts of the transit network, is not possible.

This is not atypical.  In the US, some universities have been known for their opposition to adjacent transit lines (the case at some point for University of Southern California, University of Maryland College Park, and Virginia State University in Norfolk, Virginia).

The University of Queensland mandated the cul-de-sac so that there wouldn't be a bus way across the campus ("UQ Senate sets out conditions for the construction of BCC green bridge," UQ News), connecting to the town of St. Lucia or to the eastern busway.

The bridge replaced a ferry system and provides greater capacity. Because of demand more frequent service and new bus lines have been added to serve the campus. Taxis are forbidden from using the bridge, based on the agreement with the university.

Interestingly, USC, UMD-CP, and VSU now favor rail transit.  And so does the University of Queensland, because of their experience with how the green bridge changed mobility practices for their campus.

According to the Brisbane Times ("Council anger as UQ plans new bridge to west end") since the "green bridge" was opened and with various improvements to transit service for the campus, now a majority of trips to and from the campus are made sustainably.  The university aims to service growth in enrollments and activity through even greater transit connectivity.

The new campus master plan aims to build on this change by (1) building a tunnel to connect the UQ Lakes bus station at the Green Bridge to the cross-campus UQ Chancellor's Place Bus Station and (2) adding a second bridge crossing, with it having the capacity for rail transit as well.

The underground tunnel makes the link between the green bridge and the west side of the campus, which had been forbidden by the original agreement. 

The underground connection satisfies concerns about the conflicts that likely would develop on the surface between pedestrians and vehicles and the sheer number of buses likely to travel across the campus.

Sometimes, it takes the experience of transit working to build the demand and support for more transit.  Although this is a more expensive and much longer way to bring it about.

eleanor schonell bridge (4)

Eleanor Schonell Bridge, also known as the Green Bridge, Brisbane

Busstop at Eleanor Schonell Bridge, also known as the Green Bridge, Brisbane

Bus Stop & Green Bridge Columns

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Tilikum Crossing Bridge as a model for the DC-Virginia Long Bridge Expansion Project

I have been remiss in submitting comments to the Long Bridge Project, where I intended to suggest that the bridge, mostly conceptualized as a railroad expansion project going from two to four tracks to better serve railroad passenger service, should also have a dedicated busway, to provide an exclusive routing for buses crossing the Potomac River as well as providing redundancy and another connection to DC from National Airport.
A Public Information Meeting was held on December 14, 2017 to present the proposed alternatives to be evaluated in the Draft EIS. The meeting materials can be viewed here. Comments can be submitted until Tuesday January 16th, 2018, to 
The bridge is owned by CSX Transportation, a freight railroad, and is adjacent to a separate bridge for Metrorail.

CSX prioritizes freight transportation, and passenger rail use is secondary.  Expansion to accommodate passenger rail will have to be borne by the public.  Virginia's desires to expand railroad service south and to expand VRE passenger service are held hostage to the two tracks.

For example, because there aren't enough "slots" available during peak service hours, for the most part, VRE trains make only one trip each way in the morning and night, so that they are forced to buy and operate more equipment than if trains could make round trips. This also stresses storage capacity within DC.

As part of Virginia's Atlantic Gateway project, they have prioritized the expansion of the Long Bridge, and in an MOU with DC, are taking the lead in making the expansion happen.

Today, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association sent out an advocacy email ("A better bike bridge over the Potomac and two highways"), making the point that the Long Bridge expansion should or could include an exclusive bikeway, but this is not a priority in the recommendations. From WABA:
  • Make the Long Bridge bicycle and pedestrian connection continue across the George Washington Parkway to connect to the Long Bridge Park (Arlington County’s Long Bridge Park Master Plan has long called for a connection from the park’s multi-use esplanade across the George Washington Parkway to the Mount Vernon Trail)
  • Make the Long Bridge bicycle and pedestrian connection connect directly to Maine Avenue, instead of requiring an indirect, congested or outdated connection across the Washington Channel
  • Leave space for a future trail connection across Maine Ave to Maryland Ave and Hancock Park, and
  • Build the bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure simultaneously with the rail span, not as a separate project.
In association with my busway thinking, and passenger rail + bus + bike + the adjacent Metrorail bridge, I am reminded of the Tilikum Crossing Bridge in Portland, Oregon, which is devoted exclusively to sustainable modes-- --and includes no regular crossing capacity for motor vehicles, excepting emergency vehicles ("Tilikum Crossing in Portland Won't Allow Cars," The Atlantic).

The Tilikum Crossing Bridge supports the local light rail, the Orange Line MAX, streetcar, buses, pedestrians and bicyclists, and emergency vehicles.  It also has been designed to incorporate special architectural lighting.

Tilikum Crossing and Mt Saint Helens • December 31st, 2015
This photo shows a light rail train, a streetcar and buses using the bridge at the same time.

Tilikum Crossing aesthetic light testing

back over the other side
Bicyclists using the bikeway section of the Tilikum Crossing Bridge.

Why not reconceptualize the Long Bridge project similarly? and include elements that support bus transit and biking and walking.

To highlight the city's focus on sustainable mobility, DC needs an exclusively sustainable mobility bridge, which is in keeping with the priorities of the MoveDC transportation master plan and the Sustainability Plan, which aims to achieve 75% of work trips by sustainable means.

The expansion of the bridge for passenger rail also enables my recommendation to merge the MARC Penn Line and the VRE Fredericksburg Line as a step towards creating a regional railroad passenger service I call RACER ("A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines").

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Discovery Channel to leave Silver Spring, Maryland

Over the past year, Aaron Renn, writing in his Urbanophile blog, had two posts that I found particularly provocative (in a good way) but I haven't gotten around to reacting. 

One was more recent, "St. Louis and the Consequences of Consolidation," discussing corporate "consolidation" and the impact of corporate mergers, distant control of the corporation, and the eventual impact on support services.

His example was Anheuser Busch, the nation's number one beer producer, based in St. Louis, but now owned by an international brewing behemoth based in Europe and South America. 

