CNU blogs

An Archipelago of West Berlins

John Sanphillippo - 3 hours 30 min ago

This is 85% of what’s on offer across North America. For many people – perhaps for most people – this works just fine. A comfortable four bedroom home in a safe clean subdivision in a good school district is the America Dream. But what if this isn’t what you want? What if you want something different? What are your options?

This is NuLu, an area immediately adjacent to downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville’s historic neighborhoods are part of what I’ve come to think of as an archipelago of West Berlins that stretches from the Great Lakes, down into the southern Midwest, and flirts with Appalachia. Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville… These are some of the islands in the chain. They float in a sea of banal suburbs and rural hinterlands.

As market demand for vibrant, convivial, walkable places overwhelms the limited supply people are having to make tough choices. A generation ago people who preferred a neighborhood with a functional public realm moved to Boston, Portland, Toronto, D.C., Vancouver, or Brooklyn. There were always trade offs to these locations, but on the whole folks were able to find some version of what they wanted at a manageable price. Today? Not so much. Real estate costs in top tier cities have become prohibitive. 

All across the interior of the continent there are depopulated half forgotten remnants of once great cities and towns that have all the same qualities as premium cities, but at rock bottom prices. Saint James Court near the university and Olmsted designed parks is magnificent and spectacularly affordable when compared to a one bedroom apartment in a trendy coastal city.

What if you want a fully detached single family home like the ones out in the corn fields, but you want your kids to be able to walk a few block to school instead of being chauffeured to a consolidated regional facility on the far edge of town? What if you want to be able to spend ten minutes commuting to work instead of an hour? What if you want to walk around the corner to get groceries and a good cup of coffee? Try the Highlands.

There are modest shotgun homes for sale in transitional neighborhoods in Louisville for under $60,000. That would make your mortgage payment $500 a month. These places need love, but with time and effort they can be beautiful again. Compare that to rent on a studio apartment in San Diego.


This is Lydia House in the Schnitzelburg neighborhood. (Evidently Germantown fractured into microburgs.)  Lydia is part cafe, part bar, and part neighborhood hang out for locals to schmooze and kibitz. The proprietors are a young married couple who relocated to Louisville from New York. Why Louisville? If you’re a twenty nine year old in Brooklyn you can afford to buy coffee and beer in such an establishment. In Louisville you can own the place. Not just the business. The actual real estate. Try that in Williamsburg, Red Hook, or Boerum Hill and see how far you get on a Millennial’s budget.

Louisville isn’t New York or San Francisco, but it’s infinitely preferable to the sea of cul-de-sacs, office parks, and strip malls on offer elsewhere. And your neighbors are very likely to be a pleasant mix of old time locals and refugees from the coasts.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

7 Things a Town can do to Encourage Incremental Development

John Anderson - Sat, 2015-10-03 17:46

A demonstration project showing how great a buffered bike lane can be.                   Photo by Mike Lydon

If you present information on the nuts and bolts of what it take to develop smaller-scale, incremental projects and the audience includes elected officials, municipal staffers, and local activists, they will ask you “What can our town do to encourage building differently?”  It is not so much what a municipality can do, but what the individual leaders in a town are willing to do.  Here is my list for those leaders.

1. Stop trying to guess how much parking is needed. Eliminate off-street parking minimums from your regulations.

2. Manage the supply of public parking with rational pricing. Convenient on-street parking should cost more than a space on the top floor of a parking deck two blocks away.

3. Get serious about streets as public spaces. Narrow lanes to 10 feet. Convert dumb Stroads to boulevards. Put on-street parking everywhere. Install better bike infrastructure like buffered bike lanes. Replace unwarranted traffic signals with stop signs.  Don’t wait for your Public Works Director to lead this effort.  (Believe me, he’s had plenty of time).

4. Stop letting your fire marshal design the town. Direct the Fire Department to figure out how to provide good emergency services on a network of connected low speed streets.

5. Overhaul your zoning. Get rid of minimum lot area and minimum lot width. The best incentives for incremental development support a clear vision and a reasonable process.  Your Comprehensive Plan may contain something resembling a clear vision, but do your zoning reg’s and development standards screw up your chances for getting it delivered?

6. Think Small and Think Local. Encourage the small operators you have in your town and don’t worry about convincing large developers to come from out of the area to fix your town.  They are probably not coming.  If they do, agree to come and build in your town, the results are rarely what you had in mind.

7. Dig deep. Cowboy up. Find some allies.  Making any of these thing a reality in your town will stir up some shit.  Ask yourself if how much political risk or career risk you are willing to take to make a difference.  Figure out what your Plan B is in case you lose the election, get demoted, or get fired.  Once you have your downside covered, find some serious people to work with and make some changes.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

The Week Observed: October 2, 2015

City Observatory - Fri, 2015-10-02 15:06
What City Observatory did this week

1. Cities’ role in growing our nation’s economy. New data from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis builds on our “Dow of Cities” post and Surging City Center Job Growth report to show that urban centers are at the heart of the country’s recovery. Large metropolitan areas—those with over a million residents—are growing faster than smaller metros, and central cities are growing jobs faster than their suburbs. Recognizing, encouraging, and taking advantage of this trend is important both for urban areas and the country as a whole.

2. The high cost of affordable housing and the shortage of cities: notes from a panel. Our own Joe Cortright took part in a panel at Oregon’s Metro regional government on whether San Francisco’s housing woes are in Portland’s future. Along with Tech Crunch’s Kim-Mai Cutler, Elissa Harrigan of the Meyer Memorial Trust, and developer Eli Spivak, Joe argued that a “shortage of cities” is driving rapidly rising home prices in places around the country. Cutler also brought up the shockingly large sums spent on affordable housing projects—often the better part of a million dollars per unit—and pointed out that at such prices, building those units on its own isn’t a scalable, sustainable strategy to getting out of the housing crisis.

3. When it comes to transit use, destination density matters more than where you live. While we often imagine that the decision to drive or take transit depends on where you live, it turns out that where you’re going is even more important. Using data from the American Community Survey, we show how much more concentrated transit use is by job location than home location. The lesson: land use should prioritize getting jobs and other important destinations (like schools and shops) near transit, especially central transit stations. That way, everyone in the region stands to gain from improved access.

The week’s must reads

1. The University of North Carolina – Charlotte’s Plan Charlotte blog takes a look at how their city zones land, and it fits the “illegal neighborhood” problem to a T. Just 9 percent of Charlotte’s land area is zoned for any kind of mixed-use buildings, making neighborhood corner stores, hardware stores, or cafes much, much more difficult to open. Moreover, fully 61 percent of Charlotte is zoned for single-family homes only—while just 7 percent is zoned for multifamily residential. Laws like these help explain why development has yet to catch up with demand for mixed-use, walkable urban neighborhoods, creating our “shortage of cities.”

2. Streetsblog New York City covers the case for a bus rapid transit line in Queens—from a public safety perspective. Woodhaven Boulevard, one of the main corridors for the proposed BRT line, is been one of the most dangerous streets in the city, with car crashes causing hundreds of injuries and several fatalities in just the last few years. Dedicated bus lanes and new pedestrian islands would help calm traffic and create a safer street for people in cars, buses, bikes, and on foot.

3. The Urban Institute has a new paper, “Housing Policy Levers to Promote Economic Mobility,” that’s a must-read handbook for anyone who cares about promoting long-term economic and social justice in America’s cities. The report’s authors go through the major governmental housing programs one by one, picking out ways they could be used to improve opportunity for the low income, and especially those living in high-poverty neighborhoods. Among the recommendations: incentivize Low Income Housing Tax Credits projects to be located in communities with good schools, transportation access, and employment opportunities; create a “renter’s tax credit”; and end exclusionary zoning laws that keep home values artificially high in desirable neighborhoods.

