Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Three examples of L'etat c'est moi/Not invented here/Executive authority (in DC local governent)

1.  Legality of chickens.  Over the weekend there was a story, "Do you raise chickens in D. C.? Their days may be numbered," in the Washington Post about how successfully bested the city in a lawsuit concerning the legality of chickens, not via building regulations and zoning, but the definition of animals within the city's public health laws.

Even though the city talks a good game about urban agriculture, it hasn't moved forward legalizing poultry, although many other (more) innovative cities and counties have already done so, such as Seattle and Salt Lake City (""An update on Block Supported (Poultry) Agriculture").

The original proposal for allowing poultry in some of the discussions in the Zoning Rewrite were so strict that they likely eliminated eligibility from more than 98% of DC residential properties. (50 feet setback from each lot line--meaning a property would have to be about 110 feet wide and maybe the same distance in length.) That being said having some limitations is reasonable, but DC has never proposed reasonable limitations.

Rather than taking the opportunity to correct lack of vision, Mayor Bowser has put language in the FY2018 Budget legislation explicitly and directly changing the definitions in the public health law to ban the practice.

There is a petition organized by the successful plaintiffs, aiming to influence City Council to extract that language from the budget bill.

-- DC City Council: Lay off the hens; support backyard chickens in DC

1220 Maple View Place SE is one of the properties in question.  Photo: L'Enfant Trust.

2.  There has been coverage of the battle between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch over how to deal with four nuisance/disinvested properties in the Anacostia neighborhood ("Four Anacostia houses are at heart of an affordable housing struggle," Washington Business Journal; "DHCD Refuses to Comment on Derelict D.C.-Owned Anacostia Houses," Washington City Paper).  The properties have continued to decline and languish while under the control of the city's Department of Housing and Community.

Neighborhood residents convinced the City Council to transfer the properties to the housing rehabilitation program of the nonprofit L'Enfant Trust, which has restored a couple of houses in the neighborhood.

Instead of going along with the legislation, the Executive Branch has ignored the law passed transferring the properties, and separately is marketing the properties for sale.

3.  The nonprofit National Mall Coalition has been floating a concept for a number of years to build a parking structure/stormwater capture facility under the National Mall.  The revenue from parking would pay for the facility.  Granted the National Park Service, which controls the land, isn't too keen on the idea. But the NMC has offered to pay $100,000 for a feasibility study by the Army Corps of Engineers, which is willing to do the preliminary study.  But the request, even if paid for by a nonprofit or private sector initiative, has to come from a local government.

DC's Executive Branch is not willing to put forth such a request, so NMC is trying to get City Council to pass legislation authorizing the study.

I have some reservations, not about the initiative, but about there needing to be more "visitor management planning" wrapped around the proposal ("A National Mall-focused heritage (replica) streetcar service to serve visitors is a way bigger idea than a parking garage under the Mall").  To their credit, NMC added my recommendation of a visitors center to their original concept.

The National Archives McGowan Auditorium was flooded during a stormwater overflow event in 2006, costing millions of dollars in damage.

Still, what's "the harm" in a study, especially because it is in response to stormwater-related floods that caused millions of dollars of damage in 2006 ("With National Treasures At Risk, D.C. Fights Against Flooding," NPR) and maintaining the economic viability of the central business district ought to be a key element of the city's economic development and risk management policies.

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What each of these examples share is that the initiative for action did not come from the Executive Branch, which seems to believe that only it knows what's best for the rest of us.

It's not a good way to behave or model behavior and it is definitely counter to language in Mayor Bowser's inauguration speech:
I will encourage creativity, risk-taking and innovation. It is my pledge to take sometimes the road less protected, to see jobs and opportunities when others see only the costs, and to praise my staff when they get it right and be the one to tell you if we get it wrong.

Now you know this, I’m not a “pie in the sky” politician. I believe in making both bold and pragmatic plans and executing them every day. At the end of every day, week or quarter—our team will have to show results. Not just during election season, but for the four full years.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

A massive example of re/urbanization failure in DC: DC Court of Appeals fosters automobile-centricity

The Northwest Current reports on the approval process for a microunit apartment building in the Shaw neighborhood of DC.  See the page one article, "Blagden Alley project drops no-parking plan."

The original proposal was to provide zero parking for automobiles, but a wide array of sustainable transportation elements. From the article:
Planned “micro unit” apartments in Shaw’s Blagden Alley will have parking after all, after the D.C. Court of Appeals reversed an approval of designs that included no spaces for cars.

Developer Saul Urban, previously known as SB-Urban, won approval in early 2015 for a 123-unit project with buildings at 90 and 91 Blagden Alley NW, near 9th and M streets. The small apartments of less than 400 square feet each are planned as fully furnished for short-term leases ...

To assuage concerns by neighbors and the Board of Zoning Adjustment about the lack of parking, the developers initially agreed to a host of strategies to ensure that tenants wouldn’t arrive with cars or choose to buy one while living there. These included informing prospective renters they couldn’t park at the site or on the street, and blocking tenants from ever obtaining a Residential Parking Permit. To provide alternative transportation options, the firm also agreed to fund a Capital Bikeshare station, set aside space for 42 bike parking spots and a bike repair facility, install electronic displays with real-time transit information, and provide free carsharing memberships to new tenants. Under Saul Urban’s latest proposal, all of those requirements have been eliminated. ...
But some residents challenged the approval, suing the Zoning Commission. Rather than go through continued iterations with the Zoning Commission, figuring that well-heeled residents would continue to litigate elimination of parking, the developer decided to conform with parking requirements, and eliminated all the sustainable mobility accommodations. From the article:
The revisions to the project resulted from a D.C. Court of Appeals decision last fall that the Board of Zoning Adjustment had been too lenient in granting the parking relief. The court ordered the zoning board to reconsider the application, but Saul Urban opted instead to amend its plans to conform with today’s requirements.
Instead of a building that attracts sustainable mobility centric residents,the building will have to charge higher rent to pay for the cost of constructing parking for 21 cars.

