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Posts from the "Transit-Oriented Development" Category


Planning Commission OKs Parking-Saturated Condo Project at Embarcadero

Not pictured: a 400-space undergound parking garage and all the car traffic it will generate. Image: Hutner Descollonges via

A luxury waterfront condo and parking garage development is on its way to the central Embarcadero, even though it would add three times the number of residential parking spaces allowed by law, plus 255 public spaces, to one of San Francisco’s most transit-rich destinations.

The SF Planning Commission approved the environmental impact report for the 8 Washington Street project in a 4-2 vote yesterday after a joint hearing with the Recreation and Parks Commission that lasted seven hours. The project must still be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

The garage would include a parking spot for each of the 145 units (three times what the planning code permits) and 255 public spaces, which the Port claims are needed to replace other nearby parking being removed. The project would bring some park space and pedestrian enhancements, but the enormous underground public parking garage will wipe out any benefit by serving as a magnet for car traffic in an area that already caters too much to the automobile, even after its revitalization following the removal of a freeway.

“We think it’s a terrible idea,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich, who argues the area already accommodates excessive amounts of car parking given its proximity to multiple downtown transit options. “With the exception, maybe, of Midtown Manhattan and the Chicago Loop, I can’t think of a place in the United States that has got more transit service.”

8 Washington will be located within walking distance of numerous neighborhood amenities and transit lines, including Muni light rail and BART stations. Radulovich also noted that future transit projects like high-speed rail are poised to make it an even more ideal spot for reliable car-free travel.

Jonathan Stern, the Port’s director for waterfront development, argued to the Planning Commission that the parking is needed for Ferry Building customers who drive to “carry large objects” and who compete with driving commuters for spots, also noting that the underground garage will be “out of sight.” The Port says that 961 parking spaces within a 15-minute walk of the building, including the 105-space parking lot currently located on the 8 Washington site, have recently been removed or will be removed in coming years.

Advocates who’ve looked at the numbers say the Port’s parking supply analysis is severely flawed. Existing parking garages and lots in the area are poorly utilized, according to Radulovich, who says that more than enough parking would be provided by converting underused commuter parking spaces to short-term parking for Ferry Building visitors who drive, though that could be challenging to do in private garages.

“The Port’s taken this position that the high watermark of parking, the maximum number of historic parking spaces, is the natural or logical number of parking spaces,” said Radulovich. “We think that’s kind of a bogus approach.”

A 2005 study [PDF] by the SF County Transportation Authority found that despite “a perceived shortage” of parking in the area, off-street lots and garages were occupied at a rate of just 21 percent and on-street parking 70 percent. “This could be because some garages are less visible or in areas that less familiar to tourists,” the study says, “which implies that better driver information systems, even just better signage, would improve the parking situation today.” It also noted that luring drivers into garages with comparatively lower prices, as the SFPark program is currently doing, would help optimize use of the existing parking.

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Which SF Neighborhoods Have the Strongest Walkable Magnetism?

Walkability, transit access, good local schools — San Franciscans clamor to live in neighborhoods with features like these.

Potrero Hill artist Wendy MacNaughton’s ”mental map” of the city lists the strongest qualities of seven areas that stand out for her, among them SoMa’s “best transit access in town” and the “convenient, walkable, easy everything” nature of Lower Pacific Heights and the Fillmore area.

It’s no wonder, considering such characteristics correlate strongly with happiness. Unfortunately, walkable neighborhoods are a scarce resource in this country, which means living in one can come at a high price.

I spotted a copy of the poster hanging in the cafe at City Hall, where an employee pointed out that it was featured on the July 2010 cover of 7×7 Magazine, which commissioned MacNaughton to create the map.


SF Agencies Take Aim at Bureaucratic Obstacles to a Transit-First City

San Francisco agencies are developing a wide-ranging program to streamline the funding and construction of improvements for walking, bicycling, and transit.

Image via SFMTA. See full PDF here.