New knowledge

1. Via Streetsblog, a new study by the Transportation Research Board finds thatwithout public transit networks, American cities would have to be 37 percent larger. That’s because transit allows for more compact land use, by reducing the need for sprawling surface parking lots and encouraging development to be done within walking distance of stops. In fact, the TRB finds that the land use effects of transit are dramatically larger than simply the substitution of car travel for other modes: If everyone who takes the bus or train drove tomorrow, that would increase vehicle miles traveled by 2 percent. But if the land use effects of transit disappeared, that would increase vehicle miles traveled by 8 percent.

2. Researchers from Texas A&M University tested the hypothesis that improving walkability really creates economic value, and they found that it does. Moreover, the benefits may rise faster as the neighborhood becomes more and more walkable: In the most walkable neighborhoods, a one percent improvement in walkability leads to $1,329 in additional property values, while in moderately walkable neighborhoods, the same-sized improvement creates somewhat less new property value.

3. Katie Fitzpatrick of Seattle University writes about her new paper on the effects of “food deserts”—neighborhoods with little to no access to grocery stores—on food purchasing and consumption. The results contradict much of the conventional wisdom: holding other factors constant, residents of “food deserts” actually did not have significantly different outcomes on most measures than other people. What did matter, however, was transportation: people in food deserts who did not own a car had much worse outcomes, suggesting the importance of accessible transportation to destinations like grocery stores.

The Week Observed is City Observatory’s weekly newsletter. Every Friday, we give you a quick review of the most important articles, blog posts, and scholarly research on American cities. You can sign up to get it in your inbox by clicking “Subscribe” at the top of the page!

Our goal is to help you keep up with—and participate in—the ongoing debate about how to create prosperous, equitable, and livable cities, without having to wade through the hundreds of thousands of words produced on the subject every week by yourself.

If you have ideas for making The Week Observed better, we’d love to hear them! Let us know at,, or on Twitter at @cityobs.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Ups and downs in the Flickr pool

Greater Greater Washington - Fri, 2015-10-02 14:53
by Matt Bechak

Here are our favorite new images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.

Photo by Dan Malouff.

Photo by Victoria Pickering.

Art All Night DC. Photo by Rob Cannon.

H Street Festival. Photo by Ted Eytan.

Photo by nevermindtheend.

Got a picture that depicts the best or worst of the Washington region? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos!


Categories: CNU blogs

Chicago has examples of a cheap way to bring rail transit to more people: infill stations

Greater Greater Washington - Fri, 2015-10-02 13:42
by Matt Johnson

North of Union Station, the Metro station at NoMa is Washington's only "infill" station. Another is planned at Potomac Yard. In Chicago, where the CTA has been working on infill stations for several years, there's proof that the stations can be added cheaply.

Cermak/McCormick Place. Photo by the author.

Infill stations are new stations constructed between stations on an existing transit line. NoMa, for example, opened in 2004. It was built between the existing stations at Union Station and Rhode Island Avenue along tracks that had opened in 1976.

The Chicago L dates back over a century. In many places its iconic, rickety structures pass through the dense, vibrant neighborhoods they helped to create. But after World War II, when the CTA took over service, many stations were closed to make trips from the outlying branches faster and to bring down expenses.

In recent years, CTA has reopened several of these stations, which is a more intensive process than it sounds like because the old stations weren't just abandoned; they were demolished.

A few months ago, the agency opened a new station on the Green Line at Cermak/McCormick Place. The station has a gorgeous vaulted canopy. In this location, there's a former stretch of third track, which became platform space.

McCormick Place. Photo by the author.

But because the platform is so narrow, CTA didn't want to have any columns obstructing it. The solution was the vault, supported from outside the trackway. The station cost relatively cheap $50 million. (Yes, fifty million).

Across town, the Morgan station recently opened on the Green and Pink Lines. It was even cheaper to construct, coming in at just $38 million.

This station was also located where a former station had been removed in 1948. It has proven very popular, and was also fairly cheap and quick to construct.

Morgan. Photo by the author.

The Yellow Line is also home to an infill station at Oakton. That station was a recent additon to the line, which formerly had no intermediate stops between Skokie/Dempster and Howard.

In Washington, our infill stations tend to be a little more expensive because they're designed with wider platforms and sturdier materials. Also, in both the case of NoMa and Potomac Yard, the new stations required relocating the tracks. That was not the case in Chicago.

Where would you like to see an infill station on Metro?


Categories: CNU blogs

A dedicated bus lane and 30 other ways to improve bus service on 16th Street

Greater Greater Washington - Fri, 2015-10-02 12:00
by David Alpert

A full-time bus lane on 16th Street, or a rush-hour only lane, are two of many possible strategies for improving bus service on 16th Street. DC transportation planners presented a menu of ways to make these buses faster and more reliable at a meeting Wednesday night.

A bus in traffic on 16th Street. Photo by Kishan Putta on Twitter.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has been studying 16th Street in detail from Spring Road to Lafayette Park. Planners scrutinized the buses' operations to figure out how much time buses were waiting for people boarding, at lights, and more.

Now, they've devised three scenarios. Each scenario combines a host of individual changes, from small ones like lengthening a bus stop to major changes like a bus lane. After getting some more public input, the team will run them through traffic models.

Ultimately, they will be able to mix and match pieces, so rather than focusing too much on what's in each scenario, here is a list of some of the most significant ideas to think about.

A full-time bus lane (in scenario 2): 16th Street south of Spring would get a bus lane in each direction, a general travel lane in each direction, and a reversible lane. Between U Street and O Street, where 16th Street is 48 feet wide, it would become 5 narrow lanes (with the middle one reversible) instead of the current 4 wide lanes. That would ensure that drivers in the peak direction still get two lanes as they do today.

Typical lane configurations for scenario 2 in Columbia Heights (left) and Dupont (right). Click for a detailed diagram of the corridor with lane configurations for all portions. Images from DDOT.

A rush-hour bus lane in the peak direction (in scenario 3): During morning rush, 16th would have a southbound bus lane and two southbound general travel lanes; the reverse would apply in the evening. Through most of Columbia Heights where 16th is already 5 lanes, that means one reversible lane (like today). In the narrow part from U to O, it would stay four lanes, but in this scenario, would have two reversible lanes.

Typical lane configurations for scenario 3 in Columbia Heights (top) and Dupont Circle (bottom) in the AM peak (left) and PM peak (right). Click for a detailed diagram of the corridor with lane configurations for all portions. Images from DDOT.

Removing a few bus stops (all scenarios): In some places, bus stops are very close together, like a stop at Riggs Place southbound which is between other stops at Q and R. Planners suggest removing southbound stops at Newton, Lamont, V, and Riggs, and northbound at L, Q, V, Lamont, and Newton.

Queue jumps (scenario 1): If there is no bus lane, there would be a few "queue jump" areas where buses could go ahead of other vehicles at a signal. For instance, northbound at U Street, buses now pull out into a combination bus stop and right turn lane, but then have to wait to merge back in when the light turns green. A special signal could let the bus go first if it's waiting.

Headway-based service (all scenarios): Now, buses operate on a schedule, where each bus leaves at a predetermined time. The Circulator, instead, uses a headway system where they leave each end whenever it would space out the buses at the appropriate time intervals (10 minutes for Circulator). The S buses would start using this same system as well to try to reduce bunching.

Other bus stop tweaks (all scenarios): Southbound, the stops at Harvard and M Streets would move to the far side of the street, which will also make it possible to lengthen them. Other stops would get longer as well.

Off-board fare payment: There are three ways to do this. One (in scenario 2) would be to just add kiosks at bus stops to let people load up their SmarTrip cards while waiting for the bus. Loading them on the bus adds a lot of delay.

WMATA is already exploring doing this on five lines, though at the meeting, Megan Kanagy of the study team said that cash transactions on 16th Street represent a low percentage of riders.

Alternately, DDOT and WMATA could work together to set up full off-board payment, where people touch a SmarTrip at a kiosk or pay and get a receipt or something (the exact physical details are not yet worked out). Inspectors would then spot check buses to verify people had paid.

Fare payment kiosks for New York's 34th Street Select Bus Service. Photo by New York City Department of Transportation on Flickr.

According to the table here this would save 1-4 seconds per rider. People could also then board through both the front and rear doors.