This is terrible.  Not a surprise.  But terrible.

How do you connect all the dots with one continuous line?

I have always been nonplussed that people who prefer to be automobile-centric demand that everyone else travel similarly, not recognizing or acknowledging that because the amount and capacity of travel lanes in the city is fixed, having more residents who reflexively choose to drive as their first choice, the worse congestion is.

See "Car culture and automobilty: 5 stories of inside the box thinking" and "DC as a suburban agenda dominated city."

You have to extend your line beyond the box.

The point of having some buildings be sustainable mobility-centric is that you attract more people who travel differently, who don't compete for scarce space against other automobiles.

It's called sorting.  And sorting for transportation, in the center city, is a good thing.

Microunit apartment buildings, density bonuses for apartment buildings in the central core, and by transit stations, and accessory dwelling units are ways to add population that strengthen the sorting effect towards sustainable mobility.

But developers will fold on this in the face of costly delays and litigation.

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My best piece on developing a transit-centric land use and transportation policy is this almost 11 year old blog entry, "Comments on Proposed EYA Development at Takoma Metro Station, Washington DC."

Then, WMATA approved a proposal to build rowhouses on part of the land at the Takoma Metrorail Station, each with two backyard parking spaces.

 Instead, I proposed the construction of a multiunit building with no parking spaces, but with underground parking, to support the commercial district but also to provide space for car sharing vehicles, bike parking, etc., focused specifically on "recruiting" to the neighborhood residents who weren't car-centric.  (In 2015, WMATA and the developer moved more towards what I recommended, but the project still faces car-centric opponents.)

The foundation of my argument was a discussion of San Francisco's "Transit-First" planning policy, which is an element of the City Charter.
... recommends that WMATA adopt a transit-first development policy generally, which should guide development plans for this and other similarly situated land parcels in the WMATA land inventory.

The City of San Francisco adopted a "transit first" development policy decades ago. For the most part this means that new development in the downtown core has been built without parking, but with access to efficient transit.

Moving to a "transit first" land use and development paradigm

Most citizens and government agencies are imprinted with an approach to land use that is automobile-centric and oriented towards segregated, relatively undense uses. This is commonly referred to as a suburban-oriented land use and development paradigm. Stakeholders have an unconscious and systematic bias towards "automobility" and improving the transportation system for automobiles, at the expense of transit and pedestrian capacity, and urban design.

The suburban land use approach is particularly inappropriate for center cities generally, and Washington specifically, especially because the city is so well connected by transit, in particular the subway, and relatively efficient bus service throughout most of the city, and because of the importance of leveraging the tremendous public investments that have been made in building and maintaining this system. (Note that the polycentric design of the WMATA subway system is criticized because it promotes sprawl even more than it improves access to and within the center city.)

A "transit-first" policy would establish and emphasize that the basic framework of how the City of Washington should grow is through the linkage-articulation of land use and transit. Intra-city and regional mobility can be improved and congestion reduced by investing in the capacity of our transit system, and by linking land use policies to these investments.

Furthermore, every parking space is an automobile trip generator. We cannot simultaneously expand parking and reduce congestion. The concept of induced demand presented both by parking spaces and roads is well understood throughout the transportation planning profession.

WMATA, as a transit agency, should not be in the business of promoting automobility, especially through its land development and disposition practices.
Moving from "Transit First" to a "Sustainable Mobility Platform."  Now I would move somewhat beyond "transit first," not focusing exclusively on transit, and more about the development and extension of a robust "sustainable mobility platform," with walking, biking, transit (including new microtransit options), carsharing, and delivery services.

For this platform to work and be robust, it needs an active user base.

The development of the sustainable mobility platform and a large user base comes from:
  • focusing development around transit stations and mobility hubs
  • intensifying land use appropriately (while respecting the historic building stock and urban design of the city)
  • by discouraging privileging of the automobile, and 
  • by actively recruiting people who don't look to the automobile as their first choice for transportation.   
Part of the way this is done is by building multiunit buildings with no or very limited accommodations for the automobile.

It's also done by building a wider variety of housing types, including microapartments and accessory dwelling units, that support living, if not "car free," very much "car light," by enabling additional population in sustainable mobility rich environments that are in-demand places where they normally could not afford to live, because of the high cost of traditional housing (primarily single family housing) and nonexistent alternatives.

San Francisco through its Transit First policy, mostly discourages or prevents construction of parking as part of new development projects in denser parts of the city.

Similarly, Seattle eliminated parking minimum requirements in its downtown and about 11 years ago they extended this policy to areas of the city where light rail transit stations were planned (such as Capitol Hill and University Village).

Failure to eliminate parking minimums at some level turns out to be a major mistake within the Comprehensive Plan and the Zoning Rewrite.  DC's Comprehensive Plan calls for transit-centric development and the zoning rewrite was supposed to reduce parking minimum requirements.

To assuage opposition, rather than eliminate parking minimums, parking elimination was encouraged, on a case by case basis, through a special review process involving "proffers" that support sustainable mobility (i.e., paying for transit shelters, bike sharing stations, accommodating, car sharing, etc.).

But the downside of the negotiation process is that it can be legally challenged independently of "the government."

And developers, not willing to rock the boat or spend a lot of money to prove a principle, will choose instead to go with the flow, and conform to parking requirements, to make it easier and faster to get building approvals.

Because of this reality, not eliminating parking minimums within the Comp. Plan, at least in the core, was a big mistake.

And therefore, even through automobility is less efficient and fundamentally anti-urban. we are not making nearly enough headway in discouraging automobile use in the center city generally and the core specifically.

