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The holiday season as well as the end of they year will soon be upon us and that gets lots of people thinking about giving to worthy organizations. We asked our contributors for their favorite organizations that they are donating to this year. Can you add your support?
Photo by Julie on Flickr.
David Alpert: The Coalition for Smarter Growth does the hard work, day in and day out, of advocating for the issues most of us support here at Greater Greater Washington. They mobilized a lot of people (including many of you) to show up in person to testify for the zoning update in DC, Bus Rapid Transit in Montgomery County, and better land use and transportation plans in Prince George's and Northern Virginia.
Online, we talk about these issues and help educate many people about what's going on in their communities, but success also requires on-the-ground organizing. Please support CSG's great work.
We also talk about bicycling a lot here on Greater Greater Washington, and no organization is doing more to push for safer streets, better bike infrastructure, trails, CaBi, bike racks, driver and cyclist education, and so much more than the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA). They made a list of amazing projects that they'd like to do, and would help bicycling in DC, but can't do without money. Why not help pay for a "traffic garden" where kids can learn to ride safely, or a fellow to compile and analyze crash statistics? Donate to them here.
Ben Ross: The Action Committee for Transit is Montgomery County's grass-roots advocate for better transit and better communities. Please join us (or renew early for next year) and support our activism by choosing whatever dues level you can afford between $10 and $100.
Canaan Merchant: Two organizations that I've volunteered for and have grown to admire are Food and Friends and DC Central Kitchen. Food and Friends delivers meals to people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other illnesses. DC Central Kitchen provides meals for the homeless and is a culinary training program for them and others as well. Both the sick and the homeless can be are too often invisible parts of our urban landscape and these organizations have earned a lot of recognition for their ability to provide. I'd encourage anyone looking for ways to give locally to consider these two organizations.
Aimee Custis: Two organizations on my giving list this year are Smart Growth America and Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling. Smart Growth America advocates on the national level for people who want to live and work in great neighborhoods, but their office is here in DC, and their staff are an active part of our region's smart growth community. There are so many great local bike advocacy groups, but Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling is one of my favorites. A volunteer-run local affiliate of WABA, they're on the front lines of advancing cycling in Fairfax County, which certainly isn't easy.
Dan Reed: IMPACT Silver Spring is a great organization that embodies the adage "Teach a man to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime." They ensure the long-term health of immigrant, minority, and low-income communities in Montgomery County through organizing, community engagement, and leadership training, empowering people to advocate for themselves both economically and politically. Montgomery Housing Partnership not only builds affordable housing, they help their residents build better lives and neighborhoods through job training and community-building events.
Both groups make Silver Spring and Montgomery County better places to live, and their staffs are some of the most talented, hardworking people I know. I've had the pleasure of working with both of them over the past year on the Flower Theatre Project, and they definitely deserve your support.
Michael Perkins: Bread for the City provides a wide variety of services - not just food and clothing, but also legal advice, dental care and medical care. They get a regular donation from me. Also, Arlington Streetcar Now!, which is an advocacy organization that's organizing support to continue the plan to build a streetcar in Arlington.
Malcolm Kenton: Although I may not be working for them for much longer, I will add my endorsement for giving to the National Association of Railroad Passengers if you support an expanded and improved national passenger train network plus enhanced transit and commuter rail and multi-modal connectivity. I also give to two local water quality & conservation organizations: Rock Creek Conservancy and the Anacostia Watershed Society.
Elizabeth Falcon: The Diverse City Fund is a project to locally source money to fund grassroots projects in DC. All of the board members who determine grants are longtime DC organizers and activists, and the money goes to small projects that many larger foundations won't fund.
Jim Titus: And don't forget your local house of worship, which probably looks out for people in your neighborhood who have fallen on hard times and may well operate a food pantry
Jacques Arsenault: A couple of other great organizations that touch on homeless and housing work are the Arlington Street People's Assistance Network (A-SPAN) and Central Union Mission, who just moved from 14th Street NW to near Union Station. And two organizations that provide critical services for under served or disconnected youth in the community are the Latin American Youth Center and DC Lawyers for Youth.
Veronica O. Davis: Food & Friends prepares and delivers healthy meals to terminally ill residents in the region.