This is a big change, however. One challenge is that it's hard to do this on only part of a route, since if someone gets on in the non-off-board zone, pays with cash, and then rides into the zone, there's no way to prove he or she paid. The S1 bus now splits off the other buses at K Street and heads over to the State Department, while the S2 and S4 go east and south to the Federal Triangle area. Therefore, this option would be hard to implement unless the routes also got shorter, as discussed below.

An easier way to get started (in scenario 3) would be just to do this on the S9 express bus, which goes from Silver Spring to McPherson Square and makes fewer stops.

Shorter routes (scenario 1): In addition to the issues with off-board payment, the route split also hurts reliability. Longer routes are harder to keep on time, and when buses start in far-apart spots and then merge, it's hard to get them to not be bunched up once they merge.

One option, then, is to shorten the downtown sections of each route, having the S1 just go to Farragut and the S2 and S4 just to McPherson.

Routes for the S1, S2, and S4 downtown. Image from WMATA.

A big drawback is that especially for the S1, riders won't have a lot of great alternatives. In fact, Metro is already proposing cutting back the 80 bus to make it more reliable, and it doesn't run very frequently anyway. According to the data here (page 23), 61% of the riders who take the S1 to the Dupont/U/Columbia Heights area get on in the portion beyond McPherson.

So that doesn't sound so good right now. But it could be in the future. Transit planning guru Jarrett Walker talks a lot about the value of having a simple network of frequent routes instead of a lot of branching. Rather than giving riders a lot of sub-routes which go different places, just make it easy to transfer (just like with most rail systems).

If Metro were able to more holistically rethink the bus routes downtown, we might end up with a network where all S buses go to the same place, but there's a frequent, reliable route east-west. Anyone going to the Foggy Bottom area could confidently transfer to that bus without it making the trip much slower or less reliable than the S1 today (or hopefully even better!)

Therefore, it seems this option is worth studying now, but probably not implementing yet. The bigger rethink of bus routes is also worth getting started on.

Fix some intersections: DDOT previously studied of the complicated intersection where Havard, Columbia, and Mt. Pleasant Streets all meet 16th in three very closely-spaced lines. Scenario 2 contemplates going ahead with some changes, though there would be more of a public process first to decide exactly what that would be.

Driving southbound, one lane becomes a left turn lane at W Street, and a lot of drivers either don't know or try to use that to jump ahead. All scenarios consider starting signs earlier and a physical separator as well.

Limit parking: There are 535 parking spaces in this area now. Ten would go away to lengthen bus stops in all scenarios. Right now, parking is not allowed along the peak direction during rush periods, and in some places is not allowed in either direction during rush.

In scenario 1, there would also be no parking midday (when parking really constrains the buses which have to merge into traffic), but still parking in the off-peak direction mornings and evenings. Scenario 2, the full-time bus lane, would have no parking except for 10 pm to 7 am, when people could park in the bus lane.

Scenario 3, the part-time bus lane, would have no parking on either side during morning or evening rush periods (to make room for the bus lane) but still allow it midday. However, in all scenarios the middday period would not start until 10 am, versus 9:30 today. The many pieces of each scenario are complex, but summarized here (page 22).

Use Arkansas instead of Missouri (scenario 1): Buses driving to or from the bus garage on 14th Street now go north to Missouri Avenue and then south again on 16th. Instead, they could use Arkansas Avenue, just south of the bus garage, increasing reliability.

Weigh in

The team wants to hear from residents before they start running the scenarios through the traffic models. They're interested in strategies they might not have included and feedback on the ones they did.

There will be four "pop-up" events, where people can stop by, ask questions, and give feedback without having to sit through a long meeting. They are:

  • Wednesday, October 7, 5:30-7:30 pm at 16th Street and Spring Place, NW
  • Wednesday October 14, 4-6 pm at 16th and L
  • Thursday, October 15, 5:30-7:30 pm at 16th and U
  • Saturday, October 17, Noon-2 pm at 16th and Irving
And leave your thoughts in the comments. What do you think is best? Anything else that should be part of the mix?


Categories: CNU blogs

Here's where a protected bikeway could go on the east side of downtown

Greater Greater Washington - Fri, 2015-10-02 09:49
by David Cranor

People who want to ride a bike north-south along the east side of DC's central business district and in Shaw could soon have a new protected bikeway to do it. A new study recommends four options, including 6th Street NW, 5th and 6th, or 9th.

The 15th Street protected bikeway. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has been studying options for a bikeway to connect areas between Florida and Constitution Avenues. This bikeway would connect central DC neighborhoods, downtown, and the existing major east-west bikeways like the one on Pennsylvania Avenue.

This area has high levels of bicycling and many popular destinations but a distinct lack of quality bike facilities. Currently, 7th Street has the most bicycle traffic, but usage is pretty evenly spread out. 5th stands out because a large number of people ride south on 5th despite the road being one-way north.

DDOT planners studied an assortment of designs, considering every street between 4th and 9th. They first eliminated 4th and 8th because they were discontinuous streets. After a round of data gathering, where they looked at parking, parking utilization, auto and bicycle traffic, transit, potential pedestrian conflicts, cost, loading zones, events, and institutions along the route, they eliminated 7th Street because of heavy transit and pedestrian usage; they didn't want the bikeway to become an auxiliary sidewalk.

Data on transit ridership (left), pedestrian volume (center), and Capital Bikeshare usage (right) in the study area. Images from DDOT.

During this whole process, they have also been involved in a public outreach effort, meeting with institutions, businesses, churches, council staff, and other stakeholders. With data screening complete, there are four alternatives which they have made public and plan to discuss at an upcoming public meeting. After that, they will narrow the alternatives to three, which will get more intensive study and planning before choosing a preferred alternative sometime this winter.

Here are the alternatives:

5th and 6th couplet: Alternative 1 would place a one-way northbound protected bikeway on the east side of 5th Street up to New York Avenue and a painted bike lane north of that. A one-way southbound bikeway would go on the west side of 6th.

This would remove a travel lane on 6th north of New York and a parking lane south of there. On 6th south of New York Avenue, the bikeway would be adjacent to a rush hour travel/off-peak parking lane converted from what is now a southbound travel lane. While DDOT considered using angled parking on 6th, that didn't make it into the final design.

One-way on on each side of 6th Alternative 2, would replace a travel lane in each direction on 6th Street with a one-way protected bikeway on each side. South of New York Avenue the bikeways would be adjacent to a rush hour travel/off-peak parking lane.

Bi-directional on 6th: Alternative 3 would remove a northbound travel lane north of New York Avenue and a parking lane south of New York and would convert a northbound travel lane to a rush hour travel/off-peak parking lane to make room for a bi-directional protected bikeway on the east side of 6th. This is similar to what exists on 15th Street (though the one on 15th is on the west side).

Bi-directional on 9th: Alternative 4 is like Alternative 3, but on 9th Street. A northbound travel lane north of Massachusetts Avenue and a parking lane south of Massachusetts Avenue would disappear, while a northbound travel lane would become an rush hour travel/off-peak parking lane. This would make room for a bi-directional protected bikeway on the east side of 9th. The southbound bike-bus lane would remain.

Bike planners are looking at numerous factors in deciding which to eliminate next. All the alternatives have similar expected travel times for cyclists, so that will not be a factor. But they will be considering turns across bike facilities, pedestrian intensity next to the bikeway, the amount of protection along the facility, and other safety factors.

As one example, the Verizon Center often shuts down a lane on the west side of 6th Street for loading for shows. That could be an obstacle for Alternative 2. There may be similar challenges in other spots for the other alternatives.

The planners will look at which designs affect buses the least, and how to deal with the unique parking needs of churches to accommodate their loading and unloading requirements, large event needs, funeral needs, etc.

Alternative 1 provides the least protection. DDOT has decided not to remove on-street parking in residential areas, which limits 5th street to painted bike lanes north of New York. Another consideration for 5th Street is that it has fewer stop lights, but more stop signs and some speed bumps.