Historically, companies like A-B or General Motors were large enough to have key services such as advertising development and media buying provided locally, albeit by divisions of larger firms located in the nation's advertising capital--New York City, whereas most other companies would go to New York (or Chicago) more directly for this work.

(St. Louis has lost many locally significant businesses through corporate consolidation, such as Boatman's Bank, now part of Bank of America, May Company department stores, now part of Macy's, and increasingly, Anheuser-Busch, with a major negative impact resulting on the business district in Downtown St. Louis.)

The acquisition of Anheuser-Busch is an example of how business is now organized on international terms without respect to national boundaries, and even companies that are huge within their markets can not avoid or evade the merger and consolidation process as business is reorganized on a global basis.

A-B, acquired in 2008, took until 2017 to shift its advertising accounts to New York City, costing a number of highly paid St. Louis-based jobs as a result. 

Aaron discusses this in terms of consolidation and was reacting to a 2016 Washington Monthly article, "The Real Reason Middle America Should Be Angry," which makes the argument that lack of adequate anti-trust regulation against corporate mergers led to this kind of result.

Personally, I think the WM argument is weak because as long as companies are stock-based, the pressure from investors, especially large institutional investors and hedge funds agitating for maximized returns ("The Effects of Hedge Fund Interventions on Strategic Firm Behavior," Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation) is to make more money and that comes from bigness and consolidation.

Although it must be noted that because extranormal business growth is unattainable in mature markets, profit margins are mostly increased by "efficiency gains" that come through layoffs and consolidation of production. This is true especially for businesses in countries like the U.S. where the days of hyper-growth are decades in the past. Moreover, as countries like China accelerate the growth of their economies especially in consumer-focused industries, those firms are now the hyper-growth actors and increasingly operating on an international basis.

In college, I came across a couple books, Human Scale by Kirkpatrick Sale, and The Bigness Complex: Industry, Labor, and Government in the American Economy by Walter Adams which had a lot of influence on my thinking about these issues, but the reality is that the organization of the capitalist system and a focus on "efficiency" leads this process and anti-trust regulation is more likely to result in the crippling of smaller companies.

Being from the Detroit area myself, I had witnessed a similar type of activity dating to the 1970s, in how the control of the city's advertising and media businesses (other than locally focused media) and banks especially, was shifting out of the region, in particular to Chicago, because a primarily one industry town wasn't big enough to generate its own momentum in the support of business-related "service" economy.

So this process isn't new to me.  It's the basis of agglomeration economies and the benefits of clustering.  What has happened is that as businesses grow and operate on a national or global/international basis, where they purchase services changes, from locally-owned or based businesses, to national centers.

This is the same effect as with the difference between locally-owned retail and national chains.  Chains don't purchase products or services locally, so the "multiplier effect" or the economic and business-to-business recirculation benefits from consumer spending are significantly reduced compared to purchases made at locally owned businesses ("The Multiplier Effect of Local Independent Businesses," AMIBA).

This comes up locally with yesterday's announcement ("Discovery Communications to exit Silver Spring," Washington Business Journal) that Discovery Channel, a large cable network, alongside their merger with Scripps Media, owner of channels such as HGTV, Travel Channel, and Food Network, is shifting its corporate headquarters to the nation's media capital--New York City--and most of its back office and production functions to Knoxville, Tennessee, where the Scripps operation is based.

Hurts Montgomery County, especially Silver Spring's office market.  This is a blow to Montgomery County, Maryland and the conurbation of Silver Spring, which loses one of three major business headquarters located there (the others being United Therapeutics and a federal agency, NOAA), 1,500 jobs directly, and likely more than double that in terms of indirect jobs.

It makes the capture of office jobs in Silver Spring even more difficult as suburban office space demand is shrinking ("Report: No Recovery in Sight for Parts of Montgomery County Office Market," Bethesda Magazine).

For whatever reason, Bethesda has been more successful ("Marriott to move headquarters to downtown Bethesda with $62 million in incentives," Washington Post) than Silver Spring in continuing to capture new headquarters, as companies shift to transit-adjacent locations away from the office parks.

Diminishes the DC area's relevance as a media production center, excepting television news.  Interestingly, both Detroit and Washington have functioned as secondary media production centers for a long time.  For Detroit, this came out of the business videos produced for the auto industry.  For Washington, it derived from the various television news operations for national networks and station groups.

And like with how MCI, the long distance telecommunications firm, located in the DC area because of access to regulatory agencies, a handful of television operations (PBS) and cable networks (BET, Discovery Channel, C-SPAN, Learning Channel later acquired by Discovery, etc.) developed here out of a similar proximity, including to the National Cable Television Association and the National Association of Broadcasters, industry trade associations and lobbying organizations.

But as these companies become relevant on a larger scale, nationally and/or internationally, local agglomeration economies are less valuable, and the businesses relocate.  This happened with BET already ("BET Shutters Washington, D.C., Office as Operations Move to New York," Hollywood Reporter) and now Discovery.  Plus, control of the National Geographic Channel shifts to Disney from Fox, etc.

How realistic is it for a ban (anti-trust regulation) of corporate mergers to occur, to staunch this kind of relocation? I'd say, not very.

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More national politics...

It's relevant to local urbanism in that how the federal government is led, organized, and managed impacts state and local government.

WRT people touting Oprah as President after her speech at the Golden Globes, Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick explains why this is a bad idea ("'President Oprah' proves the US hasn't learned its lesson").  From the article:
People I read and respect are actually saying of an Oprah candidacy, “Hmmm, it’s an idea.” That’s what a toddler thinks before she swallows a disc battery. I’m ashamed for them. Canadians don’t like ostentation, but Americans do grovel before the rich and gaudy.

Despite Winfrey’s on-air skills, her genuine acting talent, and her rags-to-riches life story, she is a huckster much like Trump, albeit one with emotional intelligence and great personal charm. Her show was lowbrow, daft, and often dangerous, displaying Jenny McCarthy and her antivaccination campaign and handing out free cars to a studio audience that was later stunned to discover the gift was taxable. ...