Another example of the need to revise the Comprehensive Plan (and zoning) concerning parking.  At least this can be addressed through the city's Comprehensive Plan revision process, which is currently underway, but I am not optimistic about the capacity of the Office of Planning to be particularly forward acting, despite the many recent negative holdings--in terms of their lack of support for what is called "Smart Growth"-- by the Courts

This happened because the Comprehensive Plan is written to be deliberately hazy to satisfy pro-growth and anti-growth sentiments.  The city wasn't willing to take decidedly pro-growth positions and push them forward, making the arguments despite opposition.

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Is seeing believing? Gondola transit service and Staten Island

Notions Capital calls our attention to an article in New York Magazine, "Staten Island Really Wants a Gondola Connecting It to New Jersey," about a proposal for gondola transit service between Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey. (Also see "Aerial gondola to Staten Island 'appealing,' mayor says," Staten Island Advance).

A trip would take six minutes, and connect to the PATH train into Manhattan, for a total 33-minute trip to "the city," much quicker compared to current options--bridges or getting to St. George by car or transit and then taking the Staten Island Ferry across


Photo: Staten Island Advance.

The Staten Island Economic Development Corporation has organized a "show and tell" with a gondola car, taking it around the Island, to build support for doing a feasibility study.

Here's the schedule for the next few days:

April 22: Staten Island Mall, (East Pacific/Chase Back Parking Lot), 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

April 23: Father Capodanno Boardwalk (Sand Lane parking lot), 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

April 24: St. John's University Staten Island Campus, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., and Wagner College, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

April 25: The cabin will drive through the "SIEDC Neighborhood Development towns" of Richmond Road, New Dorp, Huguenot and Richmond Valley for public viewing, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

April 27: SIEDC Business Conference at Hilton Garden Inn, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

I used to be more critical of proposals for gondolas (not so much aerial trams), but now recognize that can be a useful element within transit networks, depending on the nature of the network, topography, gaps, and how to address gaps.

I am still critical of many such proposals, but see how proposals connecting Rosslyn and Georgetown in DC, or serving the Don Valley in Toronto, can make a lot of sense.

In various cities, but particularly Medellín, Colombia, gondolas have been a key element in improving "social inclusion" by providing transit and mobility options to communities that had been disconnected and isolated because they are located on steep hills.  The city has also installed public escalators in some places for the same reason.  This is an element of what they call "social urbanism."

-- "'Social urbanism' experiment breathes new life into Colombia's Medellin," Toronto Globe & Mail
-- "Medellín's 'social urbanism' a model for city transformation," Mail & Guardian
-- "Medellín slum gets giant outdoor escalator," Telegraph
-- "Medellín, Colombia offers an unlikely model for urban renaissance," Toronto Star

The interesting element is marketing transit and the potential for transit in an environment that generally denigrates transit, public goods, the actions of governments and nonprofits, and even innovation.

Note that one of the arguments that will always be made by the opposition is that the transit project is good only for developers, that it's just a way for them to make money.

I used the Don Valley proposal as an example of top notch marketing in this entry, "Transit stuff #3: Marketing the benefits of new transit proposals."
donvalley_cablecar
But it's still a tough slog because the forces that promote automobility and gasoline consumption are so much stronger.  It takes brave elected officials and stakeholders to move such projects forward.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

National Park Week: free entry this weekend

Actually, it's been National Park Week since last weekend and last and this weekend there is free entry to those parks that charge fees.

The Arizona Republic has a nice story, "Six Arizona places worth seeing during National Park Week," about the National Parks in Arizona.

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Revitalization, re/urbanization and cohort-generational attitudes

There was a very interesting presentation yesterday at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies, primarily by academic researchers in Montreal, looking at Montreal's history of immigrant immigration and considering what lessons might be applicable to DC as a city (not DC as the center of the current anti-immigrant national government).

Whites refocusing city investment on public spaces "for them."  Professor Derek Hyra, Director of American University's Metropolitan Studies Center, was the respondent, and in response to a suggestion by a GWU professor in the audience, Prof. Hyra recounted the story of dog parks in the Shaw neighborhood as an example of how new residents are reshaping the city's investment priorities at the expense of what we might call legacy residents, mentioning that at the time the park where the dog park went was in need of renovation.

The reality is that in the past 15 years or so, DC has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on park and recreation (and library) improvements, with a disproportionate amount of that money being spent on facilities serving African-American and/or disadvantaged areas in the city, e.g., new recreation centers in Barry Farm, Trinidad, Deanwood, new libraries like in Anacostia, Deanwood, and Shaw, etc.

Is it age/generational or racialization? One of the people in the audience, Justin Rood, organizer of the DC Funk Parade, argued that in DC it's very easy to see every issue in terms of race, black or white, and what he called a "racialization" of issues, when he thought that the major issue was more about change generally, and that older people, black or white, are less favorable to changes as a matter of course.

Re/urbanization vs. out of date ideas about urban practice. I countered that while it was a good point, it isn't so much about age as it is about generationally-based sets of attitudes towards what (re)urbanization is and ought to be and what it should look like. (Some of this is discussed in Richard Florida's new book, The New Urban Crisis.)

For years I have discussed this in terms of the general "suburbanized paradigm of transportation and land use policy" that has imprinted most of us in the US, whether or not we are aware of or acknowledge it, where land uses are separated, and the primary means of getting around between various disconnected activities is the car.

Even the people who moved to the city from say the early 1960s through the 1990s before urban living became not only trendy but accepted, while more pro-urban than most, still are imprinted by land use ideas, behaviors, and attitudes that aren't fully pro-urban.

I have written about the split in attitudes within DC in terms of the Core or Inner City vs. the Outer or more suburban City ("DC as a suburban agenda dominated city"), and how yes, people in the Outer City are older, more connected, generally have more time to be involved, and without realizing promote more suburban-appropriate policies.

But the issue is about re/urbanization more than it is about "age," it's just that what reurbanization means is more easily addressed as a race or generational question.

This is especially problematic for two reasons.

