CNU blogs

Green means go (for bike lanes)

Greater Greater Washington - 26 min 2 sec ago
by Canaan Merchant

Washington is one of many cities going green, literally: green paint is becoming a go-to way to make bike lanes stand out so that using the street is safer for everyone.


The bike lanes along 14th Street NW, between V and U Streets, just turned green. Photo by Rodney Hunter.

The latest green lanes in DC were just painted on 14th Street NW between V and U streets. But that's just the latest in what has been regularly happening in DC for the past few years. Why has the city gone green for bike lanes all of a sudden?

It wasn't always green

According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, an early 1990's test in Portland used blue paint to see whether or not painted lanes made cyclists safer and more visible. The overall test results found that the treatment was generally popular and both drivers and cyclists felt that it helped reduce confusion and conflict.

But cities gradually started switching to green paint because blue pavement markings because blue is often the color used to mark handicapped-accessible spaces. Meanwhile, other colors like red and yellow are used to warn people or signal that something is prohibited. Before it became the color for bike lanes, it was rare to see green paint on the street.


Green Paint on First Street. Image from Google Maps.

In DC, green lanes are found in a few places. The entire First Street NE protected bikeway, which runs from Union Station through NoMa, is painted bright green. The L and M street bikeways also have green sections where there are turn lanes for cars, to make sure that bikes going straight have a path around turning vehicles.


Green Paint on L Street. Image from Google Maps.

Places where bike lanes cross turning lanes or tricky intersections are also spots where you're likely to find green paint in DC. That's the case at R Street and Rhode Island Avenue where the diagonal avenue makes for an awkwardly long intersection. And at Eye Street SW, numerous entrances have green paint so drivers know to check for cyclists and to merge carefully rather than just turning (check out this shot of I before it got green paint and a bike lane, and this one after).


Green paint along R Street across Rhode Island Avenue. The paint helps keep bikes and cars straight across a long intersection.

Other places around the region are getting in on the act as well. Arlington has painted portions of the bike lane along Clarendon Boulevard green at some of the tricky intersections and along Hayes Street near Pentagon City as well.


Green Lanes in Rosslyn. Image from from Google Maps.

Green paint has also shown up in Montgomery County, first appearing on Woodglen Drive in Bethesda.


Green Paint in Bethesda. Image from Google Maps.

Other places get the point, but they use different colors

Other countries seem to be fond of different colors, as standards in those countries have developed differently over time. Red is a popular color for bike lanes in the Netherlands and Copenhagen while painted bike lanes in the UK are probably going to be blue.

No matter the color, the intent is that a bike lane should stick out so that people know to watch out.


Blue bike lanes in London. Image from Google Maps.

At least one town in the Netherlands decided that all of those colors were too boring and decided to install LEDs that mimic the whorling patterns found in the famous Van Gogh painting Starry Night.

Still, while green seems to be a popular color for more and more bike lanes, it isn't universally beloved. Recently, automobile advertisers found themselves in a lurch when a bright green bike lane was painted in LA along a street that is often used for filming car commercials.

Hollywood's troubles and all, it appears that green lanes in the US are sticking around and will soon be a regular part of the landscape. Where should the next splash of green go in the region?

Comment

Categories: CNU blogs

Careful jaywalking saves lives

Greater Greater Washington - 1 hour 59 min ago
by Ben Ross

To make streets walkable, we need to re-think the basic principles of how people on foot and people in cars share the roadway. This is the first of a four-part series.

Pedestrians put themselves in danger if they wait for a walk signal instead of crossing the street whenever and wherever it looks safest. There are no definitive studies, but that is what the available evidence strongly suggests.


Photo by nydiscovery7 on Flickr.

Most research on traffic safety focuses on narrow questions posed by the highway agencies that fund it. Basic premises, like the idea that "jaywalking" is intrinsically unsafe, are rarely investigated.

In the absence of systematic studies, one must turn to indirect statistical evidence.

One useful data set was collected for New York's Vision Zero program. That city, where residents routinely ignore signals when they cross streets, can be thought of as a natural experiment. The majority of pedestrian deaths, and a far larger majority of non-fatal crashes, occur while crossing the street legally in a crosswalk.

Why might that be? Drivers hit pedestrians when turning more often than when they are driving straight ahead. At a red light, drivers who are about to turn wait alongside pedestrians. The changing signal sends both into the intersection at the same time—maximizing the opportunities for collisions.

Other researchers, working in places with less foot traffic and fewer striped crosswalks than New York, got results that point in a similar direction. They found that pedestrians crossing big highways are more likely to be struck at marked crosswalks than at unmarked ones. On smaller roads, they found little advantage either way.

The Federal Highway Administration took these findings to mean that putting stripes on highway pavement makes it more dangerous to cross there. It used them to justify a ban on new crosswalk markings, except at traffic lights, on wide high-speed roads. A far more likely explanation is that pedestrians are better judges of their own safety than are traffic engineers, whose first concern is usually to move cars fast.

The concept of jaywalking was invented in the 1920s by motoring lobbies to empty streets of other users. Drivers wanted to go faster and automakers sought to sell more cars. Safety, as Peter Norton has shown in his book Fighting Traffic, was no more than an afterthought.

Almost a century has now passed, and our traffic laws are still not geared to safety.

35 comments

Categories: CNU blogs

There’s more than one kind of income segregation

City Observatory - 2 hours 18 min ago

Much of the conversation about urban inequality today—from Raj Chetty’s work on intergenerational economic mobility, to issues of concentrated poverty and gentrification—is framed in terms of economic segregation. But it turns out that “economic segregation” isn’t just one thing, and what we mean by the phrase, and what we design it to measure, has serious implications both for our understanding of urban inequality and the kinds of policies we might design to fix it.

The basic issue is that unlike racial segregation, which has a few (ostensibly) discrete categories into which people fall, income segregation has to divide people based on a continuous spectrum with no obvious objective cutoffs, or even number of categories. Social scientists have come up with a number of different approaches to this problem; in this post, we’ll go through several of the most common and explain why they matter, with the goal of leaving you more able to engage in detailed, thoughtful conversations about inequality, segregation, and opportunity in your own city and beyond. (The examples will be based on work by Sean Riordan and Kendra Bischoff, whose papers on measuring economic segregation over the last several years have been excellent.)

 

High-income segregation

One approach is to measure how separate upper-income people are from everyone else. You might focus on this if you believe that, especially when the rich have a greater share of total income than they have in generations, what Robert Reich has called the “secession of the successful” threatens to keep an enormous share of society’s resources out of reach of everyone else. You can think of this as a sort of Mossack Fonseca problem: like offshoring wealth to avoid federal taxes, forming clusters of exclusive communities is a way of ensuring that money that might otherwise be used to pay for society-wide benefits will instead be spent disproportionately on the wealthy people themselves.

Riordan and Bischoff measure this by counting the proportion of people in a metropolitan area who live in neighborhoods where the median family income is more than 1.5 times higher than the median family income of the region as a whole. So, for example, the median family income in the Boston metro area is about $96,000 in the 2014 1-year American Community Survey; for that year, this measure would count the number of people living in neighborhoods where the median family income was at least $144,000. Because they use the median, and not the average, this will only capture neighborhoods where at least half of all families meet that threshold of disproportionate income; and because they measure families, it corrects for some of the differences between neighborhoods that result from age differences.

Low-income segregation

Another approach is to measure how separate low-income people are. You might focus on this version if you believe that the main threat from economic segregation is concentrated poverty; indeed, much of the research on economic segregation has focused on the problems associated with neighborhoods where a very large proportion of residents are low-income, including worse economic mobility, educational, and health outcomes.

Riordan and Bischoff’s measure for this mirrors their high-income segregation indicator: the proportion of people in a metropolitan area who live in a neighborhood where the median family income is at least 33 percent below the median income of the region as a whole. So, going back to Boston, this measure would count the number of people living in neighborhoods where the median family income is less than about $64,000.

High + Low

Perhaps you are interested in both of these aspects of economic segregation. An easy way to add them together is to…add them together. Another Riordan-Bischoff index is simply the proportion of people who live in high-income neighborhoods or low-income neighborhoods. This makes sense if you want to see how typical it is for someone to live in a community that is on some extreme, as opposed to being middle- or mixed-income. It makes for a good, quick, intuitive number that captures both high-end and low-end segregation.

On the other hand, it doesn’t necessarily tell you which of these is a problem, or in which proportions. Perhaps one city has a huge problem with concentrated poverty, while another’s issue is concentrated wealth. The policy response would not necessarily be the same to both.

How much of a difference does it make?

So how much do we gain by breaking down these different kinds of income segregation? Quite a bit, actually.

 

Comparing the prevalence of high-income and low-income neighborhoods by metro area, we can see quite a range of differences. In most cities, these numbers are roughly proportional. In Richmond, VA, 14 percent of families live in high-income neighborhoods, and 16 percent live in low-income neighborhoods. In San Diego, it’s 18 percent in high-income areas, and 21 percent in low-income areas. But in other cities, one side clearly dominates.

In some cities, many more people live in low-income neighborhoods than upper-income ones. In New Haven, for example, 16 percent of families live in high-income neighborhoods—but 25 percent live in low-income ones. In Milwaukee, it’s 13 percent and 22 percent; in Providence, it’s 10 percent and 20 percent. In these areas, concentrated poverty appears to be an even larger problem than in a typical metro area.

Interestingly, there really aren’t many cities where people in wealthy neighborhoods outnumber people in low-income neighborhoods. Partly, that reflects an argument we’ve been making for a while about the relative importance of the issues of gentrification by upper-income people and concentrated poverty. But it’s also, of course, a reflection of the income cutoffs chosen by Bischoff and Reardon. It might be useful if we had a fourth measurement—one that took into account the entire spectrum of income, and didn’t depend on arbitrary categorizations?