Winfrey’s speech was a blast of feeling. She would make a splendid preacher but that is not what the U.S. needs.

It needs an intelligent, highly educated, understated president who understands both the general and specific nature of governing and who will redesign tax rates to lessen inequality.

She or he must know how to cope with or even fight climate change, manage immigration chaos, restore and expand medical care, fund pharmacare, find $4.6 trillion to repair decayed infrastructure, mandate paid family leave, restore women’s health funding, apologize to the nations Trump insulted, appoint judges and hire government workers and make thousands of other repairs that chat-show hosts won’t have dreamed of because they’re boring and meticulous.

Trump is an idiot regarded by his base as a fountain of common sense. He sends out daily threats along with messages of fragility, incoherence and hate. His staff is now desperately figuring out how to please him by waging a teeny nuclear war on North Korea.

Winfrey, on the other hand, is a positive thinker mistaken for a sage. She would offer the U.S. a vast surge of emotion rather than thoughts, and a motley collection of crackpot theories. The main difference between her and Trump is that she is a nicer person. 

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Under freeway ice skating track opens in Toronto

Revised with new date because of the addition of video

Video of the ice track from the Toronto Star, "The Bentway makes magic in a hostile urban space beneath the Gardiner."

From the article:
The skating path itself is roughly a figure-eight shape surrounding landscaped patches of earth dotted by plants and public art pieces. It sits near the entrance of the Fort York Visitor’s Centre, surrounded like the rest of the eventual park by the “bents” — the inverted-W-shaped concrete pillars — that hold up the highway. The effect is of a cozy space framed by the square geometry of the infrastructure and lined to the south across Fort York Boulevard by condo buildings whose residents will have the park as their new backyard.

For this opening season, the skating rink will feature a lighting installation in late afternoons and evenings that will project skaters’ shadows onto the concrete pillars and use the images to create a video project. During opening weekend, events are planned: an opening party Saturday beginning at 11 a.m. that includes skate dancers, singers, DJs; Mayor John Tory is hosting a skating party Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. when skate rentals and hot chocolate will be free.


Various under and adjacent freeway park initiatives (and other re-use projects focused on capturing industrial infrastructure for parks and public uses), prove that space under freeways can be used in public space supportive ways, not merely as parking or otherwise seemingly abandoned.

The High Line Network is a banding together of a number of these initiatives.

Yesterday, the Bentway skating track opened in Toronto. It is placed under the otherwise controversial Gardiner Freeway--some city residents want the freeway to be removed but the Mayor bowed to suburban interests and has committed billions to its rehabilitation ("Tory won't reopen Gardiner repair debate despite $1B cost spike," Toronto Star). The Bentway "park" is about 1.75 kilometers between Strachan and Spadina Streets. The skateway track is 220 meters long and has opened in advance of most of the park, which will open in June.

-- The Bentway Conservancy

Bentway ice skating track under construction, Toronto
Bentway track under construction. Photo: Eduardo Lima, Metro News.

Bentway ice skating track, Toronto
Bentway skating track on opening day, January 6th, 2018. The dead zone from Strachan Ave. to Bathurst St. has been transformed into a looping rink called The Bentway, a reference to the concrete “bents” that carry the weight of the Gardiner overhead. Photo: Bernard Weil, Toronto Star.

The Bentway initiative is not limited to the winter ice track, but a full program of year-round activities and improvements for the space under the freeway, which otherwise would go unused and is a negative condition imposed on the abutting neighborhoods. The project was launched in 2015, with a $25 million (Canadian) donation by Toronto philanthropists Judy and Will Matthews.

See "Philanthropists’ vision reflected in looping skating rink beneath the Gardiner," Toronto Star; "Why the area under a Toronto highway will define the next wave of urban public spaces," Toronto Globe and Mail).

From the TGM article:
... while it's counterintuitive, the Bentway also represents a new generation of public space: a mix of recreation, culture and social spaces that serve the needs of an evolving city while reusing tough scraps of the urban fabric. ...

Can people enjoy spending time under an expressway? Yes: Once you've seen the space that is becoming the Bentway, it's clear that they can. Under the Gardiner Expressway on the west side of downtown Toronto, it's an outdoor area that is somewhat shaded, spacious – the highway is more than 15 metres off the ground – and surprisingly peaceful. It runs alongside the Fort York National Historic Site, cutting through a dense and fast-growing neighbourhood of residential towers. The Bentway is planned to stretch 1.75 kilometres; there are, the designers say, 70,000 people within a 10-minute walk of this zone. ...

The "how" of this project is important. Sleath's employer is the Bentway, a non-profit that has been set up to administer and program the space. While the corridor will be public and open 24/7, it is not technically a park. That structure allows the Matthews' money and influence – Judy Matthews is trained as an urban planner – to help the project move quickly and nimbly. "The entire modus operandi of this city for the last 50 years has been pulling things apart," Public Work's Nicklin says. "We've had to put them back together in six months."

It also allows the project to push the city toward unfamiliar goals, and to create a sort of public life that would have been unimaginable a decade ago.
Canada is known for a plethora of outdoor skating rinks and skating and other winter programming on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, as a key element of public space and parks planning.
Rideau Canal, Ottawa, ice skating
Rideau Canal, Ottawa

With the current cold it seems as if DC would be ripe for a similar treatment on the C&O Canal, which was discussed in a GGW post by Will Handsfield last year ("Could Georgetown's C&O Canal become a winter skateway") and there is a community design initiative focused on the C&O Canal currently ("A first look at design concepts for the C&O Canal," UrbanTurf).

But generally, the area isn't cold enough consistently over the course of the winter season to be able to do this without a refrigeration assist.

There are various public outdoor ice rinks in the DC area, including in Silver Spring, on the National Mall in the National Gallery Sculpture Garden, in Georgetown at the Washington Harbour, and in the new Wharf development on the DC Waterfront.  Although unlike the Bentway, they are not free to use.
Ice skating rink, daytime, Silver Spring Veterans Plaza
The ice skating rink in Downtown Silver Spring is a key element in the development of a seasonally-focused programming mix.