First, like everywhere else and in national politics, people argue that there is only one way to act, to live, etc., and they aim to require that every piece of land or transportation policy be made to support their particular set of choices, which they deem a form of "natural law."

Instead we need to recognize the value in differentiation, e.g. as one example, that the rural areas can have different gun policies than cities and it doesn't mean that restricting uses means that the government aims to make us all slaves,

It definitely means that cities and metropolitan areas need to be addressed in ways that support the reality that these are economic engines for regions and states.  Instead, many state legislatures, dominated by rural interests, use their levers of power to punish statens.

One current example is how the Minnesota Legislature is working on a bill to eliminate state funding for transit in Greater Minneapolis ("Transportation bills pass, starting the real Minnesota talks," Grand Rapids Herald-Review).

Another is how the State Legislature in Kentucky is diminishing power of the combined City-County Government in Louisville-Jefferson County ("Bill strikes at Louisville merger, tax base," and "A 'war on Louisville' bill poised to become law," Louisville Courier-Journal).

Second, people refuse to wake up to the fact that to be successful now, in this decade and throughout the 21st century, places--not just cities--need to refocus on the benefits from and generation of agglomeration economies that support clustering, and organizing, reorganizing, and appropriately intensifying land use and transportation infrastructure in response.

The problem is that people are making decisions today which will shape this and other cities for generations, in ways that seriously impinge social and economic resilience.

Decisions made today more generally and with regard to specific properties have a useful life of 30-60 years at a minimum, longer depending on the land tenure arrangements.

Getting it right the first time is an imperative, especially in a period of increased economic competition, increased demands for services from the government, increased costs for services and infrastructure, and a national government that is increasingly hermetic, anti-government, anti-tax, and is federalist to the extent it can use national law-making powers to restrict local ability to act independently.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Earth Day: Saturday April 22nd

Earth Day should be Earth/Environmental Month, with a full set of activities focused on building environmental awareness.

1. (From email) Mayor Bowser to Deliver Free Statehood-Themed Pollinator Plant Seeds In Recognition of Earth Day: Initiative Will Span 17 Metro Stations Across All 8 Wards

(WASHINGTON, DC) – On Friday, April 21 at 8:30 a.m., Mayor Muriel Bowser will deliver free statehood-themed pollinator plant seeds at the Columbia Heights metro station in recognition of Earth Day. In addition to Mayor Bowser, Administration officials will visit 17 metro stations covering all eight wards delivering free seeds which will enhance the survival of native pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

The plant seeds will bloom into red Eastern Columbine and white Calico Aster flowers, emblemizing the stars and bars of the DC flag in support of the Bowser Administration’s efforts to make Washington, DC the nation’s 51st state. Each packet contains enough seeds to cover a 6-by-6-foot area.

Administration officials will be located at the following metro stations:

WARD 1: Columbia Heights (GR/YL) and Shaw-Howard (GR/YL)
WARD 2: Foggy Bottom-GWU (SV/BL/OR) and Dupont Circle (RE)
WARD 3: Cleveland Park (RE) and Tenleytown-AU (RE)
WARD 4: Takoma (RE) and Georgia Avenue-Petworth (GR/YL)
WARD 5: Brookland-CUA (RE) and Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood (RE)
WARD 6: Eastern Market (SV/BL/OR), Potomac Avenue (SV/BL/OR), and Waterfront (GR)
WARD 7: Benning Road (SV/BL) and Minnesota Avenue (OR)
WARD 8: Anacostia (GR) and Congress Heights (GR)

2. For Earth Day, DC is launching weekly compost drop off at Farmers Markets across the city, starting with Eastern Market, this Saturday, on Earth Day. (It's modeled after a program that the Greenmarkets in NYC have been doing for years and something I've recommended for awhile in writings and testimonies, e.g., "Urban composting redux" from 2013 and "More on zero waste practice and DC," 2015.)

-- Food Waste Drop-Off, DC Department of Public Works
-- Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 & 2016 Solid Waste Diversion Progress Report, DC Department of Public Works

3. DC released its Sustainable DC Plan a few years ago, and this week they released the progress report for FY2017. Mayor Bowser, DPW Director Christopher Shorter, and other agency representatives will talk about it at a presentation from Noon - 1 PM (not very long) at Eastern Market's North Hall, on Saturday.

-- Sustainable DC Plan Progress Webpage

4. Not on Earth Day or during Earth Month, Montgomery County's Green Fest is May 5th. I think such an expo should be a basic offering during Earth Month for cities of a decent size and/or counties.

5. The Master Gardener program of Montgomery County, Maryland's Agriculture Extension Program, has a deep and wide exhibiting information program, called "plant clinics," throughout the county through the summer and into the fall. It's a model for other communities.

There needs to be more of this type of programming made available within cities, using Farmer's Markets, Festivals, and other events as a delivery mechanism.

6. DC Office of Planning wants to add a Resilience Element to the DC Comprehensive Plan.

I'll be arguing for the creation of a Rivers and Watersheds Element in the Comprehensive Plan amendment cycle.

7. A few weeks ago the New York Times had an opinion piece by researchers at the University of Michigan Institute for Transportation Studies about how the most important environmental action people could take would be to have a more environmentally friendly automobile ("What You Can Do About Climate Change"). From the article:
What can you — just one concerned person — do about global warming?

It may feel like a more urgent problem these days, with proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and each year warmer than the previous one.

You could drive a few miles fewer a year. Reduce your speed. Turn down your thermostat in winter. Replace your incandescent light bulbs with LEDs. Reduce your meat consumption. Any one of those actions would help.

But none would come close to doing as much as driving a fuel-efficient vehicle. If vehicles averaged 31 miles per gallon, according to our research, the United States could reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 5 percent.
Interestingly, from the standpoint of our nation being gasoholics, they didn't consider sustainable mobility options--walking, biking, transit.  That being said, there was a great graphic (above) with the article on environmentally-conscious choices we can make.

