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Posts from the "Transit-Oriented Development" Category

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VTA Cuts Alum Rock and Santa Clara BART Stations From Funding Plans

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Five Wounds Urban Village, which would redevelop an industrial site with new housing, office, and retail space around a new Alum Rock BART Station. Image: Taeker Planning & Design

Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) officials announced on October 6 that they would not seek federal funds in 2015 to construct Alum Rock and Santa Clara BART stations planned as part of the transit system’s extension through downtown San Jose. The move sparked an outcry from neighborhood leaders and elected officials, who have worked in community planning efforts for over a decade to anchor new compact, walkable urban centers with the transit stations.

A $2.3 billion, 10-mile extension of BART to Berryessa in northeast San Jose, from its current terminus in Fremont, is currently under construction and scheduled to open in late 2017. Another $4.7 billion is needed for an extension from Berryessa to Santa Clara’s Caltrain Station, through downtown San Jose, which had earlier been slated to have four stations. VTA planners say the extension would get a better chance of winning a $1.1 billion New Starts construction grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) by cutting the $1.3 billion cost of the Alum Rock and Santa Clara stations from the grant application.

“This is a radical change from what we understood from VTA for the last nearly-15 years,” said Terry Christensen, the Friends of Five Wounds Trail’s executive director and long-time resident of the Five Wounds/Brookwood Terrace neighborhood. VTA first proposed the Alum Rock station for that neighborhood in 2001.

The locations of future BART stations planned for the rail transit system’s extension to Santa Clara, through downtown San Jose. Image: Valley Transportation Authority

While FTA’s policy guide for scoring New Starts transit projects requires that funded projects ”be supported by an acceptable degree of local financial commitment, including evidence of stable and dependable financing sources,” cutting the two stations still leaves the BART extension $1.7 billion short of its construction budget. Cutting the stations also hurts the project’s ratings on other factors FTA scores on: mobility improvements, particularly for car-free households; economic development effects, or the likelihood of attracting transit-supportive development;, environmental benefits like reduced vehicle miles traveled; and congestion relief.

VTA is now pursuing a “phased station implementation”, first constructing BART stations only at Diridon and Downtown by 2025, and later adding the Alum Rock and Santa Clara stations when an additional $1.3 billion for their construction somehow becomes available. VTA planners are also proposing to relocate the proposed Alum Rock Station, if and when it is ever built, to Santa Clara and 23rd streets to trim another $165 million in tunneling costs from the project.

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Voters Back Downtown Growth in San Bruno and Menlo Park

Simulated view at San Mateo Avenue and El Camino Real in San Bruno of retail and office developments that are now possible. Image: Yes on Measure N

Tuesday’s election saw large majorities of San Bruno and Menlo Park voters approve plans for substantial new downtown development. The plans could potentially transform both downtowns by bringing several thousand more workers and residents within walking distance of the two Peninsula cities’ Caltrain stations, both improving transit ridership and making the downtowns livelier, more livable places.

San Bruno’s Measure N, approved by 67 percent of voters, raises height limits for new buildings on the city’s downtown commercial streets. Menlo Park’s Measure M would have slowed growth by placing new restrictions and caps on future downtown development, but it was rejected by 62 percent of voters.

Both cities grew up with traditional downtowns centered around railroad stations, and both have a grid of pre-war streets centered on their Caltrain stations and El Camino Real, the Peninsula’s historic main street and a major bus corridor. Neither San Bruno nor Menlo Park have attracted higher density, mixed-use development to their downtowns, unlike larger cities in San Mateo County like San Mateo or Redwood City.

“I believe our planners have done sound work to revitalize our downtown, and surrounding neighborhoods, as a vibrant mixed-use area with jobs, housing, new shops and beautiful public places in close proximity to our Caltrain station,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane of the city’s Transit Corridors Plan, which required Measure N’s passage before it could be implemented, according to city officials. “We need housing, and we need it desperately,” said Ruane.

City planners expect that the passage of Measure N, and the recent relocation of San Bruno’s Caltrain station to San Bruno and San Mateo avenues, will spur major office development north of the station. Photo: Andrew Boone

Measure N repeals several provisions set forth in Ordinance 1284, a 1977 initiative which slowed commercial and residential development in San Bruno by requiring that voters approve plans for any building exceeding 50 feet (or three stories) in height. Voters have approved two such construction projects since then: the Tanforan indoor shopping mall in 1984, and The Crossing, an 835-unit, five-story residential development, in 2001.