Tomorrow, we’ll introduce you to Bischoff and Reardon’s “H Index,” which does just that.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Breakfast links: Short on safety

Greater Greater Washington - 3 hours 34 min ago
by Arego Mitchell


DC Under Water by Zach Stern on FlickrThe NTSB on Metro safety: The NTSB will release a report today that outlines Metro's ongoing safety failures since NTSB's first review in 1982, and will reveal the likely cause of last January's fatal smoke incident. Problems include failed emergency communications, nonfunctioning ventilation fans, and faulty power cables. (Post)

Slumlord in Congress Heights: Low-income tenants of a building in Congress Heights say they're being intentionally pushed out by the conditions in their building. One man had to use his heart pills to kill rats. (City Paper)

Taxi tricks: The DC Taxicab Commission has shut down six cab companies for driving vehicles that had way more miles on them than their odometers showed. (WAMU)

Full time fire liasion: Metro will now staff a fire department liasion 24/7 at its rail operations center, instead of just on weekdays. The position, created after last year's fatal smoke incident, supports Metro's emergency response and training. (DCist)

Motivate moves production to Detroit: The bike share operator and supplier responsible for Capital Bikeshare and Citi Bike has moved bike manufacturing to Detroit, to produce higher quality bikes more quickly. (FastCo)

Rack up art: A public art initiative is looking for designs for new bike racks in Reston with an aim to build more bike parking and to integrate art into infrastructure. (Reston Now)

Parking meter mythos: In 1996, DC lost over 3,000 parking meters to vandalism. A gang was smashing the parking meter heads to retrieve quarters. Arrests and more robust, multi-space meters have curbed the problem. (Post)

Not in my restaurant: Local chef José Andrés pulled out of a restaurant at the Old Post Office building last year after Donald Trump, the building's renovator, made several negative remarks about Mexican immigrants. It doesn't look like the subsequent lawsuits will be resolved any time soon. (Post)

Subsidized housing can invigorate poorer areas: Data suggests property values rise and crime rates actually fall when subsidized housing is allowed to be built in poor neighborhoods. (Vox)

Housing recovery by race: In Atlanta, suburban neighborhoods that were mostly white recovered quickly from the recession, with housing prices now climbing above pre-bust highs. In similar black neighborhoods prices are still below 2004 levels. (Post)

Have a tip for the links? back on track.

27 comments

Categories: CNU blogs

Funding Smart Business Ideas Outside Silicon Valley

Next City - 4 hours 27 min ago

Propeller, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting social innovation in New Orleans, is among VilCap's first class of community partners. (Credit: VilCap) 

Fresno, California, is a three-hour drive from Silicon Valley. You’re more likely to find acres of farmland there than you would a glut of smartphone app companies vying for attention. But the state’s fifth-largest city is in the Central Valley and therefore at the heart of something a bit more critical to life than hailing an Uber: Nearly 40 percent of all food consumed in the U.S. is produced there. And innovation is just as important.

Related Stories

Fulfilling this vital requirement means innovation is just as important in Fresno as it is in Cupertino.

“The city is very proud of the agricultural history and the heart of the farmland. But in the past, it’s been known as an industry with high-volume jobs that provide low wages,” says Irene Hsieh, who serves as a FUSE fellow in the Fresno mayor’s office.

In response to a growing need to address the state’s heavy dependence on water and energy to support the local agricultural industry, the city’s Water, Energy and Technology Center (WET), which Hsieh serves as a strategic adviser, is in the process of developing an accelerator. It will be an entry point for entrepreneurs to commercialize and develop new technologies within the agritech industry to provide pathways to a stronger economy and higher-paying jobs.

The WET Center is one of 22 partners in 16 U.S. cities selected to receive technical assistance and support to drive local entrepreneurship and investment through the VilCap Communities program — an initiative spun out of D.C.-headquartered global venture development organization Village Capital, which has trained and invested in over 500 entrepreneurs working to solve global challenges.

The VilCap strategy to fuel entrepreneurship outside Silicon Valley: Bring resources and technical assistance to potential hotbeds for innovation through accelerator programs, thus giving rise to classes of diverse entrepreneurs advancing diverse businesses.

According to Ross Baird, executive director of Village Capital, investors across the country are looking for great entrepreneurs to back, but too often have written off the “middle of the country” as too small or parochial to be a good investment.

The venture capital approach concentrates nearly 78 percent of funding in wealthy markets like California, Massachusetts and New York. Baird argues that with such a small percentage of America receiving the resources needed for companies to grow, positive ecosystem growth is prohibited in many cities that have both the talent and infrastructure and where smart entrepreneurs could otherwise thrive.

VilCap underscores the theory that diverse people with diverse backgrounds in diverse communities have the capability to develop products, services and solutions to meet their own needs if given the right tools and opportunity.

“We put investment decisions in the hands of our entrepreneurs, who award investment capital to the two ventures ranked highest by their peers at the end of every program. So investment decisions are made by entrepreneurs who are close to the problem and the process of trying to solve it, rather than by investors sitting in boardrooms under fluorescent lights,” explains Baird.

VilCap supports its partner accelerator leaders by highlighting the unique “startup DNA” in their respective cities.

Program participant Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures runs the FastForward incubator, which aims to boost Baltimore’s growing health IT ecosystem and serve across public and private industries as a catalyst for talent recruitment and retention. In Chicago, the WiSTEM accelerator is seeking to be the best place in the country for women to start a business by connecting entrepreneurs to capital, community and technology.

Partners incorporate VilCap’s curriculum into existing programming, continue to raise capital for their entrepreneurs, and build greater visibility in the investor community.

VilCap’s equity-based approach to venture capital investment through peer selection upends the traditional barriers and bias of early-stage funding being awarded mostly to white male founders. (Women and minority entrepreneurs receive less than 3 percent and 1 percent, respectively, of all venture capital.) It does not remove, however, the rigor of identifying high-growth, high-stakes entrepreneurs. Similar rules apply: Investors put business models to the test to ensure scale, sustainability and long-term impact, such as jobs created in markets where the entrepreneurs serve.

“We currently work with a number of large funds, active angels and foundations that are interested in interacting with markets outside Silicon Valley, Boston and New York,” Baird says, “and believe this trend will continue to grow as the communities become stronger and more well known.”

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Calgary Eyes Pricey Tunnel for Light-Rail Extension

Next City - 5 hours 19 min ago

Passengers wait to board a train at Saddletowne Station in Calgary. (Photo by By David Wilson)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Related Stories

New Line Will Double Calgary’s Light Rail Network
If Calgary transit officials heed the advice of the engineers working on the city’s new Green Line LRT project, Calgary will join the ranks of Canadian cities with subway tunnels.

Global Rail News reports that engineers studying five possible options for routing the line through the Calgary city center have recommended the all-underground Option D as the best choice to take the Green Line from the Beltline across the Bow River and into downtown Calgary. Option D is expected to cost $1.3 billion, roughly $500 million more than the other four options.

All five of the alternatives call for an underground station at 14th Avenue North, and all but one, a mostly-elevated route through downtown, have a second underground station at Seventh Avenue Southwest. Only Option D calls for the route to pass under the Bow River in a tunnel rather than over it on a bridge; one version of this option has all five central Calgary stations underground, while the other places the southernmost station at Centre Street South on the surface.

When complete, the 40-km (24.85-mile) Green Line will double the length of Calgary’s LRT network.

“We’re starting to get a sense of what this project could mean for the downtown, and we’re looking forward to continuing our work with Calgarians to further shape this new transit line,” says Green Line LRT Project Manager Jon Lea.

The project team will make a final recommendation on the central Calgary segment next year.

Tashkent Trams Reach End of the Line
As cities in North America and Europe move to restore streetcar service that was eliminated in the 1950s and 1960s, one city in Central Asia has apparently missed the memo.

BBC News reports that many residents of Tashkent are dismayed that the city government has decided to completely shut down and dismantle its 90-km (56-mile) tram network.

A Tashkent Tram (Photo by Zenwort)

Mayor Rakhmonbek Usmavov announced the shutdown in March, saying the trams were unprofitable and slowing down traffic on the city’s busy roads. He went on to add that the city’s bus and metro networks carry thousands more passengers than the trams do every day and that removing the tram infrastructure would allow the city to widen some roads to ease congestion.

Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, has had streetcar service since 1912. The network has gradually shrunk in size since 1999, but even as lines were closed, the city continued to acquire new cars from firms in Russia and the Czech Republic. Some are less than five years old. One local resident called city transport managers “idiots” for spending $300,000 per car to purchase new equipment for a system on its way out.

Two of the city’s four remaining tram lines shut down in April, and the final two lines will cease operations in June. Tracks, wires and support poles are already being removed on lines that have already shut down, and all traces of the tram network should be gone by August.

What might be the most prescient of the many comments Tashkent residents have posted on social media lamenting the shutdown came from Umid Abdullayev, who wrote, “Maybe in a couple of years, Tashkent’s next authorities will realize that they made a big mistake and for the sake of the environment decide to rebuild tram rails and buy trams.”

More Light Rail On the Way in Denver
The latest of the numerous rail transit projects Denver’s Regional Transportation District is undertaking as part of its FasTracks expansion program will get under way this month.

A train arrives at the Broadway station in south Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Denver Business Journal reports that the RTD will break ground in May on a 2.3-mile extension of its Southeast light rail line, which parallels Interstate 25. The three-station extension will bring the line into the Ridgegate community of the Denver suburb of Lone Tree.

The federal government will pick up $92 million of the line’s $233 million price tag, with the rest coming from local sources. The federal money, which was provided in President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget, will go to project contractor Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Inc. as the down payment for the job. The city of Lone Tree, Douglas County, Coventry Development and the Southeast Public Improvement District have contributed $25 million in cash and $3 million worth of land to the project.

RTD Board Chairman Tom Tobiassen praised the cooperation between federal and local officials that has enabled the agency to keep pace on the promises it made when voters approved FasTracks in 2004. “It is because of our strong partnerships that we continue to expand public transportation throughout the Denver metro area and create a city that is ready for the future,” he says.

Know of a project that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Montgomery County isn't really waging war against suburbia

Greater Greater Washington - Mon, 2016-05-02 15:00
by Dan Reed

Some Montgomery County residents are accusing county officials of waging a "war against suburbia." But the county isn't coming for your single-family house, no matter who tells you otherwise.


Bethesda residents protest the Westbard plan. Photo by Sonya Burke on Twitter.

Last week, about 70 protesters from Bethesda demonstrated outside the Council Office Building over the Westbard Sector Plan, which would redevelop a cluster of 1950s-era strip malls off of River Road into a small-scale town center with new shops, parks, and up to 1200 townhomes and apartments. The council is set to approve the plan tomorrow.

Holding signs saying "suburban not urban," the group shouted down Councilmember Roger Berliner when he tried to address them, calling him "corrupt." Berliner, who represents Bethesda, had successfully convinced the council to reduce the amount of allowable development in the plan, which effectively limits building heights to six stories.

The group, called Save Westbard, is led by Jeanne Allen, former Republican state delegate candidate and charter school advocate. In an email blast two weeks ago, she called the Westbard plan "Orwellian" and says Berliner's "visits to Cuba and China influenced" his support for developing the area.


One of the shopping centers in Westbard today. Photo by Todd Menhinick on Flickr.