In Alternative 4, 9th is one-way south of Massachusetts, so northbound cyclists would be going the opposite direction from car traffic, meaning it would suffer from the same light timing issues as 15th Street does. Timed lights on 15th mean people riding north hit more red lights than on a typical street.

DDOT has a website with all the designs which is accepting comments. The team is planning a public meeting soon, but haven't settled on details. If a final design is chosen this winter, work could begin before the end of 2016.

Which design do do you think is best?


Categories: CNU blogs

Breakfast links: New normal

Greater Greater Washington - Fri, 2015-10-02 08:42
by Brendan Casey

Photo by Shawn Harquail on Flickr.The geography of tragedy: When mass shootings happen in small towns, the towns become synonymous with tragedy. This horrible event is all we know, but they are so much more. Learn a little something more about Roseburg, OR. (Post)

Calm before the storm: Metro will have extra maintenance crews available to address any issues that may arise from the heavy rain expected this weekend. (Post)

Mo' money: A PAC run by Muriel Bowser's former campaign treasurer can raise unlimited amounts of money because it's not an election year, but plans to spend the money to help Bowser-friendly candidates in the next election. (WAMU)

Speedy delivery: A Federal Highway Administration pilot program is aimed at encouraging off-peak deliveries in some cities. Delivery trucks significantly contribute to congestion when they are on the road during normal business hours. (Post)

Smile, you're on traffic camera: Arlington has opened access to its 180 traffic cameras so people can watch the video online to plan trips before leaving. (ARLnow)

Crash inequality: Poor people are more likely to die in a car crash, says a new study. It could be older cars are less safe, but poorer neighborhoods also have fewer crosswalks or other features to protect people walking. (Post)

Paying more for less: Some Boston landlords have accepted bribes from people to live in subsidized housing units. Building more housing supply, so people have more choices, has to be part of the answer in cities across the country. (Boston Globe)

Do it for your health: There are many reasons why driving to work is bad for your health, happiness, and community. Studies have concluded that walkers seem to have the least stressful commutes. (Gizmodo, Kristy Cartier)

Charm City PRT?: Another Personal Rapid Transit company which has never installed a working system anywhere thinks that it can solve Baltimore's transit problems for cheaper than the Red Line. Oh, and there's maglev! (BBJ, David)

No photos on the tracks: Train tracks are an appealing backdrop for both professional and amateur photographers, but those photo shoots can end in tragedy. Most people don't realize how fast a train could come and that they can't stop. (Post)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.


Categories: CNU blogs

In Washington, Vancouver Takes Winding Road to Bus Rapid Transit

Next City - Fri, 2015-10-02 08:30

In Vancouver, Washington, C-TRAN has launched its bus rapid transit project. (Photo by Bloonstdfan360)

One could call The Vine, the new bus rapid transit line now being built in Vancouver, Washington, as the lemonade the local transit agency made when the voters handed it a lemon.

Related Stories

The lemon, in this case, was voter rejection of a one-tenth-cent sales tax hike in 2012. That tax increase would have funded C-TRAN’s share of the cost of a bridge over the Columbia River between Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver. (Clark County Public Transit Benefit Area Authority, or C-TRAN, is headquartered in Vancouver.) C-TRAN was chipping in because the bridge would have carried Portland’s MAX light rail across it. The light-rail line, in turn, would have connected to a new bus rapid transit line that C-TRAN would have built with the remainder of the proceeds from the tax hike.

C-TRAN had actually been exploring bus rapid transit for two years before the sales tax hike went down. “The idea was first introduced as part of a regional high-capacity transit system plan,” says Scott Patterson, director of planning, development and public affairs for C-TRAN. We had looked at high-travel corridors in the Vancouver area and identified five as candidates for high-capacity transit.”

The most heavily traveled of these corridors, he says, is Fourth Plain Road/Fourth Plain Boulevard, a thoroughfare that runs northeast from downtown Vancouver. Currently, service in this corridor is provided by two bus routes, the #4 Fourth Plain and the #44 Fourth Plain Limited, which connect the Westfield Vancouver Mall and points northeast with downtown Vancouver and the Delta Park/Vanport MAX station across the river in Portland. Together, the two routes carry 1.6 million passengers a year. Plans to extend MAX across the Columbia as part of the bridge project would have moved the transfer point into downtown Vancouver, which would have become a hub for a bus rapid transit system.

The rejection of the tax hike threw that larger BRT plan into doubt, and when Oregon pulled the plug on the Columbia River Crossing project, the LRT extension died as well. But C-TRAN had figured out by then that BRT in the Fourth Plain corridor would actually save it money and attract new riders as well.

“Our current projections show operating cost savings upwards of $600,000,” Patterson says, achieved by using fewer, larger buses to operate the route. In addition, because the BRT line would cut travel times significantly — a trip from Vancouver Mall to downtown that now takes 35 to 38 minutes would be 10 minutes faster — C-TRAN estimates the new line would attract 30 percent more riders than use it now.

Combine the increased ridership with the savings in operating costs and you get a nearly $900,000 contribution to C-TRAN’s bottom line. That’s large enough to make the line worth pursuing even without a sales tax hike, which is what C-TRAN decided to do.

C-TRAN’s board voted to draw on uncommitted capital reserves to pay for the local share of The Vine’s $58 million price tag. The $7.4 million that C-TRAN is putting in represents 14 percent of the total; another 6 percent comes from a Regional Mobility Grant from the State of Washington, and the rest comes from the federal government, with the bulk of the 80 percent consisting of a $38.4 million Federal Transit Administration Small Starts grant.

Patterson explains that the Small Starts program, since folded into the overall New Starts program, picked up a larger share of total project costs than New Starts grants for larger projects did. “We were certainly pleased to have gotten that amount,” he says.

The Vine is not a full-blown, dedicated BRT facility like the recently opened CTfastrak in Connecticut instead, it consists of a package of upgrades to facilities on the streets currently used by Routes 4 and 44. These include bus stations with level boarding, low-floor articulated buses, off-board fare collection that allows for all-doors boarding, and signal priority for buses at intersections. C-TRAN had considered additional options, such as a full busway and a park-and-ride facility at Vancouver Mall, but determined that these would not have produced significant additional patronage or time savings.

Would C-TRAN have proceeded with The Vine with a lesser federal match? “It’s harder to answer that question,” Patterson says. The decision would have depended on how much was in C-TRAN’s capital reserve fund and the willingness of its board to spend that money on this project.

Because The Vine will terminate at C-TRAN’s downtown Vancouver transit center, new shuttle bus service will be created to take riders to the end of the MAX line. The savings from BRT will more than fund its operation.

Construction of the line officially began with a ceremonial groundbreaking August 24th at the future Turtle Place terminal in downtown Vancouver. The Vine is expected to go into service in late 2016. The line is the largest capital project in C-TRAN’s history.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Car-Free Streets Idea Gains Momentum in Philly

Next City - Fri, 2015-10-02 08:10

Pedestrians flocked to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, which connects Philadelphia to New Jersey, when it was closed to traffic during Pope Francis’ visit. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

As a visit from Pope Francis upended business as usual in Philadelphia, the city’s residents (those who stayed in town at least) got a compelling peek at what a car-free city might look like as a traffic ban took over downtown streets. The result? Fewer shaking fists and more of a push for a no-vehicle zone, with Mayor Michael Nutter endorsing another crack at some car-free streets — and soon.

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A petition, posted online Tuesday, calls for Center City streets to ban cars during some summer weekends in 2016. Created by Open Streets Philly, it currently has over 3,700 signatures.

But news site Philly Voice reports that the Mayor is interested in implementing the idea in 2015 and has asked his team to begin gathering data.

“Mayor Nutter is excited about the possibilities for creating an innovative urban commons on a section of Center City, considerably smaller than the Francis Festival Grounds, for biking, walking, running, skateboarding, rollerblading and a range of programming,” Nutter spokesperson Mark McDonald told Philly Voice.

The man most likely to be Philadelphia’s mayor come January 2016, Jim Kenney, has expressed support for the petition.