Jaime Fearer: I serve on the board of Fihankra Akoma Ntoaso, or FAN, a local nonprofit organization based in Anacostia that serves foster youth throughout the District. More specifically, FAN aims to support teens in foster care by filling the gaps in their social, emotional, and educational lives as they face aging out of the foster care system. Please watch our 7-minute video and join me in building a bridge for some of our most vulnerable youth.
Geoffrey Hatchard: I'll be one to add an ask for Casey Trees. Casey's mission is simple: to restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of the nation's capital. I've been volunteering for Casey Trees for 9 years now, and I've found every minute of it to be fulfilling and worthwhile. They've expanded their reach recently to include plantings in Prince George's County, Montgomery County, and Arlington County. With more funds, they'll be able to invest in more staff to help plan and lead more projects in the future.
Photo by Chris Potter on Flickr.DC's education agencies have joined forces to produce a set of reports that make it easier to compare DCPS and charter schools. The new data include figures on special education students, suspensions, expulsions, and mobility during the last school year.
To resolve capacity issues, WMATA has proposed building a new Metro loop line through downtown. But there might be a better way to resolve those issues and make the current system more efficient at the same time.
While Metro's solution will adequately address the capacity problems, it will do nothing to sort out the fundamental geometric problems with the way the system was set up to begin with.
Metro's proposal overlays multiple U-shaped or loop lines through the core, widely acknowledged as one of the least efficient ways to organize rail transit networks. Instead, Metro should build to provide routes that hit major job centers & transfer points, travel from A to B as directly as possible, and minimize the merging of routes, or interlining.
An alternative approach would be to combine new capacity from south and east of downtown with the branches of the Red Line so trains can travel all the way through the core without looping back on themselves. I believe the proposal shown in the map below shows the most effective combination of these lines.
The tunnels to create this network would be as follows:
1. Build a new approximately 3.5-mile M Street subway for the Orange and Blue lines from Rosslyn to Metro Center, with five new stations at Rosslyn, Georgetown, West End, Connecticut Avenue, and Thomas Circle
2. Build a new approximately 0.85-mile tunnel between McPherson Square and Judiciary Square to combine the existing Franconia-Springfield end of the Blue Line, the Huntington end of the Yellow Line, and the Glenmont branch of the Red Line into a new Red Line. This would include one new station under G Place between 9th and 10th streets and transfers to the Gallery Place and Metro Center stations.
3. Build a new approximately 1.65 mile tunnel under 4th and 6th Streets SW between Waterfront and Gallery Place to combine the existing Branch Avenue end of the Green Line and Shady Grove branch of the Red Line into a new Green line. This would include two new stations at Independence Ave and Constitution Ave and a transfer to the L'Enfant station.
This work solves Metro's core capacity problems, creates a more efficient system by straightening the Red Line's branches, and reduces system-wide merges to a total of three, down from six.
It also does so while building fewer stations than Metro's loop proposal, with eight instead of fifteen, and six miles of subway instead of eight. The express tracks along I-66 are not needed under either approach at current ridership, and could be built in a later phase.
Under this proposal, every branch of the network except the Greenbelt branch would pass through the city's central business district around Farragut Square, whereas under Metro's plan both the Greenbelt and Branch Avenue branches of the Green line will miss it.
If possible, the current track connections should be kept to allow for system redundancy in cases of maintenance or emergencies. The new platforms at Rosslyn and Pentagon should be designed to minimize transfer time, ideally with cross platform transfers. Because the line to Shady Grove has much higher ridership than the line to Branch Avenue, the system should be built to allow some trains to terminate at Independence Avenue and turn back north.
Metro could eventually provide additional service along I-66 and to Union Station, as shown in the long-term proposal below.
Providing fully separate tracks for the Blue Line would achieve both objectives and provide operational independence for every line. Such a subway could be built following H Street and Constitution Avenue. It would form an east-west "express" route, relieving congestion at Union Station and on both the Orange and Red lines through downtown.
This long term plan would set the system up for additional extensions in Maryland and Northern Virginia. In addition, the burgeoning streetcar network and the circumferential Purple Line would supplement this network.
Metro's proposal and the one described in this post both provide for needed expansion to the system's core and eliminate chokepoints, but do so in opposite ways. One interweaves lines together extensively, while the other reorganizes track connections to keep routes as operationally independent as possible.
This difference will have major effects on how a rider will navigate the system, where they will transfer, and how long it will take to get from A to B. I believe the proposal outlined here will create a much more intuitively navigated network with greater speed and reliability that better serves the future needs of the region.