She argues that the county wants to "destroy" wealthy suburban neighborhoods like hers, overcrowding the roads and schools, and possibly changing the culture of her community. "Suburbs breed generous people," she says. "They have community meetings and fundraisers in their homes (on streets where people can park)...take care of one another's kids (who can play in yards)...suburbs have a purpose."

Is the county really at war against the suburbs? Save Westbard released a document called the Westbard Papers containing emails between county planners and attorneys for Equity One, one of the major property owners in Westbard, though they don't reveal anything illegal. And Allen refers to three-year-old comments from Councilmember George Leventhal (though not about Westbard) in which he calls the suburbs "a mistake."

Except in reality, Leventhal is talking about the spread-out nature of some suburban places, which forces people to drive really far for work or shopping, resulting in lots of traffic and pollution. He's not making a value judgment about suburbs, but instead acknowledging that some kinds of suburban development have negative costs.

"We see the substantial separation of residential areas from commercial areas from industrial areas from retail areas as a mistake," he says. "Because the very thing that was so marvelous when Olney and Gaithersburg and Wheaton were laid out in the 1940s and 1950s is now killing our planet. We can't afford to drive as much as we do, we have to change our land use patterns, our transportation patterns...Our heirs will blame us for our failure to do that. It's one of the culprits in climate change."

It's possible to have suburban neighborhoods where you can have a big house with a yard and still be able to walk to things. You only have to go about two miles east of Westbard to Chevy Chase to see what that looks like. That's why Montgomery County wants to focus development in aging commercial areas like Westbard, or Chevy Chase Lake, or White Oak. The county is built out, and investing in these areas gives current residents access to more things without having to sit in traffic, while accommodating future population growth.


Rendering of the Westbard redevelopment from Equity One.

There are many current Westbard residents who agree with Leventhal and Berliner that having new shops and amenities within walking distance is a good thing. The Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights, which represents nineteen neighborhoods and condo buildings in the area, supports the Westbard plan, calling it a "compromise of different interests," including the developers and some residents who wanted less development.

Another petition circulated by Equity One includes signatures from 182 neighbors who support the plan. "Westbard is a highly affluent area of Montgomery County," reads the petition, "yet its streets are not pedestrian-friendly, its residents shop at an unsightly retail center surrounded by a sea of asphalt, it's service workers can't afford to live there, and its natural resources are among the county's worst."

And there are the people who have yet to live in this community. While looking for a job after graduate school, I worked out of the Westbard Giant giving out samples for a local bakery who sold cakes there. I got to know some of the people who worked there, and discovered that few of them lived in Montgomery County, let alone in the neighborhood. These are the people who have to drive long distances to work in Westbard, which is one of the most expensive parts of an already expensive county. The county's plan for the area would set aside 15% of new housing units for lower-income households, allowing some people who work here to live there as well.

Leigh Gallagher's recent book "The End of the Suburbs" might freak out any Westbard resident who likes the suburban aspects of their community, But Gallagher's argument is that suburbs aren't actually going anywhere, particularly affluent ones with good schools that are walkable. It bodes well for Westbard, but it doesn't mean that Westbard, or anywhere else, isn't totally immune to change.

51 comments

Categories: CNU blogs

Montgomery County isn't really waging war against suburbia

Dan Reed - Mon, 2016-05-02 15:00
by Dan Reed

Some Montgomery County residents are accusing county officials of waging a "war against suburbia." But the county isn't coming for your single-family house, no matter who tells you otherwise.


Bethesda residents protest the Westbard plan. Photo by Sonya Burke on Twitter.

Last week, about 70 protesters from Bethesda demonstrated outside the Council Office Building over the Westbard Sector Plan, which would redevelop a cluster of 1950s-era strip malls off of River Road into a small-scale town center with new shops, parks, and up to 1200 townhomes and apartments. The council is set to approve the plan tomorrow.

Holding signs saying "suburban not urban," the group shouted down Councilmember Roger Berliner when he tried to address them, calling him "corrupt." Berliner, who represents Bethesda, had successfully convinced the council to reduce the amount of allowable development in the plan, which effectively limits building heights to six stories.

The group, called Save Westbard, is led by Jeanne Allen, former Republican state delegate candidate and charter school advocate. In an email blast two weeks ago, she called the Westbard plan "Orwellian" and says Berliner's "visits to Cuba and China influenced" his support for developing the area.


One of the shopping centers in Westbard today. Photo by Todd Menhinick on Flickr.

She argues that the county wants to "destroy" wealthy suburban neighborhoods like hers, overcrowding the roads and schools, and possibly changing the culture of her community. "Suburbs breed generous people," she says. "They have community meetings and fundraisers in their homes (on streets where people can park)...take care of one another's kids (who can play in yards)...suburbs have a purpose."

Is the county really at war against the suburbs? Save Westbard released a document called the Westbard Papers containing emails between county planners and attorneys for Equity One, one of the major property owners in Westbard, though they don't reveal anything illegal. And Allen refers to three-year-old comments from Councilmember George Leventhal (though not about Westbard) in which he calls the suburbs "a mistake."

Except in reality, Leventhal is talking about the spread-out nature of some suburban places, which forces people to drive really far for work or shopping, resulting in lots of traffic and pollution. He's not making a value judgment about suburbs, but instead acknowledging that some kinds of suburban development have negative costs.

"We see the substantial separation of residential areas from commercial areas from industrial areas from retail areas as a mistake," he says. "Because the very thing that was so marvelous when Olney and Gaithersburg and Wheaton were laid out in the 1940s and 1950s is now killing our planet. We can't afford to drive as much as we do, we have to change our land use patterns, our transportation patterns...Our heirs will blame us for our failure to do that. It's one of the culprits in climate change."

It's possible to have suburban neighborhoods where you can have a big house with a yard and still be able to walk to things. You only have to go about two miles east of Westbard to Chevy Chase to see what that looks like. That's why Montgomery County wants to focus development in aging commercial areas like Westbard, or Chevy Chase Lake, or White Oak. The county is built out, and investing in these areas gives current residents access to more things without having to sit in traffic, while accommodating future population growth.


Rendering of the Westbard redevelopment from Equity One.

There are many current Westbard residents who agree with Leventhal and Berliner that having new shops and amenities within walking distance is a good thing. The Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights, which represents nineteen neighborhoods and condo buildings in the area, supports the Westbard plan, calling it a "compromise of different interests," including the developers and some residents who wanted less development.

Another petition circulated by Equity One includes signatures from 182 neighbors who support the plan. "Westbard is a highly affluent area of Montgomery County," reads the petition, "yet its streets are not pedestrian-friendly, its residents shop at an unsightly retail center surrounded by a sea of asphalt, it's service workers can't afford to live there, and its natural resources are among the county's worst."

And there are the people who have yet to live in this community. While looking for a job after graduate school, I worked out of the Westbard Giant giving out samples for a local bakery who sold cakes there. I got to know some of the people who worked there, and discovered that few of them lived in Montgomery County, let alone in the neighborhood. These are the people who have to drive long distances to work in Westbard, which is one of the most expensive parts of an already expensive county. The county's plan for the area would set aside 15% of new housing units for lower-income households, allowing some people who work here to live there as well.

Leigh Gallagher's recent book "The End of the Suburbs" might freak out any Westbard resident who likes the suburban aspects of their community, But Gallagher's argument is that suburbs aren't actually going anywhere, particularly affluent ones with good schools that are walkable. It bodes well for Westbard, but it doesn't mean that Westbard, or anywhere else, isn't totally immune to change.

50 comments

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

One-Third of Residents Surveyed: Bye-Bye, Bay Area

Next City - Mon, 2016-05-02 14:51

Traffic on a San Francisco freeway (Credit: Flickr user Wonderlane)

More than one-third of Bay Area residents say they are prepared to leave the region in the next few years due to high and rising housing costs, worsening traffic, widening income inequality and other concerns, reports the Mercury News. In a poll of 1,000 residents conducted by the Bay Area Council, 34 percent said they are considering leaving. Residents who are spending more of their income on housing, and those who have lived in the region for fewer than five years were the most likely to say they want to depart.

Related Stories

“This is our canary in a coal mine,” Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council, told the paper. “Residents are screaming for solutions.” Among the most proposed and demanded solutions is more housing stock close to jobs and transit corridors.

The number of residents who believe the region is headed in the wrong direction also increased dramatically this year. Last year, only 28 percent of residents polled by the council felt the Bay Area was on the wrong track, and 55 percent felt it was headed in the right direction. This year’s respondents were more equally split between optimism and pessimism.

Santa Clara County and San Francisco residents are feeling the least optimistic. Only 33 percent of San Francisco residents think the region is headed in the right direction; 52 percent say it’s on the wrong track.

Fifty-four percent of respondents said they have no plans to leave, but this isn’t the first survey to show a general dissatisfaction with Bay Area living recently. After polling 701 adults last year, the Urban Land Institute warned that the region is at risk of losing millennials who simply can’t afford to live there.

The Bay Area Council, which is a membership organization for big business in the area, surveys residents annually. More data released last week focused on residents’ specific reactions to the current state of traffic and housing. Eighty-three percent of residents polled told surveyors they believe traffic is so bad it will never improve. The survey also found that only 10 percent of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers use some form of public transit as their primary commuting method, compared to 20 percent of millennials.

According to the results around housing questions, 60 percent said they support more housing being built outside of the Bay Area counties to reduce pressure inside the region, and 80 percent said they want stronger transportation connections with Sacramento and the Central Valley.

Wunderman said in a press release:

This is an understandable reaction to decades of failing to keep pace even minimally with the Bay Area’s housing needs and the transportation to support it. … There’s now an entrenched misperception that our region doesn’t have the capacity to add the housing we need. What’s unfortunate is that pushing housing outside the region still doesn’t solve the problem of supply and affordability in the Bay Area. It simply means that fewer working families and workers in lower-income jobs can afford to live here. It hurts the diversity of our region and our economy. It also means workers are commuting longer and longer distances in their cars, which pushes up damaging carbon emissions.

Data about respondents’ economic optimism will be released tomorrow.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Chicago Names First Chief Resilience Officer

Next City - Mon, 2016-05-02 14:25

(Photo by Oriez)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced today that the city’s first chief resilience officer will be Aaron Koch, a deputy commissioner in water management since 2012 and developer of the Chicago Green Stormwater Strategy. In his new position, funded through Chicago’s partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities, Koch will coordinate city policy to help neighborhoods prepare for and recover more quickly from natural disruptions like flooding and blizzards.