Creators of the petition want to avoid the Pope-visit-driven disruptions to public transit and local businesses. Open Streets Philly’s Jake Liefer told Philly Voice they’re advocating for zones that target particular streets and car bans would likely only be in place for part of the day.

“Lots of Center City businesses saw their sales dip over the Papal Festival weekend; we need to include those businesses in planning this from the jump,” reads the petition. “We’re confident Open Streets can be an opportunity for neighborhood businesses to meet new customers and generate new business.”

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Tampa Wants to Be the Model for Healthy City Design

Next City - Fri, 2015-10-02 07:49

(Photo by LoneStarMike)

The City of Tampa has joined with real estate developers to become the first U.S. city to design a district with public health as the driving principle. Every aspect of the 40-acre waterfront area — its buildings, walkability, low-pollen trees and more — is intended to make its inhabitants live healthier lives.

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The partners in the effort are New York-based Delos, which, according to its website, “places health and wellness at the center of design and construction decisions,” and Strategic Property Partners, which owns the downtown land.

“More than half of all people in the world now live in cities, and we spend 90 percent of our time indoors,” said Paul Scialla, founder of Delos, in a press release. “The built environment — our cities — are human habitat, and we have the knowledge to design them to sustain our health, not to harm it.”

After making a commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative to create guidelines for health-focused building design, Delos developed what it calls the Well Building Standard. Once finished, the district would be granted “Well Certification,” with office space and residences constructed will inhabitants’ health in mind. Think everything from air and water quality to optimal lighting and comfort. There will be a new hotel, an office tower, retail space and the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.

In its report on the deal, Tampa Bay Business Journal points out the move is also about economic development.

Vinik, who is working to lure a corporate headquarters to anchor the district, said Tuesday that the wellness focus is a “major selling point” for potential tenants.

“Not only among millennials, but all age groups these days, health and wellness is a major item that people are focusing on and care about,” Vinik said. “Some of the companies we’ve talked to are already aware of Delos and some of them aren’t, but in every single case it has if nothing else piqued their interest.”

Beyond the buildings, other plans are being laid out for the area, including better walkability, more green space, sound barriers to cut down on noise pollution, air quality monitoring and green infrastructure. According to the Tampa Bay Times, SPP “estimates there will be $20 million in public and private funds invested on health- and wellness-focused technologies and design strategies,” with the city’s contribution in the infrastructure area like bike paths and better sidewalks.

Phase one, in what’s expected to eventually be a $2 billion project, is set to begin next year.

“Together, we will demonstrate that city design — not just building design — can be healthy and sustainable, making Tampa a leader in the wellness industry and our downtown, a destination,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. “We look forward to participating with our partners Delos and SPP to play a role in crafting a WELL Community Standard that will become the basis for similar projects in other cities.”

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Groundbreaking CDFI Deal Will Make a Difference in Chicago

Next City - Fri, 2015-10-02 07:00

Street art on the West Side of Chicago (Photo by Oscar Perry Abello)

This week, a groundbreaking deal was announced that could have a big impact on distressed communities around the U.S., boosting job opportunities, entrepreneurship, affordable housing and more.

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Seven community development finance institutions (CDFIs) with assets of less than $100 million are participating in a federal government-guaranteed bond scheme that gives them access to long-term, fixed-rate capital, at a scale they never imagined possible. It was made possible only because they’ve joined together in an unprecedented collaboration.

“To be able to increase our lending potential by this proportionality in one fell swoop at a fixed interest rate for 20 or 30 years into the future is phenomenal,” says Calvin Holmes, CEO of the Chicago Community Loan Fund, one of the seven CDFIs in on the deal. “In today’s capital markets for organizations like us, it’s nearly impossible.”

For those who are unfamiliar with the work CDFIs do, they are private financial institutions dedicated to responsible, affordable lending to help low-income, low-wealth and other disadvantaged people and communities join the economic mainstream. The CDFI movement first emerged to fill in this market gap in the 1970s. There are almost a thousand CDFIs in the United States today. A CDFI can be a bank, a credit union, a loan fund or a venture capital fund. At least two CDFIs are real estate investment trusts. Some are very small, with assets of less than $500,000; some are very large, with more than $100 million in assets. The majority are between $1 million and $50 million in assets.

Alone, most CDFIs wouldn’t be able to access this government-guaranteed bond scheme. It has a minimum bond issue size of $100 million (in order to eventually attract conventional investors such as mutual funds or large foundations to purchase and trade the bonds in public markets like other conventional investments), and $100 million is far too much capital for most CDFIs to take on at one time, particularly for those that work in the hardest to reach communities.

“If we were going to get government-guaranteed bond money to CDFIs other than the largest CDFIs in the country, we needed to figure out a way to assemble a syndicate of CDFIs,” says Cathy Dolan, COO of the Opportunity Finance Network, which assembled and officially issued the multi-party bond. In addition to urban CDFIs like CCLF, rural and Native American CDFIs are in the mix of seven. OFN wanted this first multi-party CDFI bond to showcase the diversity of CDFIs. Overall, the multi-party bond issued was in the amount of $127 million.

CCLF will get $28 million. Holmes estimates it will increase their portfolio size by at least 50 percent.

They’ll use the new lending power to scale up their existing Neighborhood Investor Lending Program (NILP), which provides long-term capital to small community real estate businesses that acquire, rehab, lease and/or sell residential properties in distressed neighborhoods around the Chicago metropolitan area. CCLF created the program in response to the foreclosure crisis that started in 2008. Real estate development loans are typically made on the basis of loan-to-value ratios, which is a barrier in an environment of severely depressed property values.

“It was a straight jacket that was suffocating capital flow in these neighborhoods,” says Calvin Holmes, CCLF’s president. “Especially for minority-owned and smaller community real estate development companies.”

To overcome that barrier, NILP makes loans on the basis of loan-to-cost ratio, relying instead on developers’ cash flow from rent or sales.

Second, CCLF will expand its Commercial Retail Initiative, which makes long-term loans to commercial real estate developers who intend to bring in businesses, especially retailers, to anemic business districts and low-wealth neighborhoods across the region. The intent is to support both job creation as well as easier access to basic home goods, restaurants, entertainment outlets, pharmacies and other essentials.

“These communities are more than just food deserts, they really are retail deserts,” Holmes says. “These customers need a fixed rate loan, and they need it to be extended for a decade or more. The bond proceeds will allow us to make loans to owners of commercial properties in distressed districts who plan to hold onto those properties for 10 or 20 years.”

The third thing they’ll do is provide a safety net for nonprofits whose mortgages are expiring now and in the next few years. Typically, nonprofits sign a mortgage for five or so years, with a lump sum payment toward the end that rarely gets paid, usually resulting in a refinancing negotiation. Since many Chicago-area nonprofits such as charter schools, homeless shelters, health clinics and other service providers and also some cultural institutions are largely dependent on state programs for revenue, and since the state of Illinois is in deep financial trouble, traditional lenders are pulling away from their nonprofit clients. CCLF will use some of the bond proceeds to step in and refinance those mortgages.

“We expect to be a key part of their safety net to keep them in their facilities so they can continue to serve their clients,” Holmes says. “We’re getting a lot of referrals already. We refinance for a fixed rate for a decade or two.”

Besides locking in the long-term interest rates, the bond proceeds help small organizations operating in such environments to focus their already limited human resources on what should matter most.

“It’s a huge difference for pretty small organizations that are locally based,” Dolan says. “They can focus more now on lending and creating impact instead of raising capital.”

The multi-party bond also allows for cross-pollination. “We have that camaraderie and shared experience to perfect the execution of the program,” says Holmes. “And OFN has been incredibly helpful and supportive.”

OFN does not touch a single penny of the bond proceeds, acting merely as a pass-through and a manager of the transactions, activities paid for out of its own pocket as a service to the broader CDFI community. They plan to issue another guaranteed multi-party bond next year.

In the meantime, OFN is working behind the scenes with U.S. Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget to explore how to tweak the guarantee terms in a way that will allow the bond to be sold to public markets.