WTOP even ran a story earlier in the week about people skating on the C&O Canal in Maryland ("A frigid DC tradition: Ice skating on the C&O Canal").
Ice skating on the C&O Canal in Maryland
Droves of people young and old carve into the frozen surface of the C&O Canal on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. For many families, ice skating in the national park is a tradition that goes back generations. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

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Friday, January 05, 2018

Improving intra-city bus service in DC: a reaction to the DC Policy Center report on improving transit access East of the Anacostia River

Note that in my December postings on holiday buses and trains, I somehow missed the fact that DC's own Circulator bus system has a Winter Wonder Bus treatment of its own.

Separately from the WMATA story that I wrote about on Monday ("Improving bus service overall vs. reversing falling Metrobus ridership"), the DC Circulator intra-city bus program is going through changes too, after being evaluated in the 2017 update to the program's Transit Development Plan. The Washington Post wrote about it earlier in the week ("DC Circulator will get new buses, streamline routes").

And writing for the DC Policy Center, a unit of the Federal City Council, transit writer-blogger Alon Levy made recommendations for improving transit service in one of DC's primary transit-dependent districts, the Ward 7 section of the city (Improving bus service east of the Anacostia River).

Reading the TDP and the DCPC documents together, in line with my voluminous past writings on the topic, I'd say that the DCPC report raises some interesting points--ones I've made in the past, in particular how WMATA charges by mode so that a bus + rail trip = two fares--but fails to discuss the tensions between center city and suburban interests concerning transit which are beyond WMATA's control and which decidedly shape fare policies and practices.

And that the relatively low ridership figures for most Circulator routes suggest that maybe there are better ways to address transit needs with different kinds of services that better serve transit dependent riders.

DCPC report.  (1) Makes the point that people ride buses because they are cheaper ($2) than riding Metrorail, which is especially expensive if it includes a bus ride to get to the station, since two fares are charged.  People satisfice cost over speed, as Metrorail-based rides are faster. 

(2) suggests that fares be lowered, modeled after intra-city bus systems like New York's--which don't charge two fares for rail + bus, provided you have a transit pass.

(3) Besides making suggestions for various route improvements, suggests an infill Metrorail Blue line station at Minnesota Ave and East Capitol Street SE (I think, the graphic isn't particularly clear) to make it easier to transfer between bus lines and the Metrorail Blue Line.

(4) Doesn't say much about Ward 8.

DC Circulator TDP.  (1)  The system has six routes: Georgtown-Union Station; Dupont Circle to Rosslyn; National Mall; Woodley Park to McPherson Square; Union Station to Navy Yard; Eastern Market to Skyland.

(2) The system has a $1 fare, which is half the cost of other area bus systems.

(3) Most DC Circulator lines have fewer than 2,000 riders/day, with one line, Dupont Circle to Rosslyn, at about 3,000 riders/day and the highest used route, Georgetown to Union Station at 5,500 riders/day.  But because of the way the metrics have been set up, most lines meet the basic standard expectation of at least 20 riders/hour.

(3)  The plan makes various recommendations on route changes to deal with low ridership and overlap with Metrobus services, and/or to serve other areas.  Besides various tweaks, the major changes are to the Union Station-Navy Yard line, which shifts the line to Eastern Market to the SW Waterfront (Wharf development) and away from Union Station, and the Eastern Market-Skyland route, which will be shifted to Congress Heights from Skyland Center.

While not discussed in the report, typically high frequency bus services -- 5-6 buses per hour -- are delivered only on routes with high ridership, for example in the Metrobus system, that would be for lines with at least 10,000 riders per day.

WMATA map with the Silver LineWMATA Metrorail map.  There are 40 stations in DC and 2 on the DC-Maryland border, but which are considered Maryland stations.

Thinking about the transit system as a network.  Based on concepts outlined in the Arlington County Master Transportation Plan, I outlined a network of transit services operating at and within the metropolitan area, at three scales:

(1) a metropolitan and regional network built on the subway and passenger rail program

(2) complemented by suburban and center transit networks;

(3) organized as three tiers or sub-networks: primary; secondary; and tertiary.  These networks overlap and are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

For example, the metropolitan transit network is built on Metrorail but at the same time, I argue that the subset of stations in the core of the center city (31 stations, roughly from the Navy Yard station on the south, RFK on the southeast, Foggy Bottom on the southwest, and Van Ness on the northwest and Brookland on the northeast) along with certain trunkline bus services + certain Circulator lines, constitutes DC's primary transit network.

31 Metrorail stations at the core of the city

The DC or center city secondary transit network is the other 11 Metrorail stations and Metrobus services + the remaining Circulator lines. 

And excepting certain kinds of shuttle services, the tertiary network is mostly theoretical, and is conceived as being intra-district/intra-neighborhood. 

(The ideas behind the tertiary network concept are also discussed here, "Making the case for intra-city versus inter-city transportation planning," and theoretically DC Circulator bus routes are intra-district, but on a much larger scale than the framework suggests.)

The model for the tertiary network is the Orbit bus system in Tempe, Arizona.  It provides intra-city transit between neighborhoods and main activity centers, complements the metropolitan bus and light rail system, and is free to use.

The Dash bus system in the City of Los Angeles operates similarly, but rides aren't free but still extremely cheap--35 cents per ride, and cheaper with passes.

Note that since my original writings on this, tertiary transit services are often termed, "microtransit," and can include "shared taxi/taxi collectif" and other kinds of shuttle and ride hailing services like Via or the Chariot service purchased by Ford Motor Company (see "A product in search of a problem: getting the right mobility product for the right market segment," 2016).

WMATA fare regime.  The idenfitication in the DCPC report that the WMATA fare structure of charging two fares for bus and rail being a problem for low income residents isn't particular new nor pathbreaking.

But the policy goes beyond WMATA to the member jurisdictions and is in part the result of the hybrid system that Metrorail is, part commuter railroad, part subway. 