Related Stories

“I’m thrilled to welcome Aaron as the city’s first chief resilience officer,” Emanuel said in a statement. “Harnessing his experience and work, this position will help to build upon existing efforts within the city to fortify our communities against environmental threats and other challenges.”

Chicago was selected as a 100RC city in the second round of applications, in December 2014. Koch will lead the creation of a resilience strategy to help the city plan for current and future risks. Berkeley, California, another 100RC city, recently rolled out such a plan. With the help of local partners and expert technical advisers supplied by 100RC, the city will identify gaps in its ability to face challenges and develop plans to fill those gaps. Koch will also receive guidance from other chief resilience officers in cities around the world.

“I am honored by this appointment as Chicago’s first chief resilience officer,” said Koch. “I look forward to working with stakeholders across Chicago to prepare for the stresses, shocks and natural hazards that we face now and into the future.”

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Events roundup: Let's watch a new sport

Greater Greater Washington - Mon, 2016-05-02 13:50
by Claire Jaffe

We're hanging out on Saturday evening, and we want our readers to join us! Come watch our editor play with his pro ultimate team. Also coming up: forums on new transit options in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, a walking tour of Wheaton, and a presentation of a potential new park design in NoMa.
Photo by Fred Wolf on Flickr.

Hang out with GGWash, watch a new sport: Our Staff Editor, Jonathan Neeley, is also a top ultimate Frisbee player and a member of the DC Breeze, DC's professional ultimate team. GGWash staff and contributors are going to watch him and the Breeze play this Saturday, May 7 at 6:30 pm at Gallaudet University's Hotchkiss Field. We hope you'll join us!

After the jump: BRT and other transit in Maryland, a NoMa park design, a Wheaton tour, and more.

Faces of Transit forum: The Purple Line and bus rapid transit could bring major change to Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. Hear from experts and neighbors and discuss what is working and not working in transit in your community at a forum hosted by Coalition for Smarter Growth and CASA de Maryland next Tuesday, May 3, at 6:30 pm at 1 Veterans Pl in Silver Spring.

BRT in Maryland: The bus rapid transit that Montgomery County is working on will run on a portion of Route 355. To discuss preliminary plans for that specific corridor,, head over to a public meeting this Tuesday, May 3, at 6:30 pm in the Gaithersburg High School cafeteria.

Student park design: Students at Stuart-Hobson Middle School worked with the NoMa Business Improvement District this semester to design a park for the NoMa neighborhood. Check out their designs at the CityVision reception at the National Building Museum (401 F Street NW) this Thursday, May 5, at 6 pm.

Wheaton tour: Join Coalition for Smarter Growth for a walking tour of Wheaton this Saturday, May 7, at 10:30 am to learn about Wheaton's planned transit, transit-oriented development, and future as an arts and entertainment district. RSVP for more information.

Talk about the housing shortage: A panel of housing experts will discuss potential solutions for the region's housing crisis at a May 24th forum hosted by Leadership Greater Washington. It's on the 12th floor of PNC Place, 800 17th Street NW, with breakfast and networking beginning at 8 am and the program starting at 8:30. Register here.

Calendar: Beyond what we've highlighted here, there are many other worthwhile events across the region. Check out more great events in our events calendar:

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers that should go on our events calendar? Send it to us at events@ggwash.org.

Comment

Categories: CNU blogs

This rule scattered "parking craters" around DC, but they're steadily disappearing

Greater Greater Washington - Mon, 2016-05-02 12:05
by Payton Chung

I recently wrote that a healthy downtown office market, plus a federal rule that has pushed offices outside downtown, have combined to fill in all of the "parking craters" in downtown DC. That doesn't mean they're totally gone, though. They've just moved to other places in the city.


Parcel A at the Yards, the largest "parking crater" in DC. Photo by Payton Chung.

Over the years, DC noticed the success it found in broadening the federal government's definition of the Central Employment Area, the space eligible for federal government offices. The District successfully lobbied the General Services Administration to widen the CEA further to encompass not just downtown, but also NoMa, much of the Anacostia riverfront, and the former St. Elizabeth's campus. Because the latter areas have much cheaper land than downtown DC, and lots of land to build huge new office buildings, federal offices are now drifting away from the downtown core.

A developer with a small site downtown usually won't bother to wait for a big federal lease, as the government wants bigger spaces at cheaper rents. It's easier to just rent to private-sector tenants. However, a developer with a large site within the CEA and next to Metro, but outside downtown, has a good chance of landing a big federal lease that could jump-start development on their land—exactly the formula that can result in a parking crater while an owner waits for a deal.

One recent deal on the market illustrates the point: the GSA recently sought proposals for a new Department of Labor headquarters. GSA wants the new headquarters to be within the District's CEA, within 1/2 mile walking distance to a Metro station, and hold 850,000 to 1,400,000 square feet of office space.

The kicker is the timeline: GSA wants to own the site by April 2018, and prefers if DC has already granted zoning approval for offices on the site. It would be difficult for a developer to buy, clear, and rezone several acres of land meeting those requirements within the next two years, so chances are that the DOL headquarters will be built on a "parking crater" somewhere in DC. Somewhere outside downtown, but within the CEA, like:

High-rise residential seems like it would be an obvious use for land like the Yards, which is outside downtown but atop a heavy-rail station. Yet even there, where one-bedroom apartments rent for $2,500 a month, it's still more valuable to land-bank the site (as parking, a small green area, and a trapeze school) in the hopes of eventually landing federal offices.

Many federal leases are also signed for Metro-accessible buildings outside the District, which helps to explain why prominent parking craters exist outside of Metro stations like Eisenhower Avenue, New Carrollton, and White Flint. (For its part, Metro generally applauds locating offices at its stations outside downtown, since that better balances the rush-hour commuter flows.)

One reform could fix the problem

One esoteric reform that could help minimize the creation of future parking craters around DC is to fully fund the GSA. Doing so would permit it to more effectively shepherd the federal government's ample existing inventory of buildings and land, and to coordinate its short-term space needs with the National Capital Planning Commission's long-term plans.

Indeed, GSA shouldn't need very many brand-new office buildings in the foreseeable future. Federal agencies are heeding its call to "reduce the footprint" and cut their space needs, even when headcount is increasing. Meanwhile, GSA controls plenty of land at St. Elizabeth's West, Federal Triangle South (an area NCPC has extensively investigated as the future Southwest EcoDistrict), Suitland Federal Center, and other sites.

However, ongoing underfunding of GSA has left it trying to fund its needs by selling its assets, notably the real estate it now owns in now-valuable downtown DC. GSA does this through complicated land-swap transactions, like proposing to pay for DOL's new headquarters by trading away DOL's existing three-block headquarters building at Constitution and 3rd Street NW.

In theory, it should be cheaper and easier for GSA to just build new office buildings itself. In practice, though, they've been trying to do so for the Department of Homeland Security at St. Elizabeth's West, and Congressional underfunding has turned the process into a fiasco.

Parking craters will slowly go away on their own

In the long run, new parking craters will probably rarely emerge in the DC area. Real estate markets have shifted in recent years: offices and parking are less valuable, and residential has become much more valuable. This has helped to fill many smaller parking craters, since developers have dropped plans for future offices and built apartments instead.


This now-closed parking lot in NoMa will soon make way for apartments. Photo by Payton Chung.

Even when developers do have vacant sites awaiting development, the city's growing residential population means that there are other revenue-generating options besides parking. "Previtalizing" a site can involve bringing festivals, markets, or temporary retail to a vacant lot, like The Fairgrounds, NoMa Junction @ Storey Park, and the nearby Wunder Garten. This is especially useful if the developer wants to eventually make the site into a retail destination.

Broader trends in the office market will also diminish the demand for parking craters, by reducing the premium that big offices command over other property types. Demand for offices in general is sliding. Some large organizations are moving away from having consolidated headquarters, and are shifting towards more but smaller workplaces with denser and more flexible work arrangements.

Unlike the boom years of office construction, there's now plenty of existing office space to go around. Since 1980, 295 million square feet of office buildings were built within metro DC, enough to move every single office in metro Boston and Philadelphia here. While some excess office space can be redeveloped into other uses, other old office buildings—and their accessory parking lots—could be renovated into the offices of the future.

10 comments

Categories: CNU blogs

Following the Footsteps of African-American Worker Cooperatives

Next City - Mon, 2016-05-02 10:38

(Photo by Oscar Perry Abello)

New York City has invested more than $1 million to boost the number of worker cooperatives in the last couple years. Of a plan to do something similar in Rochester, New York, Mayor Lovely Warren recently said, “We liked the ability to improve neighborhoods by actively having employees build co-ops in a neighborhood that’s challenged, where people could actually walk to and from work, building wealth and keeping the money in the neighborhood.” Now Philadelphia’s getting a program that will promote the equity potential of the employee-owner model — and it’s taking a cue from African-American co-op history.

Related Stories

Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA) recently received a grant from the Knight Foundation to launch “20 Book Clubs 20 Cooperative Businesses.” Fittingly, PACA was inspired by a book: Collective Courage by Jessica Gordon Nembhard.

“I started out just curious about whether African-Americans in particular, but people of color in general, whether they had a history of cooperative ownership, of officially incorporated cooperatives,” says Gordon Nembhard, of her research. The professor of community justice and social economic development at John Jay College of the City University of New York spent years poring over examples of the role of worker cooperatives among African-Americans. She chased down newspapers, magazines, cooperative articles of incorporation, minutes of annual meetings, newsletters, accounting statements, memoirs and more — all to document the history of African-American cooperative economic thought and practice, going back to the 1700s.

A former graduate school classmate of Gordon Nembhard’s, Curtis Haynes Jr., had done some research into the writings of W.E.B. Du Bois on the subject. In 1907, Du Bois published a study, “Economic Cooperation Among Negro Americans,” a brief outline of a history of cooperative economic activity among black communities nationwide to that point. Du Bois’ 1940 autobiography and speeches of the 1930s also discussed the promise of cooperative economics.

As founding editor of the NAACP’s magazine, the Crisis, Du Bois oversaw the publishing of 12 articles between 1914 and 1944 about African-American cooperatives. In 1918, Du Bois held the one and only meeting of the Negro Cooperative Guild, in the Atlanta offices of the Crisis. Twelve representatives attended from seven different states.

“About seven co-ops started just from that one meeting. They went home and established study groups that established buying clubs that established cooperatives. By then there were cooperative laws, they weren’t just mutual aid societies that we saw in the 1700s and 1800s,” says Gordon Nembhard.

The new Philadelphia “book clubs” will essentially be study groups. “Every African-American-owned cooperative of the past that I have researched, and almost every contemporary cooperative I have studied, began as the result of a study group or depended on purposive training and orientation of members,” Gordon Nembhard wrote in Collective Courage.