Currently, regulators tell OFN that because the bond is 100 percent guaranteed, it cannot be sold to non-government investors, including large foundations that are interested in purchasing this bond and future ones like it. Dolan credits Kresge Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and Ford Foundation for showing the most interest before regulators decided not to allow the CDFI guaranteed bonds into the public market.

For now, another arm of the U.S. Treasury known as the Federal Financing Bank holds the bonds. If and when that changes, it still won’t be easy, Dolan says, “But you gotta start with something.”

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Biking & Walking Roundup: Women Bike, Women Lead

Alliance for Walking&Biking - Fri, 2015-10-02 06:24
[blogimage][/blogimage] This week in Roundup, Boulder riders renounced the removal of a protected bike lane, California advocates celebrated multiple victories in the state legislature, BikeWalkKC hosted another successful Women's Bicycling Forum, Local Motion rallied hundreds for street safety, Philadelphia will get its first Open Streets event this year (Thanks, Pope Francis!) and more...
Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

The Metro map could have looked like this

Greater Greater Washington - Thu, 2015-10-01 14:19
by David Alpert

Does this map look like the Metro map we know today? It's a direct ancestor.

Design by Massimo Vignelli via MetroMapArt.

Peter Lloyd, who writes the blog Metro Map Art, included this in a book he wrote about designer Massimo Vignelli. Vignelli notably created the 1972 version of the New York Subway map, which simplified the shapes of the lines into only verticals, horizontals, and diagonals.

Today's Metro map uses those same orientations, while New York moved away from it toward a more curved, partially more geographically accurate version. But Vignelli also worked with Metro architect Harry Weese, designing the iconic pylons outside stations, the original signs inside, and more, including the above map.

But Vignelli was not the designer who created the final map. That was Lance Wyman, a designer with a much less severe aesthetic. Lloyd visited an exhibit about Wyman's design in Monterrey, Mexico. The exhibit contains early sketches for the Metro map which strongly resemble the Vignelli map but also the modern one.

Photo by Reka Komoli via MetroMapArt.

As you can see, the colors changed, and so did the names for the ends of lines (that, of course, not being the designers' doing). Nutley Road is now Vienna, Ardmore is New Carrollton. Greenbelt Road became just Greenbelt when planners moved the station closer to the Beltway. Initial plans to split the now-Yellow line to Franconia and Springfield (then Backlick Road) became one unified Franconia-Springfield station.

Another hallmark of Wyman's work is the use of icons in wayfinding. As Lloyd explains, Wyman initially proposed having icons for each station, and in fact that's a reason the map has large circles and fat lines.

Design by Lance Wyman via MetroMapArt.

According to Lloyd, Vignelli led an effort to reject the icon concept.

Metro's service evolves as well

The map also has changed as the system grew beyond the initial plans. In 2011, Metro hired Wyman to redesign the map to fit in the Silver Line. The latest issue of Washingtonian looks at changes in the region over the years, including Metro; Angie Hilsman created this animated GIF of Metro service growth based on maps I drew:

These maps show the service patterns, not the actual maps in stations; as the system was constructed, the maps instead showed the then-planned lines with broken lines and empty circles for as-yet-unbuilt tracks and stations. You can see the full set of these images in this slideshow:


Categories: CNU blogs

Here’s How Cities and Anchor Institutions Can Work Together to Drive Growth

Next City - Thu, 2015-10-01 14:00

A University of Pennsylvania student works on her computer with the skyline of Philadelphia visible in the window behind her. (Credit: University of Pennsylvania)

Cities need partners. At a time when local governments are confronting challenges on multiple fronts ranging from rising inequality to fast-moving global economic tides and reduced state and federal support, collaboration has never been so important.

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Historically, cities have proven able to respond to local challenges through partnerships. A recent Boston University survey of 70 mayors showed that chief elected officials have an uncanny ability to cooperate with most anyone. In the survey, mayors overwhelmingly ranked the business community as their most reliable collaborator, with the vast majority stating that they have a highly cooperative relationship with local employers. This is no surprise as the private sector has long been the default partner for mayors and city managers. But with capital flight rampant, there are few traditional civic-minded corporate headquarters left.

In 2015, it is “anchor institutions” — universities, medical centers and hospitals — that are the obvious partner for city leadership. In the majority of metropolitan regions, these institutions have eclipsed all other sectors as the lead employer, providing a significant and growing number of jobs.

Often, universities and hospitals are the largest non-governmental employer in their home city, according to a 2015 Lincoln Institute of Land Policy study. And they encompass sectors like medicine and education that are expected to grow rapidly in the coming years with nearly half a million additional jobs projected in urban areas by 2020. But more than just local job engines, anchor institutions are the exact kind of business most communities want in today’s knowledge-based economy, where product value emanates from innovation, not mass production.

Medical centers and research universities foster an entrepreneurial climate that attracts other young professionals and leads to spin-off companies in the growing tech economy. In fact, a growing body of scholars see universities as the key ingredient to high-tech growth or so-called “innovation districts.” These institutions also provide a knowledge foundation for their home cities by educating many local teachers and issuing professional degrees in high-demand fields such as computer science and engineering.

Equally important, especially in economically challenged cities, is the fact that anchor institutions are prime real estate developers. Oft cited examples include University Circle in Cleveland or Midtown Detroit, where universities and medical facilities have proven to be critical long-term partners for urban revitalization and economic growth.

But just as much as cities need anchor institutions, anchors need cities. Cities provide public amenities and the infrastructure for growth, including transportation systems, workforce housing and public safety services. And the majority of these institutions benefit from a privilege no private employer receives: they are exempt from paying property taxes. Finally, while anchor institutions might be able to succeed by some measures in a vacuum, their ability to promote their presence in a vibrant city with a high quality of life allows them to better attract scholars, doctors and students who fuel their success.

In virtually every city in the United States, there is recognition of this mutual interdependence, but rarely does that awareness extend to a consistent working relationship, and virtually nowhere is there the kind of intentional and strategic planning that is found with the private sector. While a university or hospital may work with local government on a specific project or community service program, relationships can be marked by tense negotiations around real estate expansion, arguments over tax-exempt status and miscommunications stemming from a lack of understanding about how to engage productively with one another.

One leading city consultant put it this way: “Imagine if you said to a local mayor that it was a ‘bad thing’ to be talking to your local business community. They would look at you like you’re insane, as almost all of them have strong ties with local businesses. But by the same token, very few of them have that kind of relationship with their local university or hospital. The big question is why not?”

Indeed, we are at a critical juncture for relations between anchor institutions and cities. Although not economic saviors unto themselves, universities and hospitals are a critical — if not paramount — partner for cities that seek strategies to sustain and accelerate local prosperity. As both health care and higher education institutions become increasingly competitive, local governments can uniquely aid — or hinder — the growth of individual institutions. But many localities still lack a clear sense of what mutual benefit looks like. For the well-being of both anchor institutions and governments, there is a need to move from isolated (or worse, random) engagement to structured, systematic partnerships in pursuit of mutual self-interest and large-scale improvements.

Today, institutions and government too often define their relationship through discrete transactions — an infrastructure improvement, appearance at a ribbon cutting, or support for a city project. This leads to a partnership of expediency. Some cities perceive anchor institutions as engaging local government only when they need something; approvals or permits for an expansion, or a public investment near campus. On the other hand, local governments are increasingly turning to anchor institutions to seek community benefits agreements or what they view as the anchor institutions’ “fair share” payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs).

We are recommending something wholly different: a grand bargain for anchor institutions and cities.

This approach is not predicated on discrete transactions, but instead is based on identifying shared interests, and on co-creating ambitious goals and working together to achieve them. High-impact partnerships between cities and institutions will only work when the actors at the municipal level come together as equals and chart a long-term course forward that is transparent, ambitious, and holds itself accountable. The rest of our latest report spells out how to make it happen.

