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Transpo Funding Intrigue in Washington State

Here’s a look at what’s happening around the Streetsblog Network today…

Washington Governor Jay Inslee may go ahead and swallow the “poison pill” that Republican legislators insisted on including in a state transportation package, reports Frank Chachiere at Seattle Transit Blog. That would mean Inslee will go ahead with a low-carbon fuel standard for the state, which will torpedo a funding package for roads, transit, and street safety projects. With Inslee having already secured a separate $15 billion authorization for Sound Transit that will be untouched by the poison pill, however, local transit advocates don’t seem too worried about the governor’s strategy.

A developer’s rendering of a mixed-use project in the works by the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station in DC. Not depicted are the 2,000 parking spaces the plan calls for. Image via GGW

Darla Letourneau at BikeWalkLee has a mid-year progress report on street safety in Florida’s Lee County. After spikes in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in recent years, street safety is getting more attention from the press and policy makers. However, injury rates for walkers and bikers don’t show signs of improvement yet. “The bottom line is that while there are lots of efforts underway to make it safer for people walking and biking in Lee County, we need to step up our game, if we expect to lower our stubbornly high bike/ped fatality and injury numbers,” she writes.

At Greater Greater Washington, Jonathan Neeley reports on a big mixed-use housing project coming to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station. While the development would replace car-oriented retail, the plan currently calls for 2,000 parking spaces — more than the number of new apartments. Is this the best DC can do?

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Transit Alone Won’t Lead to Transit-Oriented Development

Top: The area around what is now the Garnett MARTA station in 1913. Bottom: The same area today. Images via ATL Urbanist

Top: The area around what is now the Garnett MARTA station in 1913. Bottom: The same area today. Images via ATL Urbanist

When MARTA opened its Garnett rail station in south downtown Atlanta in the early 1980s, the city expected development to follow. Darin at ATL Urbanist writes that documents from the 70s show that planners believed the station could spur offices and a residential high rise.

More than three decades later, that hasn’t happened. In fact, over the years commercial buildings and houses in the vicinity of the station were obliterated for parking. The station currently sits in the middle of a parking crater.

Writes Darin:

A catalyst like a transit station is similar to a garden — it can produce great things, but only if you take care of it and give it the nurturing environment it needs. City government did not do that with Garnett. In regard to its potential for spurring growth, it’s turned into a waste of money because of the lack of care taken to give it a proper environment for growth.

Here’s what it looks like now, from above. A city that sits back and waits for the market to work is not doing everything it can to help the station fulfill its potential. Imagine what could be here.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Second Avenue Sagas has a smackdown of transit deadbeat New York Governor Andrew Cuomo; A View From the Cycle Path examines how the decline of the public realm in Wellington, New Zealand, was mirrored across the globe; and Chicago Bicycle Advocate says Uber is designed to evade responsibility for driver crashes.

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Deadbeat Chris Christie Sticks It to New Jersey Transit Riders, Again

This is Chris Christie’s idea of “shared sacrifice.” Graph: Tri-State Transportation Campaign

As expected, the New Jersey Transit board of directors has approved a 9 percent fare hike and service cuts, again making transit riders the victims of Governor Chris Christie’s budget shell games.

New Jersey’s gas tax is the second lowest in the U.S., and has not seen an increase since 1988. Christie has refused to raise the tax, despite indications of public support, as the state racks up billions in debt. Five years ago Christie killed the long-planned Hudson River ARC transit tunnel so he could fund highways without raising the gas tax.

On the other hand, Christie has no qualms with increasing costs for transit users, who last took a hit in 2010, when fares went up 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively, for bus and train riders.

Writing for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Mobilizing the Region blog, Janna Chernetz reports from yesterday’s vote to raise fares again, at a meeting where board members talked around the budget disaster caused by Christie and state legislators.