PACA’s Caitlin Quigley says the clubs will begin meeting in September. Until then, PACA will be reaching out to neighborhood groups, community organizers, social service agencies, churches, civic associations and others to host them. “Part of the long lead time and recruitment process is making sure these book clubs actually reflect the diversity of the city of Philadelphia,” Quigley says.

Book clubs will meet twice a month, once with a PACA staff or volunteer present and once without. “We want there to be a little bit of our presence but also space for them to do things without us,” Quigley explains. PACA is also compiling a curriculum, essentially a list of resources including books, articles, films and even suggested field trips, from which the book clubs will pick and choose to suit their specific needs. PACA co-op book clubs will get funding to rent meeting space, provide meals and also childcare during meetings.

After six months, PACA will bring all the book clubs together for the first time to celebrate and move onto the next phase: intensive business development, including a business plan boot camp, one-on-one or group support for incorporating, developing bylaws, developing governance, and finding a location. The business development phase will officially last eight months, but PACA expects some co-ops will take longer, and they’ll also work with host organizations to support cooperatives along the path to opening their doors for business as long as interest remains in doing so.

“There are a lot of academy models of co-op development, incubators, accelerators, a whole bucket of business development things that this also falls under,” Quigley says. “I think what’s a little bit different about this is adding the book club aspect before the intensive business development. I don’t want to say that it’s new, because obviously it’s happened before, in history.”

One potential host has already been meeting with its potential cooperative business owners — the Friends Rehabilitation Program (FRP), a Quaker-based CDC and social services nonprofit. FRP owns and manages about 500 units of housing around Philadelphia, including 34 units designated as temporary supportive housing for citizens returning from incarceration.

FRP employs around 30 people a year in renovating and building on its properties, training them in soft skills as well as hard skills, and connecting them to other employers. In 2015, they hired nine returning citizens, and five of them remain employed full time and one has been promoted to a supervisory position. Now, FRP hopes its workers can form their own cooperatively owned construction company that could work with other developers throughout the city.

“A couple of workers have already started a small general contracting business, taking on some side jobs,” says FRP’s Rania Campbell-Cobb. “A lot of other developers we’ve talked with about the cooperative idea are interested in hiring them. We can continue to provide back office support after they’ve started getting projects on their own as a co-op.”

“We even started a bit of a study group looking at worker cooperatives,” says Campbell-Cobb. They’re reading Collective Courage together, and Campbell-Cobb anticipates that partnering with PACA will help add a little more structure and momentum to their study group.

PACA co-op book clubs may start worker cooperatives, consumer cooperatives or maybe even credit unions. “I’m excited to find out how people are going to apply the cooperative model to meet the community needs that they identify,” Quigley says.

While it’s too soon to know whether co-ops might be successfully launched, Collective Courage has helped frame the program in a bigger picture.

“The book traces these individual people across decades, across different co-op projects, across different cities and regions, and it’s really clear that once a person had really experienced owning and running a co-op, they were influenced by that for the rest of their lives,” says Quigley. “Even if one of these book clubs doesn’t end up starting a co-op, I think it’s still possibly going to be a transforming experience that’ll activate their ability to see themselves as agents of change.”

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Chick-fil-A's proposed Van Ness drive-thru is denied

Greater Greater Washington - Mon, 2016-05-02 10:11
by Marlene Berlin

A key review board has denied Chick-fil-A's controversial request for a drive-thru in Van Ness. But it might not have the last word.


An early rendering of the planned Chick-fil-A in Van Ness.

At its meeting on Thursday, April 28th, the five-member Public Space Committee voted unanimously to deny Chick-fil-A a permit to widen an existing curb cut for a drive-thru at 4422 Connecticut Avenue, which is now the site of the Van Ness Burger King.

The committee, which has five members from various DC government agencies, made its decision based on testimony from Chick-fil-A, Van Ness community members and representatives, and District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Office of Planning (OP) staffers. Ryan Westrom of DDOT and OP's Tim Maher recommended against approving the curb cuts, concerned that the increased drive-thru traffic projected by Chick-fil-A would result in more conflicts between pedestrians and drivers.

Chick-fil-A says it'll stop traffic backups, but not persuasively

There is already a drive-thru here for Burger King, but it gets little traffic. A Chick-fil-A would draw much more. To try to prevent traffic backups, the store plans to have three to four employees taking orders on iPads on the north driveway, more employees at another station for taking cash in the back, and another area on the south driveway with a door for more staff to deliver the food. They also mentioned using the rear parking lot for overflow, assuming there would be available spaces.

"What would prevent a back up onto Connecticut Avenue?" they were asked. Chick-fil-A had a ready response: They would hire an off-duty police officer to direct traffic. Matthew Marcou, the chair of the Public Space Committee, raised his eyebrow at this, and quipped, "DDOT can't get any for other projects."

Chick-fil-A also promised to have additional staff on hand to quickly handle orders if a surge in drive-thru business was causing backups. ANC 3F Commissioner Sally Gresham said promises of "self-monitoring" – which Chick-fil-A representatives continued to stress – were not enough. The city had no enforcement mechanism, she testified, if Chick-fil-A did not uphold its agreements.

Community groups and experts oppose the drive-thru

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3F voted unanimously in February to oppose Chick-fil-A's drive-thru. Steve Gresham, a member of an ANC committee formed to study Chick-fil-A's application, testified about flaws in the drive-thru system, such as the lanes being too narrow to accommodate employees taking orders. And during peak hours of business, he said, cars could be blocking the sidewalk at either the entrance or exit of the drive-thru more than half of the time.

ANC 3F hired Karina Ricks, a former chair of the Public Space Committee, to consult. She stated in written testimony that the drive-thru did not meet regulatory muster. Ricks also said the drive-thru would create an unsafe environment for pedestrians and bicyclists – conditions that would run counter to DDOT's moveDC, the long-term DC transportation plan, and the goals of Vision Zero to reduce all traffic fatalities and serious injuries in the District to zero by 2024.

In addition, she said, the city was making substantial investments in Van Ness, in planning and implementation, to create a vibrant, walkable commercial area.

The Chick-fil-A can thrive without a drive-thru

Dipa Mehta, a co-chair of the economic development committee of Van Ness Main Street, presented research showing a safe, walkable environment is a key ingredient to fostering economic development. The car traffic generated by Chick-fil-A would be detrimental to the business climate at Van Ness, she said.

Chick-fil-A has stated in the past that the Van Ness location does not currently generate enough pedestrian traffic to support its business. However, I as a Van Ness Main Street board member testified that Chick-fil-A was underestimating the chain's potential to attract walk-in customers from the immediate area, given the large number of high-rise residential buildings nearby.

Marcou asked Chick-fil-A about pedestrian traffic in Tenleytown, where Chick-fil-A is building a restaurant without a drive-thru. The answer: They had not done a pedestrian count there.

Though comments on Forest Hills Connection articles about Chick-fil-A's plans indicate at least some residents support a drive-thru, the opposition has been more outspoken and organized. A Ward 3 Vision petition opposing the drive-thru collected 366 signatures. In addition, The Northwest Current published an open letter to Mayor Bowser from several signatories, including the owners of Bread Furst and Acacia Bistro, and co-presidents of the Hastings Condo Association, representing the building just north of the site at 4444 Connecticut. They asked for Bowser's support in opposing the drive-thru.

Only one resident testified in support of the Chick-fil-A drive-thru. However, he explained that he had business ties to the location. He said similar driveway situations exist in nearby locations – at the Park and Shop in Cleveland Park, at the Whole Foods in Tenleytown, and at the Tenleytown CVS – and pedestrians adjusted.

Committee member Reg Bazile cut him off. "Those locations are not similar," he said.

Marcou recommended that Chick-fil-A continue to pursue a Van Ness location, only without the drive-thru element. Chick-fil-A also has the option of going to court. That's what a citizens' group did in 1980, when a Burger King franchisee sought and received permits for the drive-thru in 1980. The court sided with the franchisee.

Van Ness Main Street President Mary Beth Ray said the community would support the restaurant without the drive-thru. "Our research has shown how wildly popular their food is, and we hope [Chick-fil-A's] interest in Van Ness goes beyond the drive thru," Ray said in an email. "Van Ness is open for business."

This originally ran on Forest Hills Connection.

54 comments

Categories: CNU blogs

What it means to be in common

City Observatory - Mon, 2016-05-02 10:00

When we talk about the costs and consequences of car-dependent urban development, we often talk about hard economics and climate science. Spread-out neighborhoods divided by big, pedestrian-hostile roads force people to spend more on transportation than they would in a place where many trips could be taken by foot or transit. In high-demand cities, relatively lower-density development can lead to a “shortage of cities” that pushes housing prices up, encourages economic segregation, and leads to lower intergenerational economic mobility. And these urban forms are also highly correlated with more greenhouse gas emissions, worsening the threat of climate change.

But people also experience their neighborhoods as communities—as places where people gather, interact, and enrich each others’ lives. In our 2015 report “Less in Common,” we explored the ways in which increasing auto-centric development has degraded this aspect of our urban life. Now, as we did with our report “Lost in Place,” City Observatory and Brink Communication have put together an infographic to make these important ideas easy to share—and as always, this and all of our work is licensed under Creative Commons-Attribution, so feel free to incorporate it in your own presentations or reports.

The infographic illustrates many of the key findings of “Less in Common,” which illustrate ways in which increasing sprawl has weakened our communities, and show how a broader trend of Americans living more widely separated private lives has created a space for smart urban planning to strengthen the public realm.

Click to see the full infographic.

 

Perhaps one of the clearest connections is in recreation: While Americans who went swimming in 1950 would probably go to a community pool, since then, the number of private, in-ground pools has increased from 2,500 to 5.2 million in 2009, as large-lot zoning and the construction of highways far into the suburban periphery has essentially subsidized the consumption of private land, at the expense of public facilities. These trends are mirrored in how we get around, relying more and more on cars cars as a mode of transportation, replacing walking and public transit—modes in which, outside a sealed, private machine, you might actually interact with neighbors or others. In fact, while about 30 percent of Americans reported spending time with their neighbors in 1970, that number was down to about 20 percent today.

This privatizing of public life has also encouraged further segregation of neighborhoods by economic status, a trend that has been well documented, and which we have explored at length at City Observatory.  Rich and poor Americans have become more spatially divided as we sort into high income and low income neighborhoods. While only 15 percent of Americans lived in rich or poor neighborhoods in 1970, by 2012, that figure was up to 34 percent.