8.  While the advantage of urban living is that in cities people tend to live in smaller places and drive less compared to suburban settings, therefore using less energy, according to the new book by Richard Florida, The New Urban Crisis, the current back to the city movement is marked by people choosing to live in larger houses, and adoption of a more car-centric mobility paradigm.  That's not good.

9.  The anti-food waste nonprofit ReFED reports that there is a "boom" in the increase in the number of businesses producing food items from food that had been wasted ("The hot new trend in food is literal garbage," Washington Post).

-- ReFED’s Food Waste Innovator Database

10. The Seattle Times has an article, "Why tens of thousands could turn out Saturday for Seattle's March for Science," on how there will be a march for science-based decision-making as a part of Earth Day activities in that city.

That is one of many such marches across the globe, including a big science march in DC

11.  In the same vein as Montgomery County but on a much bigger scale, the Dallas-Fort Worth region sponsors an "Earth Day Texas" event drawing tens of thousands of attendees ("Earth Day Texas organizers want investors to see the green in clean" and "Earth Day Texas event in Dallas will bring together experts to tackle plastics," Dallas Morning News).

12. I forgot to mention two interesting "local" recycling ventures, that are examples of small scale eco-industry development, one in St. Louis, the other in Sacramento.

Both I learned about through shows on PBS. On the "Create" HDTV and cable channel, broadcast in the DC area by Maryland Public Television, the Growing a Greener World show ran a program (Episode 113) on an initiative by the Missouri Botanical Gardens to recycle plastic plant pots, which aren't recyclable in the normal waste stream ("Dealing with Plastic Pots, Packaging and more").  A nearby St. Louis firm, called Plastic Lumber Company, uses the plastic beads produced from the recycled pots to make plastic lumber.

The children's show Curiosity Quest, recently repeated an earlier episode  on recycling paint. The Acrylatex Company in Sacramento recycles paint which is used for graffiti abatement applications. They recycle everything.  Liquid paint, the cans, and the "hockey pucks" -- dried paint in paint cans -- they make that into "ornamental stones" for landscaping.

If solid waste were handled at the regional scale, rather than by jurisdiction, it would be easier to set up similar kinds of operations more widely, and collectively this could have significant impact, organized by metropolitan region, but at a national scale.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Using the Silver Line as the priming event, what would a transit network improvement program look like for NoVA?

Today's Post article, "Va. community once primed for streetcar struggling to find new energy," about the revitalization malaise that has set in the Bailey's Crossroads area of Fairfax County since Arlington County cancelled plans to build a streetcar line in the Columbia Pike corridor, and yesterday's Post article, "When commuting in the DC region, distance doesn't tell the whole story" which makes the point that in terms of traveling east to west the DC metropolitan transit network has many gaps reminds me that I haven't yet written a series of posts around the "Fantasy High Frequency Transit Map," created by Paul J. Meissner, incorporating ideas from both of us.

Also see the 2011 post, "Short term vs. long term thinking: transit, the Washington Examiner, Fairfax/Loudoun Counties vs. DC," which discusses how the Silver Line wasn't so much about providing access to the Dulles Airport as much as it was rearticulating the land use planning paradigm in the Silver Line transit shed (station service catchment area) for the 21st century and the desire to live in more urbanized places.

And the 2015 post, "Silver Line reshaping the commercial office market in Fairfax County."

Conceptual Future integrated rail transit service network for the Washington DC National Capitol Region. Design by Paul J. Meissner.  Concept by Richard Layman and Paul Meissner.
Washington/National Capital Region Map of Future (Potential) Rapid Transit Services.  Designed by Paul J. Meissner, for the "Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space" blog.

Organizing principles for transit network expansion and improvement as incorporated into Paul Meissner's map.  The basic idea was to shape the map with some general somewhat objective organizing principles.  It wasn't just about drawing lines on a map, but trying to serve high use destinations, which is necessary to justify the investment.

For me it was first that the WMATA map only shows the subway lines, and it needs to show the railroad lines too, as is common in other cities with more frequent passenger rail service.

Second, the Metro Forward program doesn't do all that much for DC, so we need a better plan for transit expansion.  Third, it was about trying to separate the blue and silver lines, and to some extent the yellow and green lines, to reduce "interlining" which ends up reducing capacity and decreasing reliability (see the discussion of this point here, "More on Redundancy, engineered resilience, and subway systems: Metrorail failures will increase without adding capacity in the core").

Fourth, at the same time using the separation of the lines to add capacity and service and intensification of land use by using the changes to bring about more high capacity service to more areas. And to intensify service by providing infill lines and stations.

For example, as discussed below, this concept would add 22 Metrorail stations to Northern Virginia.

But it also adds 26 stations in DC (note to Paul, on the Silver Line we're missing a station between West End and Thomas Circle, maybe 17th Street?), and 21 new Metrorail stations in Maryland.

Some of this is by extending some of the lines outward, and some is by adding lines within the current system footprint.

For Paul it was about using recommendations from adopted plans, as well as some key vision points, the likelihood of happening (which is why we had a tug of war between us about the Purple Line) as well as speed issues--he wasn't into "extending the Purple Line from Bethesda to Tysons" because it would be very slow if it isn't given dedicated right of way.

Paul also made keeping "a one seat ride to Downtown" a key principle in the design of the original Metrorail transit network, which is why he wouldn't accede to my changing the blue line so that it no longer would go directly into DC providing multiple station stops within the Central Business District.  (Think of how the Blue Line truncates in this map, and a separate Brown Line emanates north from Georgetown--in the latest iteration, I wanted to combine these lines into a new Blue Line.).
Conceptual map for transit expansion in the DC region with a focus on subway service expansion within the District of Columbia.

Note that these ideas presuppose significant changes in organization, planning and funding arrangements concerning the transit system as discussed in hundreds of past blog entries.