When you prioritize access and also, transit as a transportation infrastructure supply matter (more people using transit means that fewer lane miles of roads are required, and less parking), fares are lower because you want to encourage transit use.

DC wants to prioritize access and lower fares, while suburban jurisdictions prioritize minimizing appropriations to the WMATA transit agency.  This means that the two fare system remains in place and the fare structure is quite high compared to peer cities, where the structure of the transit system doesn't have elements of commuter rail.

From "What it will take to get WMATA out of crisis (continued)" (2016):

- Use of the federal transit benefit by commuters inflates the farebox recovery rate beyond comparable systems;

- Distance based-fares also inflate the farebox recovery rate compared to peer systems;
- WMATA charges two separate fares for bus+rail or rail+bus when most other systems do not, further inflating farebox recovery rates compared to peer systems;

- Combined, the comparatively high proportion of fare-related revenue has allowed WMATA to build a higher cost structure than would normally be sustainable compared to a peer transit agency;

- And until now, the comparatively high proportion of fare-related revenue has allowed the jurisdictions to pay less into the system than normally would have been required compared to peer systems;

- Fare pricing for revenue to reduce financing demands from local and state governments causes conflicts between DC and the suburban jurisdictions because of incongruent policies concerning transit use--DC is more focused on "transit as a utility" and as a preferred substitute (along with biking, walking, and car share) for car use and ownership, which requires a lower fare structure comparable to NYC or San Francisco's MUNI system;

- The [suburban] jurisdictions believe that they don't need to pay more money into the system than they are currently paying.

While rail fares are higher, bus fares are lower than most peer agenciesThe one compromise between the city and suburbs is over the cost of bus service, based on DC's constant advocacy for lower fares.  The base fare is $2, which is significantly lower than most peer cities, with the exception of Los Angeles and Baltimore.

Equity and low income transit fare products.  I hate to admit that I have been remiss on this issue in the past.  For example, my transportation wish lists in 2007, 2008, and 2015 (part 1, recaps the old lists; part 2) did not mention the need for a special transit pass fare schedule for low income riders, although I have written about this in other contexts.

Cities like San Francisco and Seattle/Puget Sound ("Seattle Cuts Public Transportation Fares For Low-Income Commuters," NPR) have specially-priced fare passes for low income riders.  (Many systems also have free or low priced fare products for students, e.g., "Free Muni for low-income youth starts Friday," San Francisco Chronicle.  DC, and Arlington and Montgomery Counties have youth transit pass programs.)  The SF program does not include BART, but the Seattle program includes the regional light rail system.

Some bicycle sharing systems, such as DC and Boston, have extremely low priced memberships for qualifying low income residents, subsidized by participating organizations (DC's rate is practically free!).

And the Edmonton transit system has proposed introducing a "pay as you go" fare calculation system that would charge low income riders no more per month than the cost of a low income transit pass.

From the Edmonton Journal article "New smart cards for Edmonton Transit boast a 'social justice' edge":
People with steady jobs and good paycheques are the most likely to buy a monthly pass. They have cash on hand at the beginning of the month.

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

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

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

“When you have capping, it has inherent benefits for people with low income,” said Koropeski.
Recommendations.  Reacting to the DC Circulator Transit Development Plan and the equity concerns expressed in the DCPC report, Improving bus service east of the Anacostia River, I'd recommend a different course.

Note: these recommendations would be in keeping with the recommendations in the Monday post, "Improving bus service overall vs. reversing falling Metrobus ridership," which suggests the best way to increase bus ridership is to reposition bus service as a premium product and by creating an integrated bus network across the metropolitan area, with a common branding system and other  features.

Short term

1.  Reconceptualize DC Circulator services into two types, higher ridership lines serving major activity centers or tourist districts, defined as part of the DC Primary Transit sub-network set of services (Union Station to Georgetown; National Mall; Dupont Circle to Rosslyn).

2.  And the creation of a new type of intra-neighborhood service as part of the DC Tertiary Transit sub-network, modeled after the Tempe Orbit and Los Angeles Dash systems, focused on moving people between home, neighborhood business districts and transit stations and long distance bus routes, especially in the transit dependent areas of Wards 7 and 8.

3.  For equity reasons, make the tertiary sub-network bus services free, which will address the cost disadvantage to low income and transit dependent riders resulting from the WMATA practice of charging separate fares to ride buses and the subway, even when the trips are linked.

(4.  Note that ironically, Ward 3, the city's highest income ward, has some of the same issues identified by the DCPC report concerning the street network, bus lines, topography, and long distances to Metrorail stations, and so Ward 3 is likely deserving of a similar kind of intra-neighborhood transit service as well.)

Intermediate Term

It's not likely that impasse between the suburbs and the center city over the cost of fares, WMATA's distance based pricing system for Metrorail, and the practice of charging by mode rather than per linked trip can be solved any time soon.

5.  Therefore, comparable to the Youth Transit Pass, DC should consider developing a separate transit pass product for qualifying low income riders, modeled after the Community Partners program for Capital Bikeshare and transit agency programs in San Francisco, Seattle, and potentially Edmonton, to be paid from social-human service appropriations, not funds normally allocated to transit.

The Orca Lift program was budgeted to cost about $7 million annually--$4.5 million in fare subsidies and $2 million in administration--and $3 million in one time costs for development, software, IT, and other costs ("Discount fares for low income riders will be offered," Seattle Times).

Because riding on WMATA costs more, such a program would cost more here, but even at triple or quadruple the cost, it's practically a rounding error in DC's $12+ billion annual budget, and should be considered on equity grounds regardless.

Long Term

Graphic from the DC Policy Center.

6.  The DCPC report suggests an infill Metrorail station to better link Ward 7 and Ward 8 bus services to the Metrorail system. 

While the diagram is unclear, it appears to be at Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue, which is very close to the existing Orange Line station at Minnesota Avenue, and not on the existing Blue Line alignment east from the Stadium-Armory Station.