The erosion of the civic commons also has a profound impact on economic opportunity: In regions with more economic segregation, children from low-income households are much less likely to be able to improve their income status as adults.

As the rapper Ice Cube told National Public Radio earlier this year, reflecting on the school integration policies of his childhood:

I liked it because I was being bused with a lot of my homies. So we was, like, all going out there, and then it was a lot of different neighborhoods. So it was, like, buses from all these different neighborhoods all converging on this white school. And it was kind of cool because we had a chance to see different things, different people, have different conversations, hear different music and just get a chance to see that the world was bigger than Compton, South Central or, you know, whatever. You know, so we had a chance to really kind of open our horizons…

In other words, the strength of our public spaces and institutions is crucial both for educational and economic opportunity, as well as expanding our sense of collective potential and identities. That’s something we should all be able to get behind.

Click here to see the full infographic.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Uber, Lyft as Paratransit? Union Says Not So Fast

Next City - Mon, 2016-05-02 08:55

Paratransit is expensive for public transit agencies to provide, but some argue ride-hailing companies aren't equipped to do the job. (Credit: Valdosta-Lowndes MPO)

Last week, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) issued a blistering critique of recent calls for cash-strapped transit agencies to partner with Uber or Lyft to provide demand response paratransit services at a lower cost. If it’s so expensive for transit agencies to provide door-to-door service to Americans with disabilities, and ride-hailing companies are already doing it so cheaply, the argument on the pro side goes, why couldn’t the two work together?

Related Stories

Specifically calling out a Brookings Institution​ study that made the case for how such partnerships could save money while improving service, the ATU published its own paper, arguing that position fails to consider the specific requirements of paratransit vehicles and “unwittingly promotes the segregation of transportation for people with disabilities and the elimination of labor protections for an already devastated workforce.”

The ATU takes issue with four major aspects of the Brookings study, arguing that it fails to identify what makes demand-response service so expensive in the first place; ignores the labor practices that keep Uber’s and Lyft’s costs low; does not consider recent experiments with privatizing paratransit service; and does not consult with the experts who work in and rely upon demand-response services as they exist today.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, transit agencies are required to provide demand-response service — publicly funded, non-fixed route transit for people with disabilities — to people who can’t access existing transit options. Under the ADA’s regulatory requirements, paratransit drivers are required to be specially trained in assisting passengers, securing certain types of wheelchair models, and operating the paratransit vehicles, which are equipped with specialized lifts, doors, seating, GPS, and dispatch systems.

All of this contributes to high costs, even as it ensures the safety and mobility of passengers with disabilities. Lyft and Uber, on the other hand, keep costs low through means the ATU argues aren’t applicable to demand-response paratransit service: Drivers are considered independent contracts with few barriers to entry and no workplace training; they operate best in dense areas with high smartphone use; and they make use of idle, non-specialized vehicles. In order to serve disabled populations, drivers would need training and to retrofit their vehicles to be ADA accessible or purchase new cars outright. These are expenses that Uber and Lyft don’t pay today, so the ATU questions whether their models’ savings would truly translate to paratransit.

The union cites a recent example from Washington, D.C. The city experimented with off-loading some rides from its paratransit service, MetroAccess, to accessible taxicabs, an approach that decreased wait times and was popular with users. Instead of expanding on that system, however, the transit agency proposed AbilitiesRide, which would depend upon partnership with ride-hailing companies. Disability advocates called foul. The proposal still did not require these companies to comply with the ADA (Uber and Lyft claim they’re immune) and did not provide recourse for passengers who felt they’d been discriminated against. Under it, service providers were required to include “some” wheelchair accessible vehicles in their fleet, but not all, which advocates worried could mean longer wait times or lesser service for wheelchair users. That could result in a two-tiered system, in which wheelchair users must continue using MetroAccess, which requires a 24-hour advance reservation. They also worry that the language does not require service providers to allow hailing by telephone, which would leave users without a smartphone or Internet access in the lurch.

The Brookings report estimates that transit agencies could save $1.1 billion to $2.2 billion per year using ride-hailing companies for paratransit, based on an average $13 to $18 per ride. But the ATU contends that those numbers, based on the costs of currently inaccessible Uber and Lyft services, can’t accurately model the costs of a system that will require major changes in employment, fare, and service models.

By replacing already underpaid drivers, many of whom are already employed by private companies contracted by the public agencies, with independent contractors, ATU argues workers will fare no better, and possibly worse, with less training, less income stability and fewer career prospects within the industry.

But despite dissent with proposed solutions, the problem remains: Paratransit is already suffering from a lack of resources and an outdated provision model that doesn’t serve riders or employees well. How does ATU recommend meeting that challenge? Develop a more sophisticated, real-time Uber-like interface for transit agencies to use internally to streamline routes and make pickups quicker. Implement flexible zone systems to decrease the amount of time vans spend driving around empty. Invest in programs to train riders with disabilities who do not require wheelchair-access vehicles but may not feel comfortable accessing existing transit on their own. Provide better worker protections, higher wages and greater benefits for paratransit workers to reduce turnover.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Breakfast links: Derailed

Greater Greater Washington - Mon, 2016-05-02 08:41
by Matt Gontarchick


Photo by JRE313 on Flickr.A bad derailment: A 14-car 14 cars of a CSX train derailed in Northeast DC, disrupting some Red Line service and leaking hazardous chemicals. Although the leak was contained, MARC service on the Brunswick Line remains delayed. (WTOP)

The battle over Westbard: The debate over a proposed mixed-use town center at Westbard in Montgomery County has assumed an angrier tone. The plan calls for over 1,200 new housing units and can better serve the next generation of residents. (Post)

Transit for Tobytown: Historically African-American Tobytown, MD is poorer than many neighboring communities and lacks bus transit. Montgomery officials want to fix this by starting a shuttle bus service, which is less expensive than a regular bus line. (Post)

Office oversupply: Developers are looking beyond downtown and into emerging neighborhoods like the Navy Yard to construct new office buildings. But this has created an oversupply of office space, with older buildings most likely to be vacant. (Post)

Reconsidering DC's 'burbs: Many home buyers in search of a walkable, transit-friendly neighborhood that find themselves priced out of the District are now considering more affordable communities in the inner-suburbs like Mount Rainer and Hyattsville. (Post)

Keeping the space in AdMo: The developer turning Adams Morgan's Sun Trust Bank into a mixed-use development defended the plans in a letter, noting that the plaza design changed to leave more space than initially planned. (Borderstan)

Sidwell friends or enemies?: A tenants' group protested the Sidwell Friends School which purchased a nursing home to accommodate its lower school. The change would displace over 100 seniors. (Washingtonian)

Young and ready to build: Bay Area residents in their 20s and 30s are more likely to support measures to increase the housing supply. That's probably because they are more likely to struggle with finding affordable housing. (SF Business Times)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

59 comments

Categories: CNU blogs

Where a Slice of Green Space Combats Stress

Next City - Mon, 2016-05-02 08:30

Rittenhouse Square park in Philadelphia (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Residents in Seattle’s Highland Park neighborhood are in the midst of debate about open space. In 2003, the city purchased a 38-acre, commercially zoned former gravel pit. They built a fire department training facility on seven acres at the northern end of the property. The rest of the 31 acres were declared surplus and may now be sold off for commercial development.

Related Stories

Mayor Ed Murray says some proceeds from the sale would help fund his response to the city’s homeless crisis. Housing advocates say the city should build affordable housing on the site. Open space advocates say it’s a rare opportunity to build a new park and protect a natural area in a rapidly developing city. (Though it used to be a gravel pit, the site is heavily forested in sections.) All three have merit, but the latter option has a unique argument in its favor. If the city builds a park, or even just leaves the space as is, it could extend the lives of neighborhood residents.

A new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that closeness to natural vegetation, parks, street trees and other “greenness” lowered the mortality rate nearby. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health used data from the Nurses’ Health Study cohort, which has biannually collected health data from over 100,000 nurses across the U.S. since 1976.

The researchers looked at Health Study data from 2000 to 2008, which includes home addresses for each participant. They measured greenness around each home using satellite data and compared that to information from death certificates and medical records. After accounting for age, race, socioeconomics and smoking behaviors, the researchers found that those living with the most greenness within 250 meters of their home had a 12 percent lower non-accidental mortality rate (meaning to die from, say, cancer or respiratory-related disease) than those living near the least greenness.

Though parks are a type of greenness, the researchers looked at all measurable vegetation.

“We don’t distinguish between a park and a vacant lot; if they had the same amount of vegetation they would get the same measure,” explains Peter James, a research associate at Harvard’s School of Public Health and the study’s lead author. “It might speak to the fact that in our day-to-day we might be more likely to see a street tree or grass or landscaping rather than actually going to a park.”

The Harvard study findings are in keeping with similar studies that have found a positive link between health and exposure to parks and natural areas. But, James says, most of those studies looked at census tracts. The wealth of data provided by the Nurses’ Health Study allowed the Harvard researchers to dig in to individual health factors to determine what it is about exposure to greenness that’s lowering mortality rates.

“People think access to nature might add opportunity for physical activity, might lower exposure to air pollution or increase opportunities for social interaction,” James says. And while all those things are contributing factors, their study found the strongest link in how nature decreases stress and improves mental health.

“Surprisingly, we found that more than 30 percent of the association between greenness and mortality was explained by this mental health pathway,” says James. That mental health benefit is explained in part by famed biologist E.O. Wilson’s theory of biophilia, which says that because humans evolved with nature, we have a subconscious love of nature and therefore feel better when we’re in and around the natural world.

Though the Nurses’ Health Study provided an unprecedented depth and breadth of data in some regards, James admits it’s a fairly narrow sample in others. The study was just of primarily white women, who were all nurses at one time. “It kind of limits the generalizability of the sample … but it’s still over 100,000 people living over all different types of geographic areas across the U.S. We also don’t really have any reason to believe results would differ for women than men.”

James thinks as the links between health and urban greenness become more commonplace, cities will start considering it in their parks and open space plans.

“We already know vegetation has a lot of benefit for reducing runoff and for climate change mitigation,” James says. “But we’re really establishing this body of evidence that there might be a co-benefit for health. That’s a nice idea for an actionable tool policymakers and planners and developers.”

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

This Transportation Engineer Won’t Give Up on Moving New York City

Next City - Mon, 2016-05-02 06:00

The front closet in the New York City offices of Sam Schwartz Engineering is full of bike helmets. Lined up like turtle shells along the top shelf, they’re one of many visible signs of the company’s pro-city, pro-movement ethos. Traffic signs plaster the reception area, including the famous “DON’T EVEN THINK OF PARKING HERE,” which made its debut on New York City streets in 1982, when founder Sam Schwartz was traffic commissioner. The conference rooms bear the names “Change” and “Progress.” Repurposed bicycle wheels serve as light fixtures.