First, it would start by creating a new overarching "transport association" bigger than WMATA ("The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority").

Second, it would require different funding arrangements, again, beyond WMATA ("What to do about WMATA?, the DC area transit system: the Federal City Council says create a Control Board" and "Metrolinx Toronto: 25 potential tools to fund transit-transportation infrastructure")

Note that now "I am very afraid" that if WMATA gets dedicated funding as major stakeholders are arguing for, it will circumscribe the ability for other transportation improvements to be able to get funding.

Overarching recommendations:

1.  Create the DMV Transport Association
2.  Create regularized transportation funding mechanisms for the metropolitan area and region that transcend individual operators like WMATA.

Purple Line series as a model for what could be done in Northern Virginia.  I have a series of posts on how complementary transit network improvements could be made simultaneous with the building and launch of the Purple Line light rail in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties:

-- Part 1 |  the principles
-- Part 2 |  the program (macro changes)
-- Part 3 |  influences
-- Part 4 | Making over New Carrollton as a transit-centric urban center and Prince George's County's "New Downtown"
-- Part 5 | Creating a Signature Streets sustainable mobility road network in the core of Silver Spring (to come)

Silver Line as a priming event for improving the transit network in Northern Virginia.  As with the missed opportunity (so far) to utilize the Purple Line as a way to push improvements across the transit network, the Silver Line should have been and still could be utilized similarly in Northern Virginia.

Of course, it should have been leveraged at the outset by DC as a way to build the separated Silver Line within DC, something I have been writing about since 2006 ("The Silver Line WMATA story that WJLA-TV missed"), which would have added an additional northern subway crossing across the Potomac River.

I don't have the same level of fine grained knowledge about NoVA that I do wrt Montgomery and PG Counties, so writing a super detailed piece comparable in scope to the Purple Line series is beyond me.

It is unfortunate that the improvements to the transit network from the Silver Line, a streetcar on Columbia Pike, and the expansion and improvements of the Virginia Railway Express weren't laid out as three parts of a complete package, with the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Recommendations
Refer to the discussion in Part 2 |  the program (macro changes for more details on many of the points below referenced as part of the PL writing.

Note that the Phase 2 of the Silver Line is scheduled to open in 2020, so the time line as proposed wrt the Purple Line doesn't work in terms of Northern Virginia

Proposed:
Washington Area Transit Network 
Complementary Improvements Program 
for Northern Virginia
2017-2022

1. Separating the Silver Line from the Orange Line by extending the line south to Rte. 50 and then east along the street to Rosslyn. That would provide six new stations: West Street; Falls Church; Seven Corners; Arlington Forest; Ashton Heights; and Fort Myer. Continuing the Silver Line from its endpoint at Ashburn to Leesburg should be considered also, which isn't depicted on the above map.

2. Extending the Orange Line west, adding four stations: Fairfax City/GMU; Fair Oaks; Fair Lakes; and Centreville.

3. Extending the Yellow Line south on Rte. 1 to Fort Belvoir, adding four stations: Beacon Hill; Hybla Valley; Mount Vernon; and Fort Belvoir.  (This should have been done as part of BRAC planning, something I first suggested in 2005.)

4. The map also acknowledges the planned infill Potomac Yard station on the Blue and Yellow Lines, and proposes an infill station, called East Potomac Park, serving the west side of the National Mall near Jefferson Memorial, within DC.

5. A new Pink Line rapid transit line (subway) is proposed serving Northern Virginia in the Columbia Pike corridor, with service to DC, adding eight stations in Northern Virginia: Lincolnia; Seminary Road; Skyline Center/NOVA Community College; Baileys Crossroads; Barcroft; Pike Town Center; Penrose Square; and Air Force Memorial.  The heavy rail Pink Line addresses the malaise in the Columbia Pike corridor identified in the Post article.
Conceptual map for WMATA expansion, c. 1990
This c. 1990 WMATA proposed extensions map shows a line out Columbia Pike.  Note the stations for Annandale and Baileys Crossroads.  It proposed a terminus in Manassas.

The Pink Line is Paul's concept, and includes some of my input concerning service beyond Silver Spring in Montgomery County.  Note that original system planning for the Metrorail envisioned a line like this out Columbia Pike, but unlike our line which continues past the Silver Spring Metrorail station, the WMATA proposal terminated there.

That's why there is the clump of high density apartment buildings in Fairfax County out that way, not unlike how the area around what became PG Plaza Metrorail Station bulked up starting in the late 1960s, in response to future plans for what became the Green Line ("Back to the Future," Washington Business Journal).  From the article:
When University Town Center opens in June, it will offer the typical fare Washingtonians can't resist. A movie theater will beam the latest flicks onto 14 state-of-the art screens. Condos and apartments will overlook a central plaza dotted with art, fountains and natural greenery. Sushi and wine, burgers and brews will tempt taste buds.

It will be exactly how developer Herschel Blumberg envisioned it. In 1961.

Conceptual rendering for a BRT system on Leesburg Pike.

6. Integration of various Bus Rapid Transit improvements into a unified network (shown on the map as green lines). (In part, Item 10 on the PL list.)

7. Set the opening of the Purple Line as the deadline for the integration of the MARC Penn Line and VRE Fredericksburg Line into one combined railroad passenger service line ("A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines").  (Item 13 in the PL list)  Note that separately, MARC is planning to extend the Penn Line to Delaware (and/or alternatively, extend SEPTA service from Newark, Delaware to Perryville, Maryland).

8.  Introduce bi-directional railroad service between DC and Fredericksburg in association with the combination of the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines into one integrated service.

9. Integrate the Crystal City railroad station into the ground transportation system of National Airport ("A brief comment on ground transportation at National Airport vis a vis VRE rail service") to better leverage railroad access to the airport, comparable to ground transportation and marketing services for the rail connection from the BWI MARC/Amtrak station to BWI Airport.