The Transportation Sustainability Program (TSP) would reform the city’s transportation practices in three key areas: by eliminating reliance on the automobile-centric measuring stick known as Level of Service (LOS), by instituting a system of development impact fees that fund sustainable transportation improvements, and expediting the review process for pedestrian, bicycle, and transit projects. The details are on the wonky side, but if the city delivers on these reforms, SF could be looking at a much more rapid build-out of transit corridors, bikeways, and pedestrian safety measures.

“This program is taking a look at how we manage, regulate, and mitigate for development as it relates to transportation to develop a process that’s more transparent, equitable, and meaningful, and provides a much better nexus between land use planning and transportation,” said SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin.

SF Planning Department Assistant Director Alicia John-Bauptiste presented details [PDF] about the TSP Tuesday to the SFMTA Board of Directors. The program, currently planned for adoption in late 2013, is a coordinated effort between the SFMTA, the Planning Department, the SF County Transportation Authority, and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

One key component to the TSP is the Transportation Sustainability Fee (TSF), which would replace the current Transit Impact Development Fee (TIDF) that building developers pay to the SFMTA to account for infrastructure costs due to car trips and transit trips made by users of those buildings. The TSF would be based on offsetting car trips added by a project, and its revenues could only be spent according to a spending plan to directly fund projects that improve transit service and bicycle and pedestrian safety. Developers would receive discounts on the TSF for building less car parking, and it would apply to residential buildings (except affordable housing), which the TIDF doesn’t.

According to John-Bauptiste, many developments and transportation projects will also no longer be required to conduct an environmental impact report (EIR) as part of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which would lead to major time and cost savings. “Individual projects will be relieved of having to study cumulative transportation impacts because the TSP EIR will study those impacts. Project-specific analysis will be limited to site design issues such as loading docks, curb cuts, and pedestrian and bicycle safety,” the presentation says.

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Transit Incentives Can’t Make Up for Parking Glut at Cathedral Hill CPMC

A rendering of CPMC's proposed 555-bed hospital and medical office building at Van Ness and Geary. Image: Rebuild CPMC

Nearly 10,000 additional cars [PDF] are predicted to travel every day to the gigantic Cathedral Hill California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) at Van Ness and Geary after it opens in 2016. While the city is negotiating how much the institution will pay to help mitigate the impacts those cars will have on Muni and pedestrian and bicycle safety, some advocates argue that won’t make up for a fundamental flaw: The medical center will include too much parking.

The 555-bed hospital and medical office building will include more than 1,200 parking spaces. CPMC projects half the visitors and employees to come by transit, foot or bike. But based on CPMC’s track record at three of its existing sites in the city, Marlayne Morgan of the Cathedral Hill Neighborhood Association doesn’t think that’s likely.

CPMC’s transit incentives for employees aren’t enough, says Morgan. “Even with giving $100 to take public transit, they can’t get 50 percent of their employees out of their cars,” she told the SF Board of Supervisors at a four-hour hearing last week on the transparency of CPMC’s negotiations with the city. “There’s no way to mitigate the impact of this facility unless you take it down in size.”

Cathedral Hill’s staff will be comprised largely of current CPMC employees at its other San Francisco locations, just under half of whom live outside the city, according to the transportation analysis in the CPMC’s Institutional Master Plan [PDF].

“They’re taking three hospitals and putting them in one location,” said Morgan. “It’s hard to believe that this is going to change the patterns at Cathedral Hill.”

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The Housing-Value Bonus for Rail Transit: 10, 20, Even 50 Percent

How much extra would you be willing to pay to live near rail transit?

For Minneapolis residents along the Hiawatha rail line, that convenience is worth tacking on an additional 10 percent to housing prices. Chicagoans near the Midway transit line are willing to pay about 19 percent extra. And in Portland, folks are willing to fork over an additional 31 percent for an abode within one-quarter mile of a rail transit station along the Westside extension line.

Selling prices for homes within 1/2 mile rose 31 percent after the addition of light rail in Portland, according to one study. Photo: Wired Autopia

The Center for Housing Policy recently completed a comprehensive review of the existing research on housing prices and proximity to rail. According to dozens of studies over decades, a rail station within a short walk can add 6 to 50 percent to home values.

The center’s analysis shows, however, that not all rail lines are created equal, at least when it comes to housing price appreciation.