Next City assisted National Resource Network with the editing and production of this report. To learn more about collaborating with Next City on editorial products, please email

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

An interactive map will make Montgomery more bike-friendly

Greater Greater Washington - Thu, 2015-10-01 13:04
by Joe Fox

Casey Anderson, the chair of Montgomery County's planning board, says he wants the best bike plan any place US city has ever seen. The county's interactive Cycling Concerns Bicycle Atlas is a tool for gathering the feedback it needs to make that happen.

Image from Montgomery County. Click for the interactive version.

The primary goal of the County Bike Plan is to move from a world where only 1% of the population feels comfortable riding (high stress roadways) to one where those who tolerate moderate (10%) or low stress (50%) also feel comfortable riding. Importantly, it also recognizes that there is a substantial minority that will never get on a bike.

Image from M-NCPPC.

This effort began with the Second Great MoCo Bike Summit, and has been part of a series of community meetings where Board Chairman Casey Anderson and planner David Anspacher led attendees through a discussion of common cycling issues and defined the four levels of stress.

Unlike a similar atlas unveiled in Fairfax County this spring, which asked cyclists to identify routes they'd like to see bike lanes on, Montgomery's map asks users to note problem areas within the county's existing network, such as poor or missing connections, unsafe sewer grates, and concerns with road conditions.

The map will remain up indefinitely. The county has already started using feedback from the atlas to address immediate concerns. The plan should be complete in 2017, and it will include recommendations about specific bike facilities to be built.

Hundreds of people have already used the map,, and the county is asking them to keep it up. Users can also rate and comment other users' feedback directly on the map.

Someone reported this in-line grate Fri using our feedback map. @MCDOTNow is replacing it w/ a bike safe one today!

—MCBikePlan (@MCBikePlan) September 16, 2015

There will be one more community meeting to discuss the Bike Plan on Tuesday, October 6, at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.


Categories: CNU blogs

Metro wants to connect Farragut North and West with a tunnel

Greater Greater Washington - Thu, 2015-10-01 11:49
by Matt Johnson

Since 2004, Metro has been planning to build an underground connection between Farragut North and Farragut West. The two busy downtown stations are only 400 feet apart, and a connection could provide an attractive alternative to Metro Center, currently the only transfer point between the Red and Blue/Orange/Silver lines.

People walking between the Farragut stations. They would be able to connect underground if Metro builds this connector. All images from WMATA unless otherwise noted.

This was supposed to happen in the original plan

The Red Line crosses the Blue/Orange/Silver Line twice: once at Metro Center, where passengers can transfer between trains, and again at Connecticut and I Street at the southeast corner of Farragut Square. Early plans for the Metro system called for a single Farragut Square station, with two levels allowing transfers like at Metro Center.

But the National Park Service balked at allowing WMATA to dig up the square to build a station there, since it would mean killing the old trees in the square. As a result, there are two separate stations, one at Farragut North for the Red Line and one at Farragut West for the Blue/Orange/Silver Lines.

Metro lines and entrances around Farragut square.

That means that riders coming from Virginia who want to head northwest on the Red Line have to stay on the train longer, riding past Farragut and McPherson Squares and doubling back at Metro Center, the busiest station in the system.

In 2011, Metro instituted a "virtual tunnel" called Farragut Crossing that allows riders to exit one Farragut and enter the other Farragut using a SmarTrip card without incurring an additional fare surcharge. However, this free transfer requires crossing three streets (K, I, and 17th) and walking a block outside. On weekends and for wheelchair users, the transfer also requires an additional block and crossing 18th Street.

Photo by Dan Malouff.

Metro officials are continuing to work on the connector because it will provide necessary congestion relief at Metro Center and will shorten many riders' trips. However, they're also planning additional improvements in Farragut North and Farragut West since the tunnel will increase usage there.

Beyond the tunnel, stations would need greater capacity

There are three primary components in the project.

The biggest element is the tunnel itself, which will stretch about 450 feet between the eastern (17th Street) mezzanine at Farragut West to the south end of Farragut North. The entire tunnel will be in the fare-paid area. In the current plans, there would be no new entrances built along the tunnel.

Ways Farragut North and West could be connected.

Another part of the project calls for Farragut North to be able to handle more traffic. This means new staircases between the central/south mezzanine and the platform, redundant street and platform elevators, and reconfigured faregates.

Changes to the center mezzanine at Farragut North.

One of WMATA's design options also would extend the central/south mezzanine so it connects directly to the tunnel to Farragut West. That option improves circulation since it allows passengers to avoid the platform.

Connector at Farragut North, option 2.

The final component of the project would expand capacity at Farragut West by extending the mezzanines on both the east and western ends, adding platform and street elevators at the eastern mezzanine, and reconfiguring the fare vending machines and faregates.

Extension to the west mezzanine at Farragut West.

The project would have the added benefit of making Farragut North and Farragut West elevator-redundant stations, improving the accessibility of the system.

This would save time and ease congestion

The largest benefit is time savings for transferring riders. Without the tunnel, planners estimate that under crowded conditions in 2030 the tunnel would reduce travel time between the Farraguts from 6:14 (via Metro Center) or 7:51 (via 17th Street) to 3:19 (via the tunnel). The time savings is even greater during uncongested periods, with a reduction from 5:35 (via Metro Center) or 6:17 (via 17th Street) to 1:39 (via the tunnel).

Another advantage of the tunnel is that it would reduce crowding at Metro Center. Today, there are almost 85,000 daily transfers at Metro Center (in addition to about 56,000 daily entries and exits). Without the tunnel, the number of transfers at Metro Center is expected to climb to over 100,000 by 2030, with daily entries and exits rising to about 70,000.

Crowding at Metro Center.

With the tunnel, transfers at Metro Center would drop to around 78,000 by 2030, less than the number today. That's because approximately 26,000 riders would elect to transfer between the Farraguts rather than at Metro Center.

Additionally, the proposed improvements at Farragut North and Farragut West inside the stations could reduce congestion on the platforms.

The current arrangement of escalators at Farragut North's central and southern mezzanines concentrates passengers in the center of the platform. New staircases on either end of the mezzanine would better distribute passengers and reduce crowding.

Crowding at Farragut North.

At Farragut West, the four additional escalators would clear the platform more quickly, though they would likely increase congestion in the mezzanines.

Costs could be spread out

The project doesn't have to happen all at once. The pieces could probably be broken out, though it could be easier or less disruptive to build them together.

The tunnel itself is estimated to cost between $70 and $73 million. The Farragut North improvements would cost around $23 million. The Farragut West construction would run about $36 million. That brings the total cost to around $130 million.

However, this study hasn't fleshed out all the issues. Metro still needs to conduct additional analysis to determine some of the structural elements and do further design work.

Funding hasn't yet been identified, nor has a timeline for construction. However, the study does anticipate the tunnel being open by 2030.


Categories: CNU blogs

Ranked: 10 Most Emotionally Stable U.S. Cities

Next City - Thu, 2015-10-01 11:27

In a new study that looks at city personalities and economic recovery, Jackson, Tennessee, topped a ranking of “emotionally stable” cities in the U.S. (Photo by Thomas R. Machnitzki)

From considering how urban design may encourage addiction, to measuring a city’s happiness, psychologists, sociologists and number-crunching big data specialists continue to study what makes cities tick — and how that ticking affects those who live there. Now, researchers have examined urban U.S. and Great Britain to determine how residents’ attitudes and entrepreneurial spirit may help cities with economic recovery.

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Their study, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, looked at personalities of more than one million residents in 700 cities and analyzed whether certain traits correlated to faster recovery from the recent recession. They say they were on to something. From the press release:

Cities fared better, with more businesses starting despite the recession, in places where residents displayed a more resilient personality, characterized by stronger emotional stability and entrepreneurial personality profile. This entrepreneurial profile is defined as persons scoring at the same time higher on extraversion, openness to new experiences, emotional stability, and conscientiousness, and lower on agreeableness.

“Cities seem to respond quite differently to major economic shocks in terms of their economic behavior, and the personality of a region may play a critical role,” said lead researcher Martin Obschonka, assistant professor of psychology at Saarland University in Germany. “Much research on economic resilience has focused on regional economic infrastructure, but the entrepreneurial personality and emotional stability of a city’s residents may be just as important in determining whether cities suffer or thrive during a recession.”