10. Integrate VRE/MARC fares into the SmarTrip/ CharmCard fare media system (Item 3 in PL list).

11. Extend the Purple Line light rail from Bethesda to Tysons, using dedicated right of way, including on the American Legion Bridge.
Purple Line Map  DC Metro
The original Purple Line concept connects the various heavy rail lines in Northern Virginia and Maryland, providing better east-west connections on the north and south sides of the transit network.  Sierra Club Metro DC graphic.

The transit services in Raleigh-Durham use the same design scheme, but assigning a different color to each transit agency.

12. Consider a redesign and rebranding of the the metropolitan area's bus systems into an integrated family of transit agencies linked by a common graphic design treatment, comparable to that of GoTransit in the Raleigh-Durham area (Item 12 in the PL list).

13. Set the opening of the Purple Line as the deadline for the implementation of a full-fledged integrated Night Owl bus network for the DC metropolitan area (Item 14 in the PL list).

14. Provide integrated train arrival information screens at Metrorail, Light Rail, and VRE/MARC stations (Item 7 in the PL list).

15. Provide integrated bus arrival and departure information screens at Metrorail, Light Rail, and VRE/MARC stations and bus-only transit stations (Item 8 in the PL list).

16. Incorporate quantum improvements in bicycle facilities across the mobility network in association with the launch of the Purple Line (Item 16 in the PL list).  This item has a number of components, including definition of a regional bikeway network, creating a regional bikeways map, creating a system of secure public bike parking stations across the region, etc.

17. Rearticulate transportation demand management programming and services in conjunction with the PL launch, including a unified network of "customer information centers" (Item 17 in the PL list). Arlington was the first jurisdiction in the area to launch "Commuter Stores," promoting alternatives to driving alone, in particular transit. Other jurisdictions including Fairfax County have similar programs. A complete network should created, rebranded, and relaunched along with the rebranding of the area's bus systems as mentioned in Item 11 above.

18. WMATA should upgrade its Metrorail station bus shelters (Item 18 in the PL list).

19. Create sustainable mobility districts and corridors as appropriate, complementing the transit network improvements, especially in the Tysons area, which is planned, but far behind in implementation. This is discussed in Item 19 on the PL list, and will be the subject of a dedicated post, using Silver Spring as an example.

Another example is WABA's proposal for the development of a cycle track network and concomitant improvements in the Arlington Boulevard corridor.

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20.  Note that railroad improvements are dependent on reconstruction and expansion of the Long Bridge, the CSX owned bridge that connects DC and Virginia. The bridge has two railroad tracks used by freight and passenger trains, and two Metrorail lines. It needs two more tracks, which are likely to come as part of a second new bridge span. This is a priority for DC and Virginia currently.  (For Virginia, it is part of their "Atlantic Gateway" program.)

-- Long Bridge Project

Note that in the planning for this bridge, I don't believe it has been suggested but I think that there should be a dedicated bus transitway also, providing redundancy and increased capacity for bus transit service between DC and Northern Virginia.

And it will take a lot longer than 6 years, sadly, to build that bridge extension.  But because all of Virginia's plans for railroad expansion are dependent on it, it will happen.

DC streetcar service used to have a turnaround loop in Rosslyn.  Streetcar service in Northern Virginia used to continue into DC, but when a new Key Bridge was constructed, dedicated right of way wasn't provided to streetcar services, and these various lines were discontinued.

21.  I would add a heritage streetcar service for the National Mall including service to Arlington Cemetery and Rosslyn, as discussed here, "A National Mall-focused heritage (replica) streetcar service to serve visitors is way bigger idea than a parking garage under the Mall" and "New DC Circulator route serving National Mall reminds us that we are neglecting connections from west to east and fail to adequately connect Georgetown to the National Mall."

22.  And Georgetown BID's gondola proposal connecting Georgetown DC with Rosslyn in Arlington County, Virginia, which regardless of the creation of a separated Silver Line or a Pink Line, would make Rosslyn's Metrorail Station the equivalent of a DC-serving Metrorail station.

23. (I still need to write about it) adoption of the City of Alexandria wayfinding signage system as a regional best practice, and porting the system to other jurisdictions.

24.  Incorporate the proposed VRE system improvements plan into this program.

-- VRE System Plan 2040

25. Incorporate transit services associated with the I-66 project, Transform 66, into this program.

-- Transform 66 in Northern Virginia - Outside the Beltway: FAQs
-- Transform 66 in Northern Virginia - Inside the Beltway

26. Improve funding for local transit in Prince William County. See "With sustained reduction in gasoline prices, will suburban transit systems lose ridership and revenue?"

27. Integrate the long distance commuter bus network into a unified system.  This is somewhat the case wrt Maryland in terms of the route network but not in the branding of buses as service is provided under multiple banners/liveries, although 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 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

GO Bus also has some double deck buses (see "Making bus service sexy and more equitable") which is something that should be considered also.

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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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Maybe a Rave Train could reboot WMATA's weekend ridership

cf. the Chicago L Christmas Train


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In "Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success: Part 2 | proposed parallel improvements across the transit network," one item suggests creation of a specially discounted weekend day pass, modeled after Melbourne, as a way to rebrand the service. From the article:
15. Create a cheap weekend pass to use the local transit network, especially Metrorail.

Right now, weekend subway service is abominable. No wonder ridership has declined so precipitously.

In association with the eventual fixing of the system to a state of good repair and the launch of the Purple Line as a way to rearticulate and integrate transit service and improvements to the transit network, the DMVTA and in particular Metrorail+Purple Line Light Rail should implement a cheap weekend pass.

The model is Melbourne. On weekends and public holidays the equivalent of a full day transit pass is $6. A WMATA Day Pass is $14.50.

Note that Melbourne has other fare programs focused on transit encouragement rather than revenue generation. The night-time fare is $4.10 total from 6 pm to 3 am, and if you ride transit early in the morning and your end-to-end trip finishes before 7:15 am the trip is free.

