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 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

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: ground transportation at airports (DCA/Logan)

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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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).


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


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"").


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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

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

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.


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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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Seattle Times series on impact of the city's upscaling of wealth on the arts

The marquee painting for “Everything You Love Turns Into a Condo,” an art installation by Seattle street artist Jazz Mom and friends housed in a vacant Capitol Hill office. (Brendan Kiley/The Seattle Times)

-- "How Seattle’s growing pains are impacting the arts scene"
-- "Seattle visual artists paint an ambivalent picture of the future — but are determined to survive"
-- "Seattle dance community takes leap of faith amid city’s changes"
-- "Seattle live-music clubs feel the burn from red-hot real-estate market"
-- "Rent hikes, transit issues take center stage for Seattle theater scene"
-- "Seattle classical-music, opera groups shake off dust to capture new audiences"
-- "Seattle growth brings hits, misses for comedy clubs"

I will say that this reporting reiterates my point that artistic disciplines need:

-- to have plans ("Arts, culture districts, and revitalization") which distinguish between arts as consumption ("Arts-based revitalization, community building, network strengthening, commodification, and Artomatic), arts as presentation, and arts as production;
-- which include facilities elements that lay out and implement mechanisms for buying and holding property ("BTMFBA: the best way to ward off artist or retail displacement is to buy the building") for permanent arts use;
-- funding mechanisms ("A way for a metropolitan area to support arts institutions based in the center city")
-- address higher education matters ("Should community culture master plans include elements on higher education arts programs?")
-- and include a media and communications element, including the support of critics, calendars, and reporting in print and broadcast media, and production ("Culture planning at the metropolitan scale should include funding for "local" documentary film making") [... I keep thinking I've written about the broader point in terms of the arts but I haven't, the writings have been more focused on community media and civic engagement]

Superstrong real estate markets vs. strong real estate markets vs. weak real estate markets.  The other thing that's important to acknowledge is that the strength of real estate markets makes a huge difference on the ability of social and public uses to maintain access and pay for and "compete" for space.

In a weak real estate market like Pittsburgh or Baltimore or Detroit, it will take many years before "higher value" real estate uses can crowd out arts uses.  Of course, in cities like Cleveland and Pittsburgh, they already have arts-based community and cultural development corporations that buy, develop, and hold property.

In an average strong real estate market, like Chicago, it's more difficult, but not impossible for artists to find lower cost housing, and arts organizations and DIYers to find and hold spaces--partly it's because a city like Chicago is big and there is a large inventory of available housing and commercial buildings both.

It's the superstrong real estate markets like Boston,  Los Angeles, West Los Angeles County, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC that deal with this at a whole other level.  Limited property inventory, high demand for both residential and commercial property, and high cost of housing and space make it hard for lower income earning artists and arts organizations to compete.

Without extranormal mechanisms to acquire and hold property, it's very difficult for arts organizations, especially new organizations or those organizations addressing segments of the arts sector that are more controversial, new and/or innovative, or less popular by comparison to traditional museums and fine arts and performing arts institutions, to get and hold space, raise money, etc.

This of course is true at all rungs on the tier, for example the near death of Baltimore Clayworks ("Baltimore Clayworks to reopen with new board, old debt," Baltimore Sun), the failure of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the closure of opera companies, theater groups, and orchestras in response to the 2008 recession, etc., but is heightened in the superstrong real estate markets.

Culture Crash by Scott Timberg.  I haven't read this book (it's in my pile) but the major  points is that digital-economic changes in various  sectors (e.g., the loss of bookstores, record shops, newspapers, etc.) makes it that much harder for artists to find work.

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Thursday, November 09, 2017

World Usability Day, Thursday November 9th and urban planning

I was researching something and along the way, learned that there is a World Usability Day.  We most often think of usability in terms of the "user interface/experience" concerning human-computer interaction, but we can think of usability as the key outcome of the design method and process too, especially as it relates to urban planning.