Some important considerations for potential investors: Is the station walkable or is it located near highway infrastructure? Does the rail service operate frequently and offer service to desirable destinations? What is the strength of the regional housing market?

All of these factors are important. But ultimately they point to a central conclusion: the premium buyers are willing to pay to live near rail transit correlates roughly to how much accessibility the transit service offers relative to other modes. In a congested city with a strong housing market and robust transit system — New York City, for example — rail transit proximity results in the largest premiums. Meanwhile, weak market cities with poor transit and relatively traffic-free highways — like Buffalo, New York — may see little price appreciation around rail transit stops. In these cases, rail transit has little inherent advantage over highway travel.

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Streetsblog LA 12 Comments

State Considers Restricting Parking in Transit Oriented Districts

A.B. 710, the Infill Development and Sustainable Community Act of 2011 introduced by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) would mandate that automobile parking in Transit Oriented Developments be limited to one car per residential unit or per 1,000 square feet of retail space. The Assembly Housing & Community Development Committee is scheduled to hear this legislation at their next meeting on April 27.

Nancy Skinner.

The benefits of capping the total amount of car parking, or at least reducing the requirement to build parking, in developments near plentiful mass transit is probably obvious to you if you’re reading this article. Reduced car parking insures that the people living in the T.O.D. will be the one using transit and the new developments will actively reduce the number of car trips made in the area. But there are other benefits as well. By reducing parking mandates, the cost of new development construction goes down, meaning projects for lower-income and transit-dependent populations become more economically doable. AB 710 also provides some flexibility to local jurisdictions that may require higher minimums if written findings are made based upon substantial evidence in the record including a parking utilization study.

Despite the dramatic changes this legislation could bring to development patterns throughout the state, the legislation hasn’t received a lot of attention. An Internet search of the legislation brought up a few bill summaries, a resolution opposing the legislation by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, and a blog post by American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles Chapter’s, Will Wright supporting it.

Wright explains how A.B. 710 supports the state’s smart growth and emissions reduction goals approved by the legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger in recent years:

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BART Riders Now Have a Dignified Walkway at Balboa Park Station

A family connects to BART from the 49 bus using the inviting new walkway. Photo: Aaron Bialick

BART riders will no longer be squeezed alongside Muni tracks to get into Balboa Park Station. A new walkway connecting travelers to Ocean Avenue on the north side was unveiled Friday as one project in a host of efforts aimed at improving access to the busiest BART and Muni transit hub outside of the city’s downtown area, though it may be just a baby step in the eyes of some advocates.

“For nearly four decades, we did not have a proper entrance to Ocean Avenue from the station for folks going to City College, or to the Ocean Avenue shopping district, or to Balboa Park,” said BART Director Tom Radulovich. “Now we have a fully-accessible, direct entrance, which is great. I’m happy it’s there.”

The walkway is a welcome improvement to commuters using the station to and from Ocean Avenue who previously had no choice but to squeeze through a narrow passage alongside trains or circumnavigate the station to get inside.

“When the trains are actually running and they go past you, it’s a little dangerous,” said Jocelyn, a BART rider who lives in the neighborhood. “Now it’s a lot easier and safer, I feel.”

Erika, Jocelyn’s friend, said she regularly uses the station to visit her from Berkeley. “I think it’s great if you come home late, because it’s all lit up,” said Erika. “I feel a little bit safer up here where people can see me.”

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Tenderloin Transit-Oriented Housing Development Gets Boost From MTC

The Tenderloin could see a 14-story mixed-use building replace a parking lot within the next few years. Developers hoping to bring new affordable housing and space for a much-needed grocery store to the neighborhood received a $10 million funding commitment from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) today.

“We will transform this part of the Tenderloin,” said Donald Falk, executive director of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC), which is developing the planned Eddy and Taylor Family Housing building. ”This is not just smart growth in the conventional sense. Four-hundred people will have a place to call home, with zero parking, because we’re two blocks from Market Street and Muni.”