This is more about rewarding riders for putting up with service degradation for many many years, but why not do it?
The Irish Times reported ("Police break up rave on London Underground") on a "Rave Prank" on the London Underground. From the article:
Police broke up an underground rave with a difference after a party with lights and a sound system started on a Tube train. A video uploaded to Youtube showed revellers dancing to drum ‘n’ bass music in a carriage on the northbound Bakerloo line service through central London on Monday night.

The stunt by internet pranksters Trollstation featured a performance by collective member DJ Dicsoboy and MC Harry Shotta. The six-minute film showed the party in the carriage as the train travelled from Embankment to Paddington, where British Transport Police (BTP) officers shut down the good-natured event.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Design forward bike parking is nice, but secure parking is better

For a few months, I've meant to blog about seeing more "design forward" bike parking ("Best (or at least better) practices in bike parking and bicycle facilities implementation," 2011), especially in the U Street NW area.  But then in the area last Friday, I noticed a high rate of vandalism on many of the bikes parked on such racks on U Street between 7th and 9th Streets.

Design forward bike parking at the northwest corner of 13th and U Streets NW, Washington, DC
Design forward bike parking at the northwest corner of 13th and U Streets NW, Washington, DC

Design forward bike parking isn't necessary any more secure than regular bike parking, U Street between 7th and 9th Streets in the Shaw neighborhood of DC
Design forward bike parking isn't necessary any more secure than regular bike parking, west side of the 700 block of U Street NW in the Shaw neighborhood.

Secure parking options are very limited in DC, except in office buildings and apartment buildings.  In each case, such parking isn't normally available to visitors.

Even so, a lot of interior bike parking may be secure from the elements but can still be insecure from theft, depending on the quality of the installation, whether or not it is accessible only by key or card access, insecure access to parking ramps, etc.

Design forward bike parking at the Carnegie Institute of Washington, 1500 block of P Street NW, Washington, DC
Design forward bike parking at the Carnegie Institute of Washington, 1500 block of P Street NW, Washington, DC

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WMATA and buses as rolling billboards

For many years I've argued that WMATA could do a much better job of branding bus transit with better livery design.  The basic design is still pretty dowdy, but an upgrade from the design that was in place when I first moved to DC about 30 years ago.

Pittsburgh, Orlando, and Boulder are noteworthy for how they use the liveries on their buses to call attention to transit as an option, and a preferred way to travel.  Similarly, many bus systems in the UK brand buses by routes, and include map graphics, listing destinations served and information about frequency.
Lymmo Bus Wrap Design, Orlando
Lymmo Bus Wrap Design, Orlando, by Tinsdale Oliver Creative Services.

Each of those systems has the disadvantage of being all bus, whereas systems like WMATA have subway service too, which is seen as the premium service.

But over the past year, and especially in the last couple months, I've noticed three specific examples of marketing and/or design forward WMATA bus liveries promoting choosing transit.

I first saw this one last year, but at the time didn't have a camera with me.  This design promotes the subway system.  (I saw it a few weeks ago at the Silver Spring Transit Center.)
WMATA bus livery promoting the subway lines

WMATA bus livery promoting the subway lines


This livery promotes taking transit to Washington Nationals baseball games. (It was running on the 62/63 line last week.)  The stadium is one short block from the Half Street SE exit of the Navy Yard-Nationals Green Line Metrorail Station.
WMATA bus done up in a promotion for the Washington Nationals Baseball Team

Note that while the bus promotes transit and the baseball team, the facade of the ground floor building that "wraps" the Navy Yard Station could be used to market transit too, and it doesn't do so at all.
The Navy Yard Metrorail Station at 1200 Half Street SE, Washington DC

While it's a different "vehicle," the Metrolink train cars with a bike promotion wrap show a way to rethink this station entrance in terms of a pro-transit graphic treatment.
Metrolink bicycle train car

The third I happened to see on Saturday, when I was in Dupont Circle.  It promotes a special university transit pass for American University students.

WMATA bus livery promoting the American University student transit pass program

WMATA bus livery promoting the American University student transit pass program


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Friday, April 07, 2017

Posting information on board members and the Metro Riders Advisory Council in Metrorail stations

At the Silver Spring Transit Center there is an information center called Trips.  Operated by Montgomery County's Department of Transportation, it provides information on transit and sells various types of transit passes.

I checked it out the other day and I was surprised to see that a newly posted information board
Information board with flyers at the Silver Spring Transit Center

included an advocacy flyer concerning the FY2018 budget for WMATA, which calls for fare increases and service decreases.
Flyer calling attention to Metrorail fare increases and service cuts posted at the Trips information center at the Silver Spring Transit Center

I wasn't surprised that the flyer was still up, although the date for action had passed.

I think in the past I've suggested that contact information for WMATA Board members be posted in Metrorail stations.  A couple years ago, then BART Board Member Zakhary Mallett suggested this for their stations, although I don't think the proposal was adopted ("BART director wants to display board's photos in cars, stations," San Francisco Chronicle).

But seeing the flyer made me realize that at the very least, contact information for the WMATA Riders' Advisory Council should be posted, as well as an information board broadcasting their actions. WMATA does post information boards in stations when actions/hearings are scheduled concerning fares and service changes.

Sometimes you will see information from chapters of the National Association of Railroad Passengers posted in train stations.  You don't see this at Union Station, but you do at Penn Station in Baltimore (at least back when I used to ride MARC to Baltimore a few days each week for work).

The various "commuter stores" -- Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery have versions -- should probably post this kind of information too.

Note from a design perspective, the information board is a "staff intervention" designed to call out information on frequently asked questions (e.g., the map of the Downtown Metrorail Stations is posted) and communications of urgency, such as MARC railroad service changes designed to aid people impacted by Metrorail repair shutdowns.

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