Legibility.  In urban planning, it's fair to say that one of the pioneers of usability was Kevin Lynch, who came up with the term "legibility" concerning urban environments and how people make sense of urban places, which he outlined in his pathbreaking book, The Image of the City (this is the whole book via pdf). From Ingram and Benford, "The Application of Legibility Techniques to Enhance Information Visualisations:
Lynch identified five major elements of urban landscapes which were identified by the inhabitants and used as the main building blocks of their cognitive maps. These features are:

Landmarks. Static and recognisable objects which can be used to give a sense of location and bearing. Examples of landmarks might be prominent buildings or monuments or, on a smaller scale, recognisable shopfronts or roadside installations.
Districts. Sections of the environment which have a distinct character which provides coherence, allowing the whole to be viewed as a single entity. Districts may be identifiable, for example, by the nature of the architecture of the buildings in the area or by their use.
Paths. Major avenues of travel through the environment such as major roads or footpaths
Nodes. Important points of interest along paths, e.g. road junctions or town squares. There is clearly a strong link between paths and nodes.
Edges. Structures or features providing borders to districts or linear obstacles. Examples might be the waterfront in cities built on large rivers, or a major road. Note in the latter case that the road may have a dual nature, being a path for someone travelling in a car but an edge to the pedestrian.
Other concepts: business process redesign.  The method of business process redesign (sometimes referred to as "re-engineering") is a similar approach to usability, although traditionally it focuses on organizational processes and outcomes. 

I use a form of business process redesign when I evaluate systems and write planning documents.  My basic point is that the point of planning and zoning is to "improve quality of life" and when "routine outcomes" don't do this routinely, that's an "indicator" that there is a defect in the process that produces the outcomes. 

What I try to do then is look backwards at the processes that produce the regular but undesirable outcomes, and make recommendations for change. Thomas Davenport's book Process Innovation: Reengineering Work Through Information Technology has helped shape my thinking about process redesign and innovation.

Urban design as a usability approach.  Over the past 15 years, many planning and architecture programs have added degree programs in "Urban Design," which combines urban planning, landscape architecture, and architecture concepts.  The Urban Design website describes the profession thusly:
Urban design involves the arrangement and design of buildings, public spaces, transport systems, services, and amenities. Urban design is the process of giving form, shape, and character to groups of buildings, to whole neighborhoods, and the city.

It is a framework that orders the elements into a network of streets, squares, and blocks. Urban design blends architecture, landscape architecture, and city planning together to make urban areas functional and attractive.

Urban design is about making connections between people and places, movement and urban form, nature and the built fabric. Urban design draws together the many strands of place-making, environmental stewardship, social equity and economic viability into the creation of places with distinct beauty and identity.

Urban design is derived from but transcends planning and transportation policy, architectural design, development economics, engineering and landscape. It draws these and other strands together creating a vision for an area and then deploying the resources and skills needed to bring the vision to life.
Project for Public Places, Placemaking diagram (flywheel)
Project for Public Places, Placemaking diagram (flywheel)

Placemaking.  You can argue that placemaking is an approach to usability planning in cities also.

-- "What is Placemaking?," Project for Public Spaces
-- Placemaking articles archive, PPS
-- Placemaking booklet, PPS

Related concepts that I use are "the integrated public realm framework" and "transportation infrastructure as an element of civic architecture."  These concepts are discussed in the organizing framework of what I call "Signature Streets" ("Town-city management: We are all asset managers now").
Public Realm as an Interconnected system, Slide from presentation, Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy, David Barth
Public Realm as an Interconnected system, Slide from presentation, Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy, David Barth

The Street Grid. The grid design for cities, such as the L'Enfant Plan for the City of Washington, illustrates Lynch's argument for legibility and "reading" the city.  The grid is organized at right angles, with streets connecting the various "blocks." 