It wasn’t true across the board: New York and Boston, for instance, managed to bounce back despite an infamous neuroticism, according to the researchers. Here’s how they ranked U.S. cities (10 worst, 10 best) in terms of entrepreneurial spirit and emotional stability.

(Credit: Society for Personality and Social Psychology)

(Credit: Society for Personality and Social Psychology)

(Credit: Society for Personality and Social Psychology)

(Credit: Society for Personality and Social Psychology)

Rather than aiming to change a city’s personality profile, which has many contributing factors and develops over generations, Obschonka suggests that economic programs could be tailored to each city’s “traits”: “We may need to re-think the concept of regional economic resilience by considering the personality differences of cities instead of just focusing on infrastructure.”

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

One of the biggest myths about cities: Crime is rising

City Observatory - Thu, 2015-10-01 11:00

There’s a lot happening in American cities these days, which means that there’s a lot to read about! Even for those of us at City Observatory, sometimes good, important articles slip through the cracks. In recognition of that, periodically, we’ll dig back into our archives to republish a piece that we think deserves another go-around.

This time, it’s a post from last October about the myth of rising urban crime rates. Since then, there’s been even more talk about this, fueled in part by fear of Black Lives Matter-related protests.

This persistent alarmist meme about “rising urban crime” got a big boost two weeks ago with an article in the New York Times pointing to a number of examples of higher murder rates in some US cities compared to a year ago.  While the Times analysis was thorough debunked by FiveThirtyEight (absolute must read article here), the more widely read Times piece no doubt gave new life to this discredited old saw about cities—which is why we thought it was timely to recall our earlier analysis of crime rate trends. (Also see this piece from CityLab on the pernicious effects of high-crime myths.)

Credit: Danni Naeil, Flickr

The Myth: Crime in cities is on the rise

The Reality: Cities are getting safer

For decades, the common perception about cities is that they were dangerous, dirty, and crowded. A look at the facts tells a different story: our cities are cleaner, safer, quicker, and healthier than ever. Today I’ll take a look at how urban neighborhoods have become safer despite public attitudes to the contrary.

On the whole, violent crime is declining in the Unites States. The overall murder rate has dropped by more than half since 1991 and property crimes like burglary have been on the decline. As a result, American concern about crime has ebbed: in 1994 a majority of Americans told Gallup crime was the nation’s most pressing issue; only 1 percent gave that answer in 2011. Even though we individually regard crime as less of a problem, people still tend to think of big cities as somehow dangerous. Consider the New York paradox: According to YouGov, Americans who have never been to the Big Apple are evenly divided on whether its safe or not, while those who have traveled their regard it as safe by a two-to-one margin.

This drop in crime has been greatest in the nation’s largest cities. Violent crimes of all kinds declined 29 percent in the central cities of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas — a significantly steeper decline than in the nation’s suburbs (down 7 percent). Property crimes in central cities fell even more — down 46 percent, compared to a 31 percent decrease in suburbs.

Survey evidence demonstrates that the drop in crime is not widely understood by the general public. A September 2014 survey by YouGov found that most Americans believe crime rates have increased over the past two decades. Their data show that 50 percent of Americans think crime rates are up; 22 percent think they are down, 15 percent think crime rates are unchanged, and 13 percent don’t know.

Hollywood continues to peddle the storyline of cities of the future as savage, crime-ridden dystopias (see for example this year’s remake of Robocop). Meanwhile the good news about safer cities goes almost unnoticed. A 2011 study by the Brookings Institution pointing to significant declines in 80 of the nation’s 100 largest cities has gone practically unnoticed, garnering just seven citations in other work, according to Google Scholar. (Google Scholar, August 19, 2014).

While crime has dropped, it’s not the only factor making cities better places to live. Wednesday, I’ll conclude the series by showing how traffic jams aren’t actually as bad as they used to be.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Green Jobs Program Took This Philadelphian From City Statistic to College

Next City - Thu, 2015-10-01 11:00

After participating in the PowerCorps PHL workforce development program, Paul Johnson is pursuing an environmental engineering degree. (Photo by Malcolm Burnley)

Paul Johnson was in his early 20s when he was slapped with a DUI charge and ushered into the Philadelphia Youth Violence Reduction Partnership. The arrest made him a statistic — one of the 100,000 disconnected youth in Philadelphia, the majority of whom are black or Latino. Although he’d held various jobs up to that point, nothing stuck as a career; he had no post-secondary education to fall back on.

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Entering YVRP was a wakeup call. Johnson spent time thumbing through various pamphlets on workforce development programs and apprenticeships. About his fourth visit to the employment office, someone pointed out a brochure for a brand-new AmeriCorps opportunity.

“They mentioned a program in which I might be able to attain a city job,” Johnson says. “I didn’t know the name at the time, but I said ‘sign me up.’” Aside from the solid pay scale and government benefits, Johnson believed this could be his second chance. “You can start from the bottom in a city job and end up as commissioner.”

The program was PowerCorps PHL, which began in 2013 as a way to address two disparate issues in the city: disconnected youth and how to maintain the expansive green agenda of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Each year, roughly 130 18- to 26-year-olds collectively work on anything from cleaning up public watersheds to pruning vegetation around stormwater infrastructure. The experience is designed to activate a civic streak in participants and foster employable skills.

“I never knew what I wanted to do with my life but I knew that I wanted to be the creator of something, especially something that people can use that helps out everybody,” Johnson says. He was in the original cohort of PowerCorps PHL and used a $2,800 education award from AmeriCorps to enroll at the Community College of Philadelphia. Now, he’s on his way to an environmental engineering degree. Currently, he works as a part-time green infrastructure landscape maintenance technician for a big stormwater management city contractor. In his free time, he’s building a green infrastructure project in his back yard: an environmentally friendly doghouse with lights on it that’s powered by rainwater. “I really fell in love with this stuff,” he says.

With the City of Philadelphia committing more than $1 billion over the course of a 25-year-plan called Green City, Clean Waters to convert 4,000 acres of impervious area into green stormwater infrastructure, the industry is ready to boom. GSI Partners, a division of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia, conducted a survey of 40 of its members last year, and estimated there was a 14 percent increase in revenue between 2013 and 2014, and there was a 20 percent increase in temporary or seasonal jobs among those members. And that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the SBN projections at the start of Green City, Clean Waters, which anticipated 8,600 jobs being created in the area over the project’s lifespan.

As with any emerging industry, of course, standards need to be established. Right now, there are longtime landscapers trying to adjust to the nuances of vegetated green stormwater infrastructure maintenance, without adequate professional development bringing them up to speed.

“We continue to see operations and maintenance as key to the long-term success of the plan, but there’s a knowledge gap,” admits Anna Shipp, project manager of GSI Partners. And in order to keep the jobs local, that gap must be filled, which is why GSI Partners spent a year and a half developing the region’s first green infrastructure operations and maintenance course taught by industry professionals. The three-day, $350 course sold out to 40 participants in its first run this summer. (The GSI Partners initiative is made possible in part with funds from the Surdna Foundation, a sponsor of the Equity Factor.)

“We’re hoping that the operations and maintenance course that we put together becomes the credentialing program for the industry,” Shipp says. Granted, for the foreseeable future, the course is not designed for newcomers to landscaping, but rather, existing professionals who want to transition to the green approach. “We’re not taking people cold who have no landscape background and then promising that they’ll have a clear understanding of landscape management and green infrastructure maintenance.”

Right now, that role is left to just a few programs like PowerCorps PHL and the Water Department’s apprenticeship program. But the enthusiasm of individuals like Paul — and 10 other alumni of the same program who’re working in the field currently — have definitely rubbed off on higher-ups in PWD, like Water Department Deputy Commissioner Chris Crockett. “Paul was the first person to wake people up to the potential of what an untapped resource we had in our own front yard, but without the right conveyor belts to bring these people in,” he says. “There should be no barrier as to why Paul can’t get to my job.”

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism
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