At the cost of many hundreds of millions of dollars, that particular configuration is likely not supportable, although theoretically, an infill station at Minnesota Avenue and East Capitol Street may be worth considering, as it about 1.8 miles east of Stadium-Armory and 1.4 miles west of the Benning Road Station.  It would still be a very high price to build.  At the very least, the concept should be studied, and costs and benefits calculated. 

Currently, the area isn't particularly dense, which makes it hard to justify the cost, especially given the likelihood of neighborhood opposition* to increasing population density/height of buildings to justify the cost of a new Metrorail station by leveraging the public investment in ancillary economic development.

* As a comparable example of likely neighborhood opposition to land use intensification, I don't understand why the report was produced/who commissioned it/that AECOM just did it on their own, but AECOM produced a report/conceptual vision plan proposing significant housing production in Southwest Brooklyn's Red Hook and Sunset Park neighborhoods and the waterfront, paired with a three-station extension of the 1 Subway Line, because they argue this area has the most opportunity to add housing units of any area in New York.

But the neighborhood reaction and response by local elected officials was not positive ("1 train extension into Red Hook pitched by engineering firm AECOM," AMNY), even with the proposed gain of new subway connections to the 1 Line in Manhattan and the F/G/R lines at the 4th Street/9th Avenue station, and the potential to connect to the D/N lines there also.

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Thursday, January 04, 2018

An element of the system of upward pricing of residential real estate/reproduction of urban space

An element of the system of upward pricing of residential real estate
I came across this postcard posted on the bulletin board of a supermarket in Petworth around when I was writing this piece in December, "The nature of high value (strong) residential real estate markets," and DC specifically, but I forgot to use this photo as an illustration of how the process of reproduction of space and neighborhoods works. There are companies that specialize in emptying houses of tenants...

Separately, my neighborhood is involved in a discussion because the old Takoma Theatre was bought by a regional real estate developer. What this did was change the nature of the property, from one with a local/neighborhood-based owner, focused on serving the neighborhood, to one that is part of the system of regional real estate property development.

This is what urban sociologists call the reproduction of space.

For this property it significantly increases the asking price for rent, the financing changes the nature of who is considered as possible tenants, the likelihood of independent uses drops significantly, etc.

Anyway, they have a lease for a clinic and are asking that the requirements for first floor space for retail be significantly relaxed.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. But in the discussion on the neighborhood e-list, I pointed out that once the property was purchased by a company active in the regional real estate market system, things changed.

Still, by having a coherent position (not a certainty) the neighborhood will be able to extract concessions in return for agreeing to a zoning exception.

But getting to that point is very difficult. It's why in my writings on community benefits agreements, I call for the creation of neighborhood-scale consensus priorities through planning processes more generally, and the use of this information when negotiating zoning changes, to yield structural improvements, rather than always dealing with ad hoc processes.

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Interesting inter/national items

Generally, I don't write about these kinds of issues unless they touch on "national" matters such as on civic engagement and participatory democracy or urban questions.  But...

1. A Russia Today news vehicle with an "ad" making fun of US concerns about Russian involvement in US politics.

I saw this vehicle on the 1400 block of Maryland Avenue NE.
A Russia Today news vehicle with an "ad" making fun of US concerns about Russian involvement in US politics

2. I can't even measure how ironic it is that President Trump supports protests in Iran ("Trump Right, This Time, About Iran ," New York Times; "Iran: Trump's Tweets Are Inciting Protests," Al Bawaba) while denigrating protest and civic involvement in the US ("Donald Trump's Attack on Colin Kaepernick and Jemele Hill," The Atlantic Monthly") unless it's extremely conservative or virulently racist ("Trump Defends Initial Remarks on Charlottesville; Again Blames 'Both Sides'," New York Times; "Trump backs protesters — as long as they're not protesting him," Politico).

Although to bring this back to urban planning, there is always John Friedmann's analysis in the book Planning in the Public Domain, which lays out practice in terms of whether or not it supports the state, challenges the state, or does not recognize the state.
Basic Concepts, Planning in the Public Domain

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Monday, January 01, 2018

2018 "Capitals of the year" for the environment, culture, youth and design

-- The 2018 EU Green Capital is Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Every two years a large European city serves as Green Capital. In the odd numbered year, the EU Green Leaf program highlights the environmental forwardness of a smaller city.

-- The 2018 EU Capitals of Culture are Valletta, Malta and Leeuwarden/Friesland, The Netherlands.

-- The 2018 EU Youth Capital is Cascais, a suburb of Lisbon, in Portugal.

In past writings I've argued that the US should develop similar programs, to promote transformational best practice.  Not that the current administration would be into it, but such a program could be developed for all of North America (US, Canada, Mexico).

The UK has developed an intra-UK City of Culture program modeled after the EU program, held every four years ("Can Hull build on its UK City of Culture status beyond 2017?," Guardina), the next iteration won't be until 2021, to be held in Coventry.

In the interim, because of Brexit, UK cities were informed they can no longer participate in the program, although the country was slated to participate in 2023 ("EU rules British cities cannot be capitals of culture," Guardian).

Mayor Sadiq Khan of London has launched a similar program, designating a different borough each year as the London Borough of Culture, providing £1 million in funding for culture programming. In February, the city will pick the winning boroughs for 2019 and 2020.

-- The World Design Organization World Design Capital® program.  Every two years a city is designated the World Design Capital® by the WDO and the 2018 World Design Capital® is Mexico City.

Improving bus service overall vs. reversing falling Metrobus ridership

A New Flyer Metrobus done in the Metro Local liveryThe Washington Post has an article ("Metro is mulling a major redesign of the bus system. But first, officials need to figure out why people aren't riding") about Metrobus and concerns about what should be done to right falling ridership.

A primary point in the article is that maybe the system should be completely redesigned a la fundamental reconfigurations in Houston.

Or Richmond, Virginia, which wasn't mentioned ("Richmond City Council signs off on bus system redesign," Richmond Times-Dispatch).