Some people get confused, believing that DC doesn't have a grid because it also has avenues which bisect the grid.  But radial avenues are a great addition to the grid, shortening the distance between nodes, because you can travel at an angle.

In the design of DC, the key organizing landmarks were the White House, home of the Executive Branch of Government, and the US Capitol for the Legislative Branch.  The greenspace of the National Mall connects these landmarks, although the Mall has since become the home to many more landmarks--memorials and museums--and extends beyond these two points.
L'enfant plan
The reservations--circles and parks--were designed to function as nodes, while the city's rivers were primary edges, and the radial avenues the primary paths, complemented by the secondary paths--streets--comprising the city's various subdistricts.

The London Underground as a design artifact. 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

Chancery Lane Station entrance, London Underground, c. 1930s, with posted Harry Beck Tube map
Chancery Lane Station entrance, London Underground, c. 1930s, with posted Harry Beck Tube map.  The new London Underground map seems incredibly modern in the context of London's built environment being dominated by architecture from the previous centuries.

Transit systems and legibility.  The creation of high-frequency bus networks, night bus networks ("Night and weekend transit/subway service: Metrorail edition" and "Slight revisiting of overnight transit service: San Francisco"), the program around the creation of true bus rapid transit lines, such as in Cleveland, or the collaborative integration of transit agencies in the Raleigh-Durham area under the GoTransit brand ("Will buses ever be cool? Boston versus the Raleigh-Durham's GoTransit Model") are other examples of applying usability approaches to transit.
Building a better bus, graphic
Wall Street Journal graphic.

New systems for providing and presenting integrated transit service information, such as the TransitScreen product are other ways to improve usability and use of transit as a mobility mode.
Real time transit information via TransitScreen and the Orange Barrel Media digital billboard outside Capital One Arena
Real time transit information via TransitScreen and the Orange Barrel Media digital billboard outside Capital One Arena, Washington, DC.

Also see "Making bus service sexy and more equitable" and "Is making surface transit free the best transit investment DC can make?."

In terms of usability, transit stations are are frequently under-developed ("Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center: A Critical evaluation," "Multiple missed opportunities in creating the Silver Spring Transit Center," "Brief follow up on the Silver Spring Transit Center," and "Transit, stations and placemaking: stations as entrypoints to neighborhoods").

Connectivity and access as questions of usability in mobility planning.  Some exemplars of  mobility solutions that solve knotty problems of access and connection include:

-- public stairways such as the stairway connecting a neighborhood on a hill to the Weehawken waterfront in New Jersey
-- public escalators in Medellin, Colombia ("Medellín slum gets giant outdoor escalator," Telegraph) and Hong Kong
-- public elevators as part of the horizontal/vertical mobility system of "streets and blocks" in various places, including Monaco
-- funiculars and incline railways
-- aerial trams in Medellín, Colombia ("'Social urbanism' experiment breathes new life into Colombia's Medellin," Toronto Globe & Mail; "Medellín's 'social urbanism' a model for city transformation," Mail & Guardian), Portland, Oregon, Roosevelt Island, Queens, New York City, La Paz, Bolivia ("Largest urban cable car soars over 'desperate' commuters of La Paz ," Guardian
-- connections between communities such as Johannesburg's "Corridors of Freedom" ("A walk to freedom: can Joburg's bridges heal the urban scars of apartheid? ," Guardian) or the "Connective Corridor" between Syracuse University and the city's Downtown

La Paz cable car system
La Paz cable car system.  Martin Meija, Associated Press.

Wayfinding "monolith," City of Bath.

Wayfinding.  Although they were writing about data management and interface design, in "Getting Lost: A Case Study in Interface Design," Elm and Woods make points relevant to wayfinding, that there are three different ways to be lost:

• Not knowing where to go next;
• Knowing where to go but not how to get there;
• Not knowing a current location in relation to an overall context.