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Transit Can Cut Car Traffic Much More Than Ridership Alone Suggests

Portland's Max Blue Line Light Rail helped reduce driving far more than its ridership numbers would suggest, a new study finds. Photo: TriNet

Portland’s Max Blue Line Light Rail helped reduce driving far more than you would expect based on ridership alone. Photo: TriNet

How much traffic does a transit line keep off the streets? Looking at ridership alone only tells part of the story, according a new study published in the Journal of the American Planning Association. The full impact of a transit line on motor vehicle traffic can far exceed the direct effect of substituting rail or bus trips for car trips.

Using data from the Portland region, University of Utah researchers Reid Ewing and Shima Hamidi compared self-reported travel in an area where a light rail line was built to an area that saw no transit investment.

The team collected data on changes in travel behavior in the area served by the Max Blue light rail line and in the area around SW Pacific Highway. They compared stats from 1994 — before light rail was built — and 2011 — 13 years after it launched. They opted to use the 2011 data in order to show the full impact of denser, transit-oriented development around the stations.

Ewing and Hamidi found that light rail led to an average of 0.6 additional transit trips per day among each household in the surrounding community. By itself that would have reduced total driving mileage by about a half mile per household per day — not a huge impact.

But households near light rail reduced their driving much more than that.

From 1994 to 2011, households in the area without new transit increased their driving by 62 percent (from 18.25 miles per day to 29.4), while households living near the new light rail line increased their driving only 22 percent (from 17.4 miles to 21.2).

Why was this effect so much larger than the effect directly attributable to new transit trips? Partly because households living near the light rail walked more and traveled shorter distances when they did drive. Walking increased 151 percent among people living in the transit-oriented communities, Ewing and Hamidi found.

That was possible because, following the addition of light rail, city, regional, and state agencies took steps to encourage walkable development around the transit line. And it worked. According to Ewing and Hamidi the “activity density” of the light-rail neighborhoods — a measure of how many households and jobs are located in a given area — rose 100 percent between 1994 and 2011.

The total driving mileage avoided by households living near transit amounted to three times the avoided mileage due solely to switching from driving to transit. Similar studies have estimated this “multiplier effect” to be in the range between 1.9 and 9.

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Costly New Parking Garages Still Gobbling Up Land at BART Stations

Oakland and BART officials cut the ribbon Monday on a new parking garage for a “transit village” being built at MacArthur Station. Photo: BRIDGE Housing/Twitter

BART continues to encourage the construction of multi-story parking garages at its stations, despite the exorbitant costs and lost potential for valuable land that could be put to better use.

On Monday, Oakland and BART officials held a press conference and ribbon-cutting ceremony to tout the opening of a 481-space parking structure at MacArthur BART station. The structure was built at a cost of $15,371,000, or about $32,000 per space (based on a 2012 figure), and is part of a “transit village” housing and retail development. But like most park-and-ride fortresses, it will mostly sit empty when commuters aren’t using it to store cars, which is most of the time.

The only media coverage of the MacArthur press conference was a San Jose Mercury News photo slideshow showing Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, two BART board members, an Oakland council member, and a developer rep cutting the ribbon, before heading up to the empty rooftop to take in the views.

Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich, who sits on the BART board, said he’s “appalled that we wasted tens of millions of dollars building a commuter garage at an urban station like MacArthur.”

“Ridership kept growing at that station despite the reduction in parking during construction, which demonstrates that we could have done perfectly well without it,” he said. “Many of our highest-ridership stations — Balboa Park, Berkeley, 19th, 16th, 24th, Glen Park — have little or no commuter parking. At stations like MacArthur, Ashby, West Oakland, and Lake Merritt, we should be phasing out parking as we build transit villages, and enhance walking, cycling, and local transit access instead of building structured parking.”

Only 10 percent of people using MacArthur station drive there, the Mercury News reported in 2011, and five shuttles operate in the station area.

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Supes, Mayor Get Developers to Pay Nearly Full Tax for Transbay Rail

Developers agreed to pay nearly the full property assessment rates to help fund transportation projects in the Transbay Transit Center District, under an agreement announced by the Board of Supervisors yesterday. Supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee stood their ground against the developers, who hired former mayor Willie Brown as a lobbyist to try to lower the rates on the special infrastructure tax district, known as a Mello-Roos District. The move threatened to cut funds from the extension of Caltrain and high-speed rail downtown into the Transbay Center under construction.

A rendering of the Transbay Transit Center and surrounding high-rise development to come, via TransbayCenter.org

The SF Chronicle reports:

Under the agreement, the city will still collect up to $1.4 billion in taxes from property owners around the new transit center for the Caltrain, and possibly high-speed rail, connection. But the revenue would come in over 37 years instead of 30 after city officials agreed to extend the life of the tax district to make it more palatable for the property owners.