Despite pleas from advocates and commuters who oppose the proposal, each and every board member voted to approve the hikes and cuts, validating their vote by saying “their hands were tied” and that they “had no choice.” Vice Chairman Bruce Meisel explained that the board is “operating within the framework of the cards they were dealt” as he justified his affirmative vote. Meisel, posing a rehearsed hypothetical to NJ Transit Executive Director Ronnie Hakim, wondered what would happen if the proposal was voted down. Hakim’s response was substantial service cuts with layoffs approaching 1,000.

Read more…

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A Modest Proposal for New York’s Penn Station

“One entered the city like a God. One scuttles in now like a rat.”

Commuters wait to find out which platform they should head to at Penn Station. Photo: johncatral/Flickr

Commuters wait to find out which platform they should head to at Penn Station. Photo: johncatral/Flickr

That quote, attributed (in varying iterations) to architect Vincent Scully, refers to New York’s former and current Penn Stations. Practically everyone who’s given it any thought agrees that the cave under Madison Square Garden is a poor substitute for the gem that preceded it, but what if they’re all getting too hung up on the idea of a grand edifice?

Alon Levy at Pedestrian Observations has what he calls a “somewhat trollish” idea: “eliminate all above-ground structures, and reduce Penn Station to a hole in the ground.”

Levy envisions Penn Station as open-air walkways, platforms, and tracks, arranged for maximum functionality because they are unencumbered by structural elements required to support street-level buildings. He writes:

Most of the preexisting plans for Penn Station do not do anything about the track level. It’s assumed that the tracks will remain narrow, that trains will not run reliably enough for consistent track assignments, and that dwell times will remain high. The architects’ proposals involve a nice station headhouse to make passengers feel important…

Eliminating the headhouse moves the focus from making passengers feel important to getting passengers in and out as fast as possible. Most importantly, it means there’s no need for girders and columns all over the track level; they support the buildings above the station, including the headhouse, and would not be needed if the station were a simple open cut. Those girders make it hard to move the tracks and platforms — the only reasonable option if they are kept is to pave over pairs of tracks between platforms to create very wide platforms, which would not be well-aligned with the approach tracks.

Read more…

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No, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Didn’t Save Money by Killing the Red Line

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan spiked long-standing plans for the Baltimore Red Line because, he said, it cost too much. According to Hogan, he’s saving taxpayers money by diverting Red Line funds to road projects.

Debunked.

Debunked.

But Ben Ross at Greater Greater Washington reports that, when it comes to return on investment, the governor’s claim doesn’t add up.

Ross writes that Hogan is pitching his “marquee project,” the $204 million widening of Route 404 on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, as a time-saver for beach-bound motorists, “But the travel time savings from widening Route 404 will be far more expensive than the time saved by the two rail lines.”

The two-lane road only backs up on summer weekends when people drive to the beach. According to Google maps, the average traffic delay on summer Friday and Sunday afternoons varies from zero to six minutes. By a generous estimate, this adds up to 60,000 hours lost each year in traffic backups, making the construction cost $3,400 per annual hour saved.

Building the Purple Line will cost $288 per annual hour of rider benefits, and the number for the Red Line is $456. The amount of money the state is spending to save a minute of travel time on Route 404 is seven and a half times greater than the amount it refused to spend to save a minute of travel time in Baltimore. That means a Baltimore bus rider will wait an hour so that an auto passenger can get to the beach eight minutes faster.

Officials claim the road widening will improve safety, but Ross says crash data doesn’t bear that out. And if Hogan is looking to save lives, Ross notes, he would allocate Red Line funds for pedestrian safety measures around the state.

“The highway projects in Governor Hogan’s package have never gotten the sort of detailed assessment of costs and benefits that the Red and Purple Line projects were subject to,” writes Ross. “The numbers for Route 404 suggest that canceling the Red Line was not at all the cost-conscious decision the governor presented it as.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: The press is paying attention to BikeWalkLee campaigns for sidewalks and bike lanes, and Streets.mn has snappy answers to stupid anti-bike arguments.

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Paving Projects Can Also Be Street Safety Projects

Transportation departments tend to separate street resurfacings from street safety projects. In New York City, for example, advocates are pushing DOT to coordinate its paving and safety teams to better facilitate low-cost improvements for walking and biking.

Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland

Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland

Paving and safety projects shouldn’t be in competition for resources, writes Jonathan Maus at BikePortland. Maus says his city’s transportation planners are adding bike and pedestrian infrastructure after putting down fresh asphalt.

During the push for the Our Streets funding measure, the Portland Bureau of Transportation used percentages and pie charts to split these two priorities into categories. With such clear lines in the sand it’s no wonder that the community (and the media) latch on and start shouting about which one deserves more (I admit it, I’ve been guilty of doing this myself in the past).

It doesn’t have to be this way. The truth is, paving/maintenance projects can also be safety projects that improve bicycling and walking. And guess what? PBOT gets it.

Maus points to several examples of bike lanes and crosswalks striped in conjunction with a repaving. He writes: “While these bicycle access improvements are still just paint and not the true, physically protected bikeways many Portlanders are yearning for, at least PBOT is claiming space and moving in the right direction.”

Elsewhere on the Network: Streets.mn on why crosswalks should be raised to meet the sidewalk, Urban Milwaukee has a streetcar update, and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia reports that SEPTA may expand its bike parking plans.

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The I-81 “Dead Zone” Is Stifling Downtown Syracuse

New York state officials are expected to decide soon whether to rebuild and widen I-81 through downtown Syracuse or tear it down and replace it with surface streets.

I-81 is a "dead zone" in downtown Syracuse. Photo: CNU

I-81 is a “dead zone” in downtown Syracuse. Photo: CNU

Mayor Stephanie Miner has called the I-81 corridor a “dead zone” that separates Syracuse University and its environs from downtown. University officials have said it stands in the way of school expansion. The Congress for the New Urbanism named the 1960s relic as one of its “Freeways Without Futures.” Even the former New York State DOT commissioner expressed support for removing the highway. But suburban business interests and politicos are opposed to removal.

Writing for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Mobilizing the Region blog, Sandy Johnston says that to boost the local economy, taking I-81 down is the clear choice.

ReThink81, a coalition of planners, residents and other local stakeholders based in Syracuse, found that replacing I-81 with a boulevard would open up at least seven acres of land for potential development with almost $140 million in market value and $5.3 million in annual taxes. In contrast, rebuilding the viaduct ultimately could cause Syracuse to lose $85 million between increased taxes, significant takings of private land and buildings and depressed property values — as well as a reduction of more than $3.2 million in yearly tax receipts. The opportunity cost of rebuilding would amount to nearly $225 million in capital lost, independent of construction costs, while the city would forgo almost $8.7 million in annual taxes.

For decades, the I-81 viaduct has hindered the region’s overall economic growth by cutting off downtown Syracuse from University Hill and preventing development in a high-value area. The economic benefits are neither fuzzy nor hard to understand.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Greater Greater Washington on the fixes needed to get the H Street streetcar running, and Broken Sidewalk says Louisville planners should brush up on their Jane Jacobs.

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More Affordable Housing, Fewer Driveways

As Minneapolis considers dropping parking minimums for residential developments near transit, Seattle may soon be talking about doing away with driveways for single-family houses.

The single-family driveway: "artifact of an earlier era." Photo: Chris Dlugosz/Flickr

Seattle may phase out mandatory driveways. Photo: Chris Dlugosz/Flickr

Erica C. Barnett at Seattle Transit Blog writes that Mayor Ed Murray’s committee on affordable housing and urban livability has drafted a proposal to replace single-family zoning with a new designation that would allow for somewhat denser development, like duplexes and “backyard cottages.”

“The new designation, even if it’s limited to a pilot project, as the draft suggests, would be a stunning rebuke to the supposed sanctity of single-family zoning, which applies to an astonishing 65 percent of all the land in Seattle,” says Barnett.

That’s not all. The draft questions the necessity of a parking spot for every single-family home.