The Post article mentions but doesn't dwell on the fact that after one year, ridership in Houston was pretty much flat, up 1.2% ("A Year After Bus Redesign, METRO Houston Ridership is Up," Rice University).

The failure of the transit reconfiguration in Houston to produce a significant long term increase in ridership indicates that as much as the big transit network redesigns are touted, perhaps bigger changes may be needed.

This is similar to my point about the forthcoming Purple Line light rail system, which suggests that to best leverage the new transit line and investment, make complementary improvements across the transit network simultaneously.

FWIW, the Metrobus system is already mostly focused on high frequency service on major arterials, which is the root of bus network system changes in other cities like Houston.

But this high frequency network is focused on DC and some lines in Montgomery County and Virginia.  Between DC and Maryland, many arterials lack cross-border bus service from the same transit line once they cross into Maryland, because Maryland doesn't prioritize the provision of continuous services, although research finds that every transfer between transit services results in a reduction of ridership.

DC area bus ridership compares favorably to other cities relative to population.  But ridership is highest in DC except for certain suburban trunkline routes, which compare.

Personally, I believe that problems stem from the failure to do true transportation planning at the metropolitan scale. 

WRT bus service, WMATA, rightly sees its priority as providing high ridership service on major arterials, supporting Metrorail service, and across jurisdictional lines (some suburban bus services cross jurisdictions, but it is comparatively rare).

-- Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning: Towards a Hierarchical and Conceptual Framework

What true metropolitan mass transit planning would do is set network depth, breadth, level of service, and level of quality requirements separately from transit operators.  If they can't meet those requirements with the current budget and ridership, then more subsidies should be provided, rather than the constant cutting of service and routes.

Jurisdictions have gotten into the bus biz because through outsourcing, sometimes lack of unionization, and lower pay scales, they can deliver transit service more cheaply than WMATA.
The local transit union is concerned about the potential of Metrobus (WMATA) privatization
The local transit union is concerned about the potential of Metrobus (WMATA) privatization.

But as part of the transit system, bus service is complicated too.  While Metrobus provides the majority of high capacity, cross-jurisdictional service, there are at least 12 other transit agencies providing bus service in the area, plus university shuttle services and other specialized services.

All the buses look different.  So do the bus shelters, the signage, etc.

I have written about bus planning a lot, and I would say these are the most important points:

1. The impact of the sustainable mobility platform on use of mass transit services.  The development of a more integrated set of mobility services in areas that are otherwise transit rich--even when the platform has to be integrated by the user--including biking, bike sharing, car sharing, ride hailing, delivery, and microtransit services, etc. is shifting some riders to alternatives, especially in the face of transit service degradation ("Is Uber Helping or Hurting Mass Transit?," New York Times; "Can LA mimic the success of Uber and Lyft by building an on-demand minibus system?," Los Angeles Times).

2.  Is the pool of transit dependent riders shrinking?  And in the face of this loss of ridership, given that bus service is relied upon by the transit dependent (people without cars), is this demographic group shrinking, in the areas where the Metrobus service pattern is dominant?

3.  The DC area bus transit "network" is not perceived as a system/it is illegible. The balkanization of bus service across multiple agencies in the region makes it very hard for an average person to understand that bus service is a system and how it works.  In other words, it isn't very legible.

However, note that the DC area transit agencies offer a regional transit pass, most use the SmarTrip card, and there is free transfer from one bus agency to another when using the SmarTrip card.  The SmarTrip card also works on Baltimore-area transit.

For example, in the discussion cited in #4 below about improving "transit waiting environments" I make the point that bus shelters (and transit stations) are primary marketing touchpoints for transit generally and the bus system specifically, for people riding buses as well as those walking or driving by.

The condition of bus shelters, transit stations, lack of bus shelters or seating, and the level of information provided/not provided is an indicator of how the region values transit and bus service.

The jurisdictions don't think about this from the perspective of the "transit network" but only from their narrow perspective.  As a result every city or county has different styled bus shelters, transit stations, and transit information, which can be very confusing to the rider.  Each system has its own "call center" for information (although the online/app WMATA ride planner does integrate services).

Even within DC, there are different bus shelters on Metrorail station grounds and city streets (the latter under the control of DC), and the information presented within bus shelters is inconsistent--WMATA bus information is present in most shelters, but information for DC's Circulator bus system and/or neighborhood commercial districts is inconsistent.  Transit information at bus stops is often out of date (although the bus tracker app works and all stops post the stop identification number.)

For example, somewhat incongruously, this bus shelter on Wisconsin Avenue NW at the Cathedral Commons development, miles from Downtown DC, has a Downtown DC information poster.

Oddly, a Downtown DC map is posted in a bus shelter on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Cathedral Heights, miles from Downtown, adjacent to the Cathedral Commons development
As Ivan Bennett, product design manager for bus service for Transport for London points out:
One reason other systems have failed is the lack of continuity. London bus stops extend beyond central areas and cover all routes in Greater London. Ivan indicated that passengers do not just want information about where they are travelling from, but when they get there, they need the same consistently presented information. People need information near their homes and local areas, not just in the centre of the city. 
Another example of dis-coordinated transit service, three different programs for bus rapid transit in Arlington-Fairfax; Montgomery County; and for Leesburg Pike ("Route 7 BRT proposal communicates the reality that the DC area doesn't adequately conduct transportation planning at the metropolitan-scale," 2016).

WMATA runs a service in Alexandria and Arlington called Metroway, as well as separately branded bus services called Rex on Richmond Highway/Route 1 and PikeRide on Columbia Pike. Montgomery County is planning its own BRT program. And there is a proposal for Route 7/Leesburg Pike, in Fairfax County and Alexandria, coordinated by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.

Each system has different branding, designs, different requirements for buses and transit shelters/stations, transit information, etc.

Instead, shouldn't there be one integrated system demarking bus rapid transit service across the metropolitan area?