Even though the rates hadn’t changed from 0.55 percent of property values, developers complained that the skyrocketing value of real estate in downtown had increased the maximum project revenues in the district from $400 million to $1.4 billion.

The Board of Supervisors won’t vote on final approval of the agreement for another two weeks while the details are worked out, but members said it looks solid at first glance. Supervisors Scott Wiener and Jane Kim lauded the agreement, and credited Mayor Lee for standing firm against the developers’ attempts.

“I’m not referring to this as a compromise, because the [Transbay Joint Powers Authority] is getting all the money that we were seeking,” said Wiener.

Mayoral spokesperson Christine Falvey told the Chronicle on Monday, “The city believes that the special tax rates that the developers are being asked to pay are more than fair considering they are taking advantage of a very significant increase in height limits for their buildings offered under the transit center district plan.”

The developers apparently backed down on their threats to sue the city if it didn’t assess the property values at their 2007 rates rather than current ones. Before the agreement was reached in a closed session, Wiener said, ”If [a lawsuit is] what has to happen, so be it. I don’t think we should cave in.”

“I don’t think much of the legal claim that’s being asserted,” said Wiener. “I think it’s pretty clear that the valuation was not going to be at the bottom of the recession.”

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Developers Don’t Want to Pay for Caltrain/HSR Extension to Transbay Center

Developers who are building towers around the Transbay Transit Center in SoMa are fighting to reduce a special property tax that will be levied on developments in the area. The biggest loser could be the downtown rail extension to bring Caltrain and California high-speed rail into the terminal, as more of the funds for the regional rail hub and other long-term projects would have to come from taxpayers.

A rendering of the Transbay Transit Center and surrounding high-rise development to come, via TransbayCenter.org

The group of developers is backed by former mayor Willie Brown, who registered as an official lobbyist to work for them in July (he also recently lobbied “pro bono” for AnsoldoBreda, the manufacturer of Muni’s current train fleet). Brown previously helped create the Transbay Joint Powers Authority to oversee the massive package of projects centered around what’s been called the “Grand Central of the West,” expected to open in 2017.

SF Chronicle columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross reported in July:

Brown confirmed for us that he is representing Boston Properties — builder of the 61-story Salesforce Tower — and more than a half dozen other property owners.

In exchange for the city allowing them to increase the height and density of their projects, the property owners agreed two years ago to be assessed up to $400 million to help pay for a Transbay Transit Center rooftop park and other public improvements to the area.

Only now, thanks to skyrocketing property values and changes in the city’s methodology for calculating the assessments, the developers — paying into what’s known as a Mello-Roos special district — could face up to $1.4 billion in charges.

The Board of Supervisors was expected to approve the agreement creating the Mello-Roos district on Tuesday, but D6 Supervisor Jane Kim postponed the item one week. “We wanted additional time to be able to brief all of the offices on this issue, but also talk to the multiple parties involved,” Kim said at the meeting.

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CA Seeks Input for Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program

Housing and transportation advocates discuss California’s Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities guidelines, last week in Oakland. Photo: Melanie Curry

Housing advocates and local officials gathered in Oakland last week to discuss guidelines for California’s new Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program (AHSC). It was one of three packed meetings held throughout the state by the Strategic Growth Council (SGC), the state agency that oversees the AHSC, to gather input on the new program’s guidelines. 

The ASHC was created to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by fostering the development of affordable housing near transit hubs, as well as improvements to transit, bike, and pedestrian infrastructure in those areas to provide low-emission alternatives to driving. A funding stream for the program was created through a late-hour deal last month between Governor Jerry Brown and state legislators which provided $130 million in revenue from CA’s cap-and-trade program.

The $130 million, however, is a drop in the bucket for California’s affordable housing funding needs. Despite growing demand, revenue for housing subsidies was slashed heavily in recent years after Governor Brown dissolved redevelopment agencies and federal sources of affordable housing funds dried up.

If the legislature sticks to its budget bill plan, the AHSC will receive 20 percent of future cap-and-trade funds each year. This is projected to be between $600 million and $1 billion per year over the next five years, according to estimates by the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

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Initiative to Slow Downtown Menlo Park Growth Lands on Ballot

Stanford University has proposed to build this residential building and a public plaza at El Camino Real and Middle Avenue. Image: Stanford University

On Tuesday evening, Menlo Park’s City Council reluctantly forwarded to the November 4 ballot an initiative that would reject two proposed developments that would replace largely-vacant auto dealerships with walkable offices, retail space, and apartments, and slow or stop future development along El Camino Real.