Looking around, it’s no wonder that this office serves as the neural center of a revolutionary plan to change the way New York City moves. For decades, Schwartz has been sketching what’s now known as the “Move NY Fair Plan” aimed at mitigating traffic congestion and improving transportation. In late March, legislation modeled after his ideas was introduced into the New York State Assembly. Borrowing key Schwartz elements, the bill promises to raise $1.35 billion per year in new revenue and $12.5 billion in bonds, much-needed money that will go to the repair and expansion of New York City’s fast-failing transit infrastructure.

When I meet Schwartz at his Chelsea headquarters in January, the man better known as “Gridlock Sam,” on behalf of the term he helped coin in 1980, has just returned from a month-long part-vacation, part-work trip to Aruba. (He helped plan a battery- and hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered trolley system there in 2012; the prime minister now wants to extend it.) He wears a heather blue suit, crisscrossed with widely spaced bands of color. (I would call it, with affection, loud). His coffee mug commemorates the Williamsburg Bridge’s centennial with the image of a tiny cartoon span atop a tiny cartoon cake. His eyes, bright blue and boyish, shine above a toothy grin. He tells jokes, half smiling, as if he can hear the drumroll in the background.

Sam Schwartz Engineering headquarters is decorated with traffic signs. 

“He’s the world’s best-known and probably greatest traffic engineer,” says Alex Matthiessen, campaign director of Move NY, the grassroots coalition of neighborhood groups and advocacy nonprofits that supports the Move NY Fair Plan and works to build political will for the recently introduced legislation. “He’s the number one go-to for anyone in the city, whether it’s city hall, whether it’s the department of transportation, whether it’s developers, whether it’s universities. They go to ‘Gridlock’ Sam Schwartz.”

Though the moniker identifies him with the thing he actively works against — immobility — Schwartz has taken up the mantle of “Gridlock Sam,” part transportation guru and part traffic advice columnist, with gusto. (Think if Captain Planet were renamed Captain Pollution.) He tweets traffic and service updates from around the city with the regularity of a DOT account, answers letters on his website from confused or frustrated commuters, and has written a column (also named “Gridlock Sam”) for the New York Daily News since 1990.

“I need your help solving a mystery,” writes in a woman from Greenpoint. “I take the B43 to work early mornings Saturday, usually 6 a.m. I’ve noticed that the bus that arrives doesn’t say ‘B43’ on the digital display, it says, ‘Jackie.’ My name is Jackie! What’s going on?”

Schwartz, of course, has the answer. “Hope this isn’t making you paranoid,” he responds, “but it has nothing to do with you. The B43’s bus depot is the Jackie Gleason Bus Depot, named after Jackie Gleason’s bus-driving character on ‘The Honeymooners.’ The bus you take is probably headed there after finishing its route.” He signs off “Gridlock Sam.”

Through the Move NY Fair Plan — which the New York Times’ Bill Keller called a “Brooklyn boy’s gift to his city” in 2012, mostly because the engineer has shaped the details on his own time and dime for years — Schwartz’s advice has a chance to impact much more than one puzzled bus rider. If the new legislation is adopted, advocates say, it would build safe, modern infrastructure, create more than 30,000 jobs, ease traffic congestion and reduce commuting costs for many New Yorkers.

Becoming “Gridlock Sam”

Schwartz was born in Brownsville, Brooklyn, to Polish immigrants in 1947, and raised in Bensonhurst. He married and had kids in post-riot/pre-gentrification Flatbush and was always a vocal and visible local. (Though he now lives in Manhattan, even his dog is named Brooklyn.) Schwartz was and is a guy who loves cities: Each of his childhood friends’ departures for the suburbs felt like a betrayal. Don’t even get him started on the Dodgers.

After a stint as a cab driver and a stop at grad school to study traffic engineering, Schwartz joined the civil service in 1971. Move NY’s genesis can be traced back to these early days. Back then, the DOT moved to implement a “red zone,” banning cars from entering midtown Manhattan during business hours. Things proceeded far enough that street signs were made. Then-Mayor John Lindsay’s administration also wanted to charge tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges and had designs on converting Times Square into a pedestrian-centric plaza. (Sound familiar?) As staffers analyzed the plans, one of Schwartz’s colleagues said he worried about changes that could “lock up” the city’s “grid.” Thus, “gridlock” was born. During a 1980 transit strike, Schwartz used the term publicly, and the Times ran a story on the term’s usage; after that, the word went mainstream.

Sam Schwartz points out a sign created for a failed plan to implement a "red zone" in Manhattan's central business district. 

Ultimately, Lindsay failed to flip the switch on the red zone. But Schwartz really never stopped working on the idea. He estimates the time and labor, his own, and his staff’s since he went into the private sector, have cost him “probably half a million and that would have been cheap.” But he waves off any suggestion of implied gratitude. “Don’t cry for me Argentina,” he says. “It’s a gift back to the city. I’ve never abandoned it.”

Schwartz became traffic commissioner in 1982 and chief engineer in 1986, both under Ed Koch. Among his career accomplishments: He’s designed several of New York City’s most beloved traffic signs (“NO PARKING, NO STANDING, NO STOPPING, NO KIDDING”), and its gridlock alert system (which can deter up to 40,000 cars from coming into the city per day), and made small but significant vigilante edits to the city plan (eliminating parking here, widening a sidewalk there, erasing an access road elsewhere).

He loved working for the city, but during his rise through DOT’s ranks, he encountered frustration too. “So much of government is process,” he says. He had little patience for it. “If it wasn’t criminal and if it was good, I would do it.”

The 127-year-old Carroll Street Bridge spans the Gowanus Canal. 

For example, take the Carroll Street Bridge, an 1889 wooden structure that spans the Gowanus Canal and connects the Carroll Gardens and Park Slope neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The federal government offered the city money to replace it in the late ’80s, and Schwartz says, “The federal money would have built a mini-highway.” He asked his team if they could do repairs to the original bridge in-house instead. They assented eagerly — at the time much of their work was being farmed out to contractors — and promised to meet their goal under time and under budget. One year of repairs versus six to seven years of construction? A cost of $1 million instead of $3 million? Schwartz’s decision to turn down the federal funding was easy: “We reopened the bridge on its centenary.” He even had them repaint one of the original traffic signs: “Any Person Driving over this Bridge Faster than a Walk will Be Subject to a Penalty of Five Dollars for Each Offense.” This detail delights him.

Still, Schwartz got in trouble. “I didn’t follow the rules,” he explains. “I used expense funds instead of capital funds.”

“With government, the commodity is not money,” he continues. “It’s credit and fame and power. You have to be loyal to a politician you work for. You have a constituency of one, the mayor. Especially under Koch.”

As DOT’s chief engineer, he ended up closing 20 of the 787 bridges the city controls. “People before us were lying about the condition of the bridges,” he charges. According to him, many were dangerously close to collapse. “It was purely a screwup — they didn’t do the basic maintenance. For want of a paint job!”

“When we took over, we decided to tell the truth and take it to the public,” he continues. Koch was not happy. “I got called on the carpet.” When David Dinkins took over the office in 1990, he didn’t reappoint Schwartz.

“I absolutely loved working for the city of New York,” he says. “I had no desire to move to the private sphere. People have the misconception that people in city government are lazy. I thought I would die with my boots on. I felt I was NYC — the Williamsburg Bridge was my personal bridge. I thought the city wouldn’t run without me. I was wrong.”

Working From the Outside In

Schwartz went private in 1990, and opened Sam Schwartz Engineering in 1995. “My wife says it was the best thing that happened to me,” he says. He sounds like he believes it.

The new sphere was different, but it had perks. “There’s more honesty in business,” he says. The new influx of money didn’t hurt either. It’s precisely that financial freedom that’s allowed him to take on huge projects like Move NY. He could afford to concentrate on the big picture. He wrote a book: Part-memoir, part-manifesto, Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and the Fall of Cars was published last fall.

“I hate to use the phrase ‘out of the box.’ We don’t even see the box,” Schwartz says of his style of civic engineering and city planning. “The tabula rasa approach. On a map we’ll erase everything but the buildings.”

The firm has worked on the Atlantic Yards project, which still earns Schwartz some animosity, and the Mayor Bill de Blasio-endorsed Brooklyn-Queens streetcar project, which may prove to be similarly divisive. It consulted on Philadelphia’s coordination of Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States. (Schwartz even walked across the city’s Benjamin Franklin Bridge to make sure his pedestrian plan for the pontiff’s arrival worked.) It helped Chicago DOT with the city’s long-term cycling plan. New York City, of course, is a client.

When Battery Park didn’t want to build a bike path connecting East Side with West Side, Sam Schwartz Engineering found a workaround that added three-quarters of an acre to the park — a huge gain in a neighborhood with some of the most expensive square footage in the world.

“[Schwartz] relishes eye contact and the friction of the streets,” says Paul Steely White, executive director of New York-based Transportation Alternatives, which advocates for bikeable, walkable streets and is a member of the Move NY coalition. “He doesn’t see the city as Robert Moses did, where transportation is solved with bypasses and expressways. He just loves the city in a Jane Jacobs sense.”

Repurposed bicycle wheels serve as light fixtures in the Sam Schwartz Engineering offices. 

With 40 to 200 people working on the firm’s pedestrian management side depending on the season, and 110 on its more traditional engineering and planning side, Schwartz sees his company as different in both scale and scope. “In the engineering and planning world, firms our size don’t exist in the New York market anymore,” he says. Many of the firms he competes with are enormous, some numbering up to 10,000 employees.

Regardless of the stiff competition, he’s adamant about eschewing pay to play and emphasizes the value of his profession. “Most firms ask for what the client wants, then give them that,” he says. “Engineers are a timid lot. We’ve been underpriced, relegated to the role of technicians.”

He asks if I’ve ever read the Willa Cather short story, “Alexander’s Bridge,” about a gallant engineer. “The heroes were the engineers,” he says, “rugged, good-looking. One hundred years later, the image of the engineer is a nerd, and deservedly so.”

“This Isn’t Your Grandmother’s Congestion Pricing”

Anyone who has ever tried to get around New York City — whether they are driving from Staten Island, taking the LIRR from Queens or squeezing onto a late-night L — knows exactly when and how the system fails. “I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to me,” Schwartz says. “I think a lot of politicians don’t use the subway.”