Requiring one off-street parking space for every single family home is an artifact of an earlier era and is not a necessary or effective requirement. The space occupied by an off-street garage or parking space could be used instead to accommodate space for housing, including an accessory dwelling unit. The most common parking configuration — a driveway and curb cut accessing a garage from the street — occupies curb space that could be used to provide a parking space on the street. A 1:1 parking requirement eliminates exactly as many on-street spaces as it mandates off the street, causing no increase in parking supply, bisecting sidewalks with countless driveways, and gobbling buildable housing space for redundant (and expensive) parking. Therefore, the City should consider removing the parking requirement for single family homes.

Barnett says the draft may be altered before the committee signs off on it, but “could be a game changer” if it emerges as is. No kidding.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Mobilizing the Region rethinks commuter rail service in the Tri-State area, Greater Greater Washington says a kid-friendly city is a human-friendly city, and Where the Sidewalk Starts examines how European cities make streets safer by putting pedestrians first.

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Residential Parking Reforms Should Benefit All of Minneapolis

In June Streets.mn reported that Minneapolis might drop parking minimums for residential developments near transit stations. By doing so, the city would promote walkable development and reduce housing costs.

All of Minneapolis would benefit from parking reforms that spur walkable development. Image via Streets.mn

All of Minneapolis would benefit from parking reforms that spur walkable development. Image via Streets.mn

However, City Council President Barb Johnson wants to exclude neighborhoods in north Minneapolis from the parking reforms. Writing at Streets.mn, affordable housing expert Kris Brogan says this would be a “big mistake.”

This move to reduce parking requirements in multi-family development along transit corridors is a good idea–not just for portions of the City, but for the City as a whole.

North Minneapolis, particularly Camden, needs multi-family development. Being exempt from the parking ordinance — increasing development costs by hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars — will keep developers from considering Camden.

Creating housing opportunities along transit corridors will give residents more options for housing and more options to use alternative transportation modes. Let’s be very clear here: If we don’t create more multi-family housing options with greater density, increasing the population along our transit corridors, we will not get those improved transportation options.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Greater Greater Washington looks at road projects Maryland Governor Larry Hogan plans to build with funds that were supposed to expand transit in Baltimore and DC; Human Transit says LA might beef up bus service in some parts of the city, but will have to do so at the expense of lines with lower ridership; and Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space reports on a misguided campaign by DC pedestrian advocates to remove unmarked crosswalks.

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Iowa DOT Chief Says Overbuilt Road System Will Have to Shrink

Here’s something you don’t see every day. Or ever.

Charles Marohn at Strong Towns reports that the director of the Iowa DOT, Paul Trombino, said his state’s transportation system is overbuilt and unsustainable. Trombino said Iowans will have to decide what to maintain and what they are willing to let go.

State DOT director Paul Trombino says Iowa has excess and unsustainable road capacity. Photo: Streets.mn

State DOT director Paul Trombino says Iowa has excess and unsustainable road capacity. Photo: Streets.mn

Marohn quotes from Trombino’s remarks:

I said the numbers before. 114,000 lane miles, 25,000 bridges, 4,000 miles of rail. I said this a lot in my conversation when we were talking about fuel tax increases. It’s not affordable. Nobody’s going to pay.

We are. We’re the ones. Look in the mirror. We’re not going to pay to rebuild that entire system.

And my personal belief is that the entire system is unneeded. And so the reality is, the system is going to shrink.

There’s nothing I have to do. Bridges close themselves. Roads deteriorate and go away. That’s what happens.

And reality is, for us, let’s not let the system degrade and then we’re left with sorta whatever’s left. Let’s try to make a conscious choice — it’s not going to be perfect, I would agree it’s going to be complex and messy — but let’s figure out which ones we really want to keep.

And quite honestly, it’s not everything that we have, which means some changes.

“This is a big deal,” says Marohn. “Most DOT directors understand that we’ve overbuilt, that there will never be the money to maintain everything they are asked to maintain. I’ve not heard another DOT chief admit this problem publicly. They need to.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: Streets.mn examines how sprawl development cheapens land values, Mobilizing the Region reports on positive signs for transportation policy in Connecticut, and Biking Toronto celebrates news of a pending bike-share expansion.