The proposed developments would boost transit ridership by bringing thousands more people within a ten-minute walk of the city’s downtown Caltrain station. They would improve the city’s pedestrian and bicycle networks with new, 15-foot wide sidewalks along the east side of El Camino, safer pedestrian crossings for El Camino, and a new ped/bike tunnel under the Caltrain tracks at Middle Avenue.

The anti-growth initiative, titled the “El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan Area Livable, Walking Community Development Standards Act”, was drafted by the volunteer group Save Menlo and qualified for the city-wide ballot by collecting nearly 2,400 voter signatures by mid-May, more than 1,780 signature requirement. 65 percent of the signature-gathering campaign’s $30,000 budget was donated by Atherton resident Gary Lauder, who serves on the neighboring town’s Transportation Committee and fears ”congestion, urban canyons, and related unintended consequences” from continued development in Atherton’s vicinity.

If approved, the initiative would make significant changes to the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan that the city adopted in June 2012, which guides downtown Menlo Park’s development over the next 20 to 30 years. The plan envisions a mix of office, retail, hotel, housing, and open space, with a maximum of 680 units of residential and 474,000 square feet of non-residential development. The initiative would introduce additional caps on commercial development, including 100,000 square feet of office space per project and 240,820 square feet of office space in total. It would also require voter approval to override those caps.
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SGC Awards Grants to Boost Smarter Urban Planning in CA Cities

The Strategic Growth Council, a state committee made up of representatives from six California agencies, awarded over $40 million in planning grants last week for projects large and small that are aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

California’s Strategic Growth Council recently awarded $40 million for sustainability plan projects like this transit-oriented development above L.A.’s Metro Red Line Wilshire/Vermont Station. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

One of the grants went to the Los Angeles City Planning Department to help quantify the GHG emission reductions brought by infill housing development as a strategy to help meet the state’s climate targets set under A.B. 32. The $491,770 grant will allow planners to develop ways to measure the reductions in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) from affordable housing and infill development near transit, and to quantify the trip reduction benefits of transportation demand management measures. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a VMT-based metric that can be used to satisfy California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements.

Other grants were awarded to L.A. Metro and the L.A. County Department of Regional Planning, as well as numerous other cities and counties throughout the state.

The grants were divided into two streams: the Sustainable Communities Planning Grant and Incentives Program, which awarded $16 million to 33 projects, and the Urban Greening Grant Program, which awarded $24 million to 40 proposals. A list of this year’s planning grants appears after the jump.

The Sustainable Communities Planning Grants fund plans to build infill development and efficient transportation, local climate plans, and zoning plans for transit-oriented development and renewable energy, among others.

The Urban Greening Grant Program awarded funds to shovel-ready projects that create and develop parks and greenways, reduce runoff by creating bioswales and converting pavement to permeable surfaces, restore habitat, plant trees, and similar projects.

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SAP Arena Wants Parking Crater Around San Jose Diridon Caltrain Station

SAP Center Parking Lot

SAP Center called San Jose’s plans to reduce parking demand with transit improvements “highly speculative”, and wants over 20,000 new parking spaces built near the Diridon Caltrain Station. Photo: Richard Masoner

SAP Center, the corporation that owns the 19,000-seat arena across Santa Clara Street from San Jose’s downtown Caltrain station, doubts that the next 30 years of transit improvements will bring more visitors to events at the “Shark Tank.” Instead, they insist that 20,000 new car parking spaces be built within its redeveloping neighborhood.

“It is unlikely that public transportation will allow convenient transportation from throughout the area the Arena draws from,” wrote SAP Center Vice President Jim Goddard in the Arena’s EIR comment letter on the draft Diridon Station Area Plan, which aims to guide future development toward land uses that support transit ridership, and to “create a world-class cultural destination” within the walkable radius (1/2-mile) of the Diridon Caltrain Station. The plan will allow 2,600 housing units, 420,000 square feet of retail space, 5,000,000 square feet of office space, and 900 hotel rooms — and up to 11,950 new car parking spaces to support this infill development — over the next 30 years.

But SAP Center claims that its customers will always drive in, and that they will demand an extra 8,050 parking spaces, creating a parking crater in downtown San Jose. “Vehicular access will be the most significant method for our patrons and their families to attend Arena events for the foreseeable future,” wrote Goddard. ”Any limitation in the effectiveness of vehicular access to the Arena… would degrade the customer experience and discourage attendance at the Arena.”

Future Diridon Station Area - Facing Downtown San Jose

Electrified Caltrain, BART, High-Speed Rail, and BRT lines will all connect at Diridon Station in 15 years. Mid-rise office and housing development are planned for the area. Image: California High-Speed Rail Authority

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