Studies find that wayfinding systems have significant economic return, but some residents may resent the erection of wayfinding information in their communities, although having an integrated system that works at multiple scales is key to be able to place "a current location in relation to an overall context."

It turns out that the very comprehensive system created in Bath, England more than 10 years ago is the model for systems later deployed in London and New York City.  The city continues to refine and extend the system, and has published recently a new set of strategic planning and design documents:

-- Creating the Canvas for Public Life in Bath: Public Realm and Movement Strategy for Bath City Centre
-- Pattern Book: Volume 01 Public Realm Framework
-- Pattern Book: Volume 02 Technical & Operational Guidance
-- Bath City Centre Lighting Strategy
-- Bath City Information System

The Legible London wayfinding system integrates pedestrian and bike share mapping, but the transit system, with its iconic mapping and signage, remains separate.

-- Yellow Book: A prototype wayfinding system for London, Legible London (Transport for London)
-- Legible London system architecture

In the DC-Maryland-Virginia region, three wayfinding programs stand out.  Most recently, the City of Alexandria has implemented a comprehensive program that aims to move people from the Alexandria Metrorail station to the city's waterfront.  While it includes signage at various civic facilities such as parks, there isn't a complementary rung in the system for neighborhoods.

Baltimore has a system covering the core of the city, including signage within districts.  (Arlington County has gateway signs for various districts within the county, centered around Metrorail stations.)
Westside Baltimore (Howard Street)

Petersburg, Virginia has signage for its historic districts and downtowns, which includes neighborhood-scaled signage, but also a great deal of historic interpretation signage, as well as "color" coordination within districts (e.g., the Poplar Lawn Historic District is green, the Old Towne Historic District is maroon) and allied treatment of street and traffic signage.
Kiosk, historic/history interpretation, Petersburg, VA

Other communities such as DC or the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area in Prince George's County, have various wayfinding networks, although in the case of DC, they compete (e.g., history trails signage, Discover DC signage, National Park Service signage for the National Mall, a separate system for the US Capitol, etc.).

Overuse of the subway map concept as a way of representing information .  The iconic subway map for London, based on the concept of an electrical circuit diagram, where the map is more conceptual and the transit lines don't map exactly to distance or topography, has influenced transit system mapping the world over.
Inset, London Underground and key sites in London's core, from a 1964 Esso gasoline station road map of London, UK
Inset, London Underground and key sites in London's core, from a 1964 Esso gasoline station road map of London, UK.

For me, the problem with the approach is when it is applied, willy-nilly, to all kinds of other design problems, without regard to the nature of what is communicated. 

The reason that a conceptual map works for transit is that the system of lines and stations is fixed.  Once you enter the system through a station and then enter a train car, you travel a specific, fixed route, you can't deviate from the line (excepting transfers), until you arrive at your final destination.

Despite being lauded ("What if bike maps looked like subway maps?," CityLab), as a practical matter, applying the concept to bike routes doesn't work because they are just lines on a map that don't "map" to actual routes that a mobile cyclist must ride.  Rather than sitting in a seat on a train, a bicyclist must actively cycle and navigate a real route.   In such a situation, conceptual maps don't work.
Spider bicycle map for DC by Michael Graham
Spider bicycle map for DC by Michael Graham.

One wrinkle: walking between certain transit stations can be faster than transferring.  In systems with many lines, a problem with subway maps not mapping to geography, but being a representation, is that people follow the maps literally, when the reality is that it can be faster to walk between certain stations, rather than going through the effort of transferring from one line to another. 

In London and Singapore, the transit agency has created a walking map showing the distance between stations, while a guerrilla effort has produced a similar map for Toronto.
London Underground walking-tube-map-zones-1-31
Walking tube map, London.

Interesting legibility/usability initiatives

Walk your city wayfinding. I think this was first done in Raleigh, NC, but was later written up in the Tactical Urbanism Manual. 