The development at 168 Eddy Street would provide 153 new apartments reserved for low-income families and space for a 12,000-foot street-level grocery store. It would help quell some of the high demand for affordable housing in the neighborhood, where valuable lots used to park cars diminish the urban fabric despite very low car ownership. Bringing the first full-sized grocery market to the neighborhood would also provide access to healthy food options within walkable distances.

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Transit-Oriented Development and Communities of Color: A Field Report

The Pearl District in Portland is Often Held Up as an Example of TOD

(This article first appeared in Progressive Planner, the official magazine of the Planner’s Network and is reprinted with the author’s permission. Gen Fujioka is the senior policy advocate with the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development. This article was written in collaboration with the Urban Communities of Color Caucus which seeks to advance practices that strengthen existing diverse neighborhoods. For further information contact:

Transit-oriented development (TOD) has become a leading policy prescription for reversing America’s sprawling path of growth. The Obama administration, through its Sustainable Communities Initiative, state and local agencies and progressive think-tanks all emphasize TOD as a means to achieve housing, transportation and environmental goals, often through public-private-partnerships. But as TOD has been justifiably promoted as the cleaner alternative to auto-dependent development, gaps have appeared in the discourse that understates its costs. This report seeks to fill in some of those gaps with snapshots from four communities of color that have been impacted by various stages of TOD in the cities of Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Minneapolis-Saint Paul, respectively.

What Is a TOD?

Non-profit community development organizations were early innovators in building TOD projects, seeking to link affordable housing with transit. Today, TOD projects vary but they can be generally defined as mixed-use, higher density development oriented toward nearby public transit. In its varying forms, TOD is being promoted by a growing range of government programs. The largest federal transit program, New Starts, strongly favors projects that incorporate TOD, and many state and local governments have created expedited approval processes, incentives and zoning and land use policies that foster TOD.
As the concept has been embraced by some market-rate developers, even some TOD proponents concede there may be social costs of such development. The federally funded Center for Transit-Oriented Development and others have published a number of policy toolkits and best practice guides for equitable TOD. While these publications describe individual exemplary projects, missing is an evaluation of the impacts at scale. The experiences described below suggest that much more needs to be done to ensure that TOD does not become a greener version of gentrification.

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Transit: The Greenest Technology

Image © Peter Calthorpe & Marianna Leuschel

Editor’s note: This concludes our 5-part series of excerpts from Peter Calthorpe’s book, “Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change.”  Thanks to Island Press, a few lucky Streetsblog readers will be selected to receive a free copy of the book. To enter the contest, fill out this form. We’ll choose the winners tomorrow.

The most important community-scale system dependent on urbanism is transit. It has long been known that density and transit ridership are linked, but it goes much deeper than that. The key to viable transit systems is not just density but walkability and mixed use—true urban places. If people cannot walk the quarter mile to or from a station, chances are they will not use the transit. Conversely, if they can easily run errands and coordinate trips on the way to or from a station, they are more likely to use transit. European data show that the percentage of walk or bike trips always exceeds that of transit trips—often by more than two to one.27 In fact, walking by itself constitutes 30 percent of all trips in Great Britain (versus 9 percent transit), and in Sweden walk/bike trips are 34 percent of the total (versus 11 percent transit). 28 Transit supports and extends the pedestrian environment; transit is pedestrian dependent, not the other way around. The primary alternative to the car and all of its environmental costs is the pedestrian environment and the walkable urbanism that supports transit.

A good transit system has many layers, from local buses to bus rapid transit and streetcars, from light rail to subways and commuter trains. They all feed into and reinforce one another, and they all depend on walkable urbanism at the origin and destination. The quality of the interface from walking to transit, and from one form of transit to the other, is central to displacing car trips and is the greenest technology that urbanism provides.

The relationship among transit, urbanism, travel behavior, and carbon emissions is complex but can be summarized with one key quantifiable metric, vehicle miles traveled (VMT)—effectively, the amount we drive. VMT is determined by the number and distance of trips we take, and our “mode split”—the percentage of trips taken by various transportation modes such as walk, bike, car, carpool, or transit. Each household, depending on its location, income, and size, has an average VMT per year, which when combined with various auto technologies will generate its travel carbon footprint.

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