If the Move NY bill is passed, he envisions an influx of money to thoroughly update the system, both to align the city’s transportation with today’s urban residents and to keep all those users safe.

Principally, Move NY calls for a more fair system of tolls throughout the city. Bridges into the city’s most congested neighborhoods — the Queensborough, Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn — are all free to cross, but it can cost as much as $16 to enter Staten Island. This doesn’t make sense to Schwartz: Why must Staten Islanders, who have so few transportation options, pay so much? Why, likewise, do Manhattan and Brooklynites get to drive for free, especially when they have so many other options for travel? Move NY proposes new tolls on all the East River crossings, as well as lowering the price of existing tolls in the outer boroughs. Entering Manhattan’s central business district from the north will also cost private drivers extra, in the form of a cashless electronic toll, and taxi riders, in the form of a surcharge.

The additional tolls will not only help cut down on the number of cars (and so gridlock) on the road, the plan reasons, but it will raise substantial annual funds that can be used to reinvest in infrastructure and begin much-needed transportation projects. Much would be funneled to the desperately underfunded MTA; another substantial chunk would be dedicated to road and bridge maintenance.

Robert J. Rodriguez, whose district includes East Harlem, introduced the bill into the New York State Assembly. One departure from Schwartz’s Move NY Fair Plan: The 40-year-old Democrat’s legislation would also create a $4.5 billion Transit Gap Investment Fund dedicated to “transit deserts”: Many areas of Queens, south Brooklyn and Staten Island are underserved by buses and not served at all by the subway. The bill earmarks another billion dollars to be distributed among community districts across all boroughs. “It’ll go towards real, localized projects,” Rodriguez explains, “ones identified and prioritized and decided upon at the community level. It changes how decisions about transportation are made historically.”

Move NY has earned the praise and support of transportation activist, environmentalist and economist Charles Komanoff; Regional Plan Association President Tom Wright; and Janette Sadik-Khan, the Bloomberg-appointed former DOT commissioner who turned Times Square into an (incredibly successful) pedestrian mall and created nearly 400 miles of bicycle lanes. Even the local AAA affiliate, the Automobile Club of New York — a group that successfully sued in 1980 to block Schwartz’s ban on single-occupant vehicles from the East River bridges during rush hour — is on board.

“Every major editorial board supports us, from liberal to conservative, New York Times to New York Post,” Schwartz says. He mentions the 50 city and state officials who have signed on to the plan. “From that point of view we’ve made a lot of progress,” he says, “but it’s not enough.”

Indeed, the bill does have its critics.

“Sam and I go back a long way,” says N.Y. Senator Tony Avella, who served as an aide under Koch. “I have the greatest respect for him, but when it comes to Move NY — I think he’s moved a little bit outside his expertise. Move NY is really more of a political issue than a traffic issue.”

Avella is one of a handful of public officials, all from Queens, who actively oppose Move NY. His primary concern is the introduction of a new tax — the East River tolls — without sufficient guarantee that the money will be dedicated to transit. “There’s guaranteed money in the budget right now for mass transit and road repair,” he explains, “but those funds get raided every year for other projects.” He would prefer to raise revenue by legalizing sports betting or bringing back the commuter tax that was repealed in 1999.

“We’re giving up a free right for a promise of something that may or may not happen in the future,” Avella says, “and that will probably not happen.”

Matthiessen, of the Move NY campaign, disputes the logic behind Avella’s desire for a firmer guarantee of funding: “The conclusion is let’s never do anything for the end of time. The money has to come from somewhere,” he argues. “So how can we raise money in the most fair and equitable way possible? Everyone else making the trip across the East River is paying for it.”

“People just hear Bloomberg redux,” Schwartz says, referring to the former mayor’s failed attempt to implement similar congestion pricing practices.

“Quote, unquote congestion pricing,” Rodriguez half laughs. “We don’t even like to say it. Our plan is so much more comprehensive. We really want to shed that label.”

The Move NY coalition continues to meet and talk with key politicians. De Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are crucial potential supporters, but neither has explicitly endorsed nor rejected the plan.

Assembly Member Rodriguez feels optimistic. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the open-mindedness of my colleagues,” he says. “There have been more yeses than nos at this point.” Currently he has 15 co-sponsors on board his legislation, and is working to gather (ideally) 60 more.

“The next critical step is to find a bill sponsor in the Senate,” adds Matthiessen.

“What we lack is a titan of industry,” Schwartz says. “The sort of person David Rockefeller was in the past. Someone who is close to the mayor and governor, who can pick up the phone and tell them, ‘This is good for business.’” He (and the rest of the Move NY coalition) wouldn’t mind a larger budget for the Move NY campaign either, which would be used to educate the public and raise awareness.

“Our biggest obstacle is education,” Matthiessen says. “This is a very different plan from your grandmother’s congestion pricing.”

“Tolls go down, more money for transit,” Schwartz says, crafting a natural news headline. “I’m always writing an op-ed in my head.” When talking about what he sees as the high stakes of the plan, his tone shifts: “We didn’t pay attention, we haven’t done the reinvestments.” You can hear the old DOT engineer in him, as well as the native New Yorker — all first-person plural pronouns. “I think we’ll see a significant infrastructure failure in one to two years.”

You can’t separate his urgency, his passion for the issue from the bill. In fact, many supporters believe he’s playing a critical role in raising awareness.

“Schwartz’s work on Move NY,” says Ydanis Rodriguez, an NYC council member who chairs the Committee on Transportation, “changed the conversation in New York City.” Rodriguez endorsed Move NY in fall 2015. “For that reason, we are thinking differently about car usage and its impacts across the city.”

Sam Schwartz designed several of New York City’s most beloved traffic signs. 

Steely White admires Schwartz’s candor. He recalls a metaphor the engineer once used: Expecting to drive for free in the busiest parts of Manhattan is like demanding your own elevator. “It’s a classic Sam Schwartz insight, and not just the insight but the ability to communicate it,” says Steely White, who waxed rhapsodic to me on a particularly compelling slide Schwartz once presented.

The man himself is at once deeply optimistic and deeply pessimistic. The compass-straight consistency of his work, from his days as an entry-level engineer in the Lindsay administration to his time at the top of DOT under Koch to his years helming his own firm, is testament to his persistent hope. Schwartz won’t give up. Yes, he understands entrenchment and corruption — even as he staunchly works against them — but he also has witnessed catastrophic infrastructure failures and is unwilling to see them again.

“This is an alarming time,” he says. “I don’t mean to be a doomsday sayer but we have to prepare for the worst. Roads and bridges have been shortchanged for seven to eight years. We have unbelievable needs.”

He believes the section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway running through Brooklyn Heights has a remaining lifespan of less than 10 years. And knowing the pace of government, he says, “it could take a decade to get through the paperwork” just to fix it.

He worries about the rail tunnels and bridges — and he knows he’s not alone. “Those in charge of the city’s infrastructure have to worry all the time,” he says. “You can have 6,000 people on an East River bridge at any moment. That’s entire cities that cross each one of those, nice-sized cities.”

Still, Schwartz sees himself as an optimist. “I’m a glass-half-full guy,” he says. He just can’t turn off that part of his brain that is urban planner, civil engineer, New York City employee.

As Matthiessen sees it, Move NY provides New Yorkers “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” For Assembly Member Rodriguez, the plan means “we can do things that would not otherwise get done in the next decade.” (As a politician representing East Harlem, Rodriguez sees a powerful inducement in the increased possibility that the Second Avenue subway “might actually happen in our lifetime.”)

For Schwartz, it’s “a big win.” The answer to his worries.

“On the campaign trail, de Blasio said to me, ‘You are either brilliant or crazy or a little bit of both.’” Schwartz laughs. You could almost hear the drumroll in the background.

Our features are made possible with generous support from The Ford Foundation.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

The Gayborhood

John Sanphillippo - Mon, 2016-05-02 05:00

Many years ago I had a teacher who explained that Renaissance Venice had a disproportionate number of homosexuals. He stated, as fact, that rich old men married beautiful young women, fathered a child or two, then promptly died. The children were raised indulgently by women without a proper male role model and the boys became gay. This is the sort of rubbish that makes absolute sense to a clueless middle aged straight guy in the suburbs. It also completely misses the point.

I presented a different scenario – much to the class’s collective discomfort. Let’s say you’re a young man living just about anywhere in Europe in the 1500’s. You would almost certainly be the son of a farmer living in a rural village. If you were lucky you’d be the eldest of several siblings and you might inherit a scrap of land. You’d be married by sixteen and dead by thirty five. For reasons you can’t exactly articulate you really want out. Bad. Your options are clear and rather limited. Walk for months if you have to, but get to a bigger town. At the time there was no better place than Venice. Once you finally arrive you meet others like yourself and you build a different kind of life among the merchants and foreign traders. You rub shoulders with Arab sailers, Jewish shopkeepers, and Nordic expatriates. Spot the difference?

Venice itself was an unlikely locus for any kind of economic or cultural success. Its existence was the result of brutal invasions that pushed farmers off their fertile land and into the tidal marshes and skimpy islands of the northern Adriatic. In their desperation the refugees turned to fishing for sustenance. Because they needed to fish the inhabitants became good at building boats. Boats became ships. Ship building led to trading. Trading led to banking.

Places like San Francisco are modern day versions of Venice. Like Venice San Francisco is also a port town dominated by migrants, trade, and commerce. Like Venice which struggles to hold back the rising sea, San Francisco is perched precariously on a fault line. And like Venice, it isn’t cheap. You have to really want to be here. And if for some reason you’re persuaded to leave you tend not to go back home, but find some other emerging place with similar qualities instead.

For years I’ve joked that there’s something seriously wrong with any town that can’t manage to maintain a respectable population of Chinese, Jews, and homosexuals. Immigrants, religious and ethnic minorities, and gays are indicator species. No one leaves their homeland or hometown to seek a better life in a new place if there’s no additional opportunity for commerce, advancement, or acceptance. No one willingly stays in a place that’s fundamentally hostile to their needs and aspirations. If other viable options exist people will seek them out, often at great personal cost. Some places are radically better than others in this regard.

The self selecting populations of places like San Francisco are both the beneficiaries of a rare set of accidental circumstances as well as the primary contributors toward the success of the city. The people who create new technology, innovation, and art don’t necessarily come from here. We’re from Mississippi, North Dakota, Utah, India, Ukraine, Brazil… But we couldn’t have accomplished much back home as isolated individuals in places where a tremendous premium is placed on being normal and fitting in. The city makes us. And we make the city.

 

 

 


Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism
Syndicate content