-- Walk [Your City]

The Southwest Business Improvement District has used this idea to put up signage marking paths between the L'Enfant and Southwest Metrorail Stations and the new Wharf development on the Maine Avenue SW waterfront.
Walk [Your City] style guerrilla street wayfinding signage produced by the SW DC Business Improvement District
Better Bikeways Project.  The project is a set of concepts by designer Joseph Pritchard to better distinguish bikeways and routes. According to Prichard:
Employing a simple yet comprehensive visual language, the Better Bikeways system is an attempt to communicate vital information and warnings to cyclists and motorists alike. The system was designed with the goals of easy legibility and comprehension in mind and is focused on four categories of information.

Navigation: Serves as the prime identifier of a bike route. It can also be used to offer valuable navigational information such as route destination and direction, and distances to major cross streets.

Caution: Conveys warning messages to motorists and cyclists. Because their message needs to be understood quickly and from a distance they are the largest and most basic of the route's signs.

Connections: Highlight intersections with other bicycle routes or public transportation hubs. Their goal is to integrate individual bikeways into a broader transportation network.

Points of Interest: Highlight points on or near the route of relevance to cyclists. By drawing attention to these locations, Point of Interest signs can help make bikeways more attractive recreational routes for cyclists.
Better Bikeways signage by Joseph Prichard

-- "Better Bikeways: Getting Rolling with Improved Signage," GOOD Magazine
-- "Better Bikeways: Guerrilla Improvements and DIY Signage," GOOD Magazine
-- Better Bikeways

Remapping and re-signing the Minneapolis Skyway.  While urbanists tend to prefer people on streets rather than connecting buildings through skywalks, underground and above-ground walking networks, such as Pedway in Chicago, PATH in Toronto, the Underground in Montreal, and the Skywalk network in Minneapolis are examples of important horizontal mobility systems in those communities.

In the City Pages article "Minneapolis' love hate relationship with the Skyway and how to make it suck a lot less," designer Brandon Hundt lays out an approach for remapping the Minneapolis Skyway system and a matching improvement program for the signage system. 

While he doesn't realize it, it harkens back to the new London Tube map of the 1930s, although he references a similar map made much later in the 1970s for the New York City subway system, a map that ended up not being adopted. From the article:
The legendary Massimo Vignelli brilliantly took advantage of this in designing New York’s subway map. You’ll notice he completely ignored streets, distances, and curves, instead using straight horizontal and vertical lines, and the occasional 45-degree angle. Colors signified routes, and stations were equally spaced dots on the map.

Today we couldn’t imagine a subway system mapped any other way.

New Vignelli NYC subway map
New Vignelli NYC subway map.
Let’s apply Vignelli’s principles to the skyway and its jagged edges. First, identify what matters to the skyway user.

1. Buildings, the skyway’s equivalent to a subway stop.
2. Skyways, the routes connecting the stops.
3. Destinations. The skyway walker doesn’t need to know north from south or east from west. (The city’s downtown grid runs northwest and southeast, anyway.) Instead, they should know they’re headed in the correct direction and getting closer to their intended location.
4. Distance. Skyway users are, for the most part, walking. This means we can’t completely ignore the concept of distance. While not needing to provide exact distances, we don’t want to be wildly wrong, either.
5. Streets. The skyway is in many ways an extension of, and connected to the street. Their blocks also form a good barometer of distance.

Map, Proposed redesign of the wayfinding system for the Minneapolis Skyway system, by Brandon Hundt
Map, Proposed redesign of the wayfinding system for the Minneapolis Skyway system, by Brandon Hundt

Knoxville Greenways and Blueways maps and signage.  This is an official program, not a concept or a guerrilla initiative.  It's a great model for other communities.

-- Knoxville Blueways
-- Knoxville Greenways and Trails
-- Knoxville Greenways Signage Guidelines, Knoxville Transportation Planning Organization

Knoxville Greenway signage examples

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