4.  Reposition bus service as a premium (design) product.
-- "Making bus service sexy and more equitable," (2007)

Mostly, bus service is seen as a social service, not a choice way to get around.  My primary recommendation for repositioning bus service as attractive is to shift to double-deck buses, but within a use of the product design approach to completely reconceptualize the creation of an integrated bus transit system that is perceived as a desirable product and way to get around.

While this would make the service more attractive to choice riders, at the same time it would improve the service overall, making it a better value and product in terms of equity considerations.

We all think that "London buses" are cool--and these types of buses are used in many places besides London in Europe and Asia, and in limited ways in North America.  Let's leverage that.

But the success of bus transit in London is more than the double deck bus.

The London Underground is an outlier for transit systems in that it has been a consistent innovator in design and usability for 100+ years. Key to this development was Frank Pick, who started at the agency being responsible for communications ("PR") and who laid the groundwork for corporate branding by coordinating all elements of the program into an integrated and extensive transit system -- advertising, branding, station architecture, vehicle design, and mapping -- with the highest standards for "design."

Today, that legacy is maintained through the creation of "product design managers" for the various transportation modes managed by the successor agency, Transport for London.

-- Product design guidelines, Transport for London

Buses Line up on Oxford Street
Buses Line up on Oxford Street, London. Photo by DJ Greer.

The piece goes on to lay out an integrated improvement agenda for bus service, proposed as a complement to the introduction of double deck buses
  • Improve bus transit waiting environments
  • Improve bus transit marketing
  • Create a priority bus lane network in the core of the city
  • Create a metropolitan scale Overnight bus network, including Night Owl bus service along subway lines during the hours that the subway service is closed 
  • Improve wayfinding and transit information
  • Augment on-board bus announcements and information on schedules, signage, etc., with landmark and destination information
  • Create "Mobility" stores as part of transportation demand management programming
  • Incorporate neighborhood history information and public art elements into bus shelters
5.  Rearticulate and reconfigure bus transit across the metropolitan area into one integrated system.
-- "Will buses ever be cool? Boston versus the Raleigh-Durham's GoTransit Model" (2017)

This piece discusses how the Raleigh-Durham area, while maintaining separate transit agencies, has integrated branding, fares, service schedules, design for the most part (one agency doesn't participate), types of buses used, and having one integrated customer service center for all the agencies.

Each agency in Raleigh-Durham has adopted GoTransit as their primary brand, with Go[agency] as the sub-brand.  Each agency is assigned a different color, but otherwise the bus livery design is the same.

This is light years ahead of where the DC metropolitan area is in terms of offering an integrated bus service.

Although to be fair, WMATA was pushing some of these ideas 10+ years ago, based on my experience attending a regional bus conference convened by WMATA in 2006

As recommended in my Purple Line series, the area's bus transit program can be revamped, under a unified design, approach, and service system.

Like Triangle Transit, WMATA could lead the way to change, but that would require it to think as a transportation planning agency separate from its role as a transit operator.  Therefore, ideally, the metropolitan transportation planning agency would take the lead and forge this change.

6.  Make provision of dedicated bus transitways (and traffic signal prioritization for buses) a priority.
-- "Dedicated bus transitway on Georgia Avenue NW" (2016)
-- "It's been a drawn out process, but DC is in the process of creating transitways on 16th Street NW" (2017)

For bus service to compete with cars, it needs to be fast, even though a bus makes lots of stops.  Having bus priority lanes during peak hour service is the way to better balance the needs of mass transit vs. individual motor vehicle users.  Instead, for decades, motor vehicles have been prioritized over mass transit in terms of use of road space. 

Making such changes will be controversial, but the focus in transportation planning needs to shift to optimality rather than automobile-centricity, given the real constraints on road capacity.

Bus and bicycle priority lanes on Market Street, San Francisco
Bus and bicycle priority lanes on Market Street, San Francisco.  SFMTA photo.

San Francisco Bay late night bus service transit map.

7.  Create a overnight transit network at the metropolitan scale
-- "Night and weekend transit/subway service" (2016)
-- "Overnight transit service: San Francisco" (2016)
-- "Night moves: the need for more night time (and weekend) transit service, especially when the subway is closed"" (2013)

The need for this has become particularly pronounced with various line closures for the Metrorail rehabilitation plan.

There are many examples that can be referenced, including San Francisco, Toronto, London, Hamburg, and Melbourne.

8. Don't forget bus services when creating HOT Lanes
-- "So Your City Is Adding HOT Lanes. Will They Work for Transit?," Streetsblog, (2014)

When High Occupancy Toll Lanes are added, frequently bus service is touted during the planning phases, and isn't provided once the lanes become operational.

Granted, where HOT lanes are provided aren't necessarily the best place to provide transit service, but such services should be provided, not just promised, as part of multi-modal transportation planning.

9.  Rearticulate long distance commuter bus services too.  If we're going to rebrand and integrate "local" bus service, we may as well do this for long distance commuter bus service too.

Maryland has a somewhat integrated route network but not in the branding of buses as service is provided under multiple banners/liveries and information systems, and the system isn't good with bi-directional service (such as from DC to Annapolis).

Northern Virginia has separate long distance commuter bus services for each jurisdiction: Loudoun County; Prince William County; and Fredericksburg.  The first two are provided by public agencies (Loudoun Transit, OmniRide), the latter service is provided by a for profit contractor.  Each uses a different livery.

Perhaps like with how GO Transit in Ontario has both commuter bus and rail services and one common branding system, in line with my RACER concept for merging MARC and VRE ("One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example"), the commuter bus network in Maryland and Virginia could be similarly rebranded as the RACER commuter bus network, and like with GoTransit in Raleigh-Durham, the rebranding could be launched in part with a common graphic design treatment across the now differentiated fleets of buses. (RACER stands for Railroad Authority of the Chesapeake Region.)

Bi-directional services should be added to certain routes.

GO Train Vanishing Point
GO Train.

GO Transit
GO Bus.

Go Transit Alexander Dennis Enviro500 #8155 and #8143

In any case, rebranding and repositioning commuter bus service as part of the Washington metropolitan and regional transit network is worth considering as part of an integrated transit network improvement program.

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