Portland Aerial Tram photo by Joseph Readdy on Flickr.Georgetown thinks big: Metro may be coming someday, but a task force has floated more creative options to enhance Georgetown's connectivity. Some possibilities: an M Street to Arlington gondola and a pedestrian bridge to Roosevelt Island. (Post)
Bowie Walmart gets a "no": The Prince George's planning board is recommending denial of a Walmart supercenter at Mill Branch Crossing, saying that the proposal is inconsistent with the plan for a high-quality town center on the 76-acre site. (Post)
Bus lines shut down: The feds have put 52 bus companies out of business as part of a safety crackdown. The only local operator on the list is DC's very own Party Shuttle, which was closed down in April as an "imminent hazard." (CSMonitor, WJLA)
Good news for transit in budget deal: There are still cuts to transportation funding in the resolution passed by the House last night, but they're smaller than first proposed. The bill also sets up "reserve account" funding for infrastructure. (Streetsblog)
Best & worst: Escalator edition: A UMD Ph.D student has been crunching the numbers on escalator performance. Among the findings: while one Clarendon escalator had 99.9% availability, a Dupont Circle escalator was functioning 1% of the time. (City Paper)
AAA endorses transit(!): Credit where credit is due: AAA Mid-Atlantic has published a study of relative commuting costs and concluded that transit is indeed the cheaper option for many commuters, even with the proposed fare hikes. (City Paper)
Don’t door me bro: The City Paper's Jonathan Fischer interviews the anonymous 'Bike Artist' who's been stenciling helpful (or simply amusing) messages to the city's cyclists on bike lanes and cycle tracks since August.
And...: Jim Graham announces an all-out war on pop-ups. (City Paper) ... Four DC taxi drivers have been fined for non-compliance with new credit card rules. (Post) ... MGM still looks like the favorite of Maryland's casino consultants. (WBJ) ... The director of the Dulles Metrorail Project refuses to speculate on a service start date. (Post)
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Now that Montgomery County's approved a plan for an 81-mile Bus Rapid Transit network, we can begin looking at how it will work in detail. A new map and video show what BRT might be like.
The county's plan calls for dedicated bus lanes on major roads like Rockville Pike, Georgia Avenue, Columbia Pike and Veirs Mill Road, whether by repurposing existing car lanes or, where there's room, widening the road. Communities for Transit commissioned A consultant working for Montgomery County made this subway-style map of the proposed system, showing potential routes and stops.
The map takes some liberties with the plan. Montgomery County has only decided what corridors can should have BRT service and where stops made sense, but not what routes would look like, and whether they'd be named for colors, letters, numbers, or something else. But it can help people take the leap and see how the system could benefit them.
Communities for Transit, a Silver Spring-based nonprofit, made this video about how this might look, using examples of existing and proposed BRT systems from around the country.
There are still lots of questions about BRT. We still need to figure out how exactly dedicated lanes would work on the county's streets, particularly in close-in areas where there's no room to widen the road.
We also don't know whether the county would even run the BRT system, which would affects the branding of the routes and system. Metrobus already serves many of the corridors in the proposed BRT network and recently introduced a limited-stop bus on New Hampshire Avenue, a precursor to full Bus Rapid Transit. If Metro ran Montgomery County's BRT network, it could use the same "Metro Way" branding as the new Crystal City-Potomac Yard BRT line in Northern Virginia, which will open next year.
In any case, having visualizations like these are a great way to help people understand how BRT could work for Montgomery County. Hopefully, this will help allay the concerns some residents have and build support for better transit.
Six private consortia have expressed interest in building and operating the $2.2 billion Purple Line in partnership with the Maryland Transit Administration. They bring experience from similar deals around the world, including a successful project in Denver.
Rendering from the Maryland Transit Administration.
The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) has received responses from six private consortia who want to bid on the planned light-rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton in a public-private partnership (P3), which the state approved in August.
"The six responses, from local, national and worldwide firms, clearly demonstrate leaders in the P3 industry have strong interest in delivering this long-awaited project," said Maryland transportation secretary James Smith in a statement. The consortia include a who's-who of investors and operators active in the P3 space, including the investors in the only comparable transit concession in the United States, the Eagle P3 in Denver.
The interested teams are: M-PG Connect (Plenary Group and Bechtel Development), Maryland Purple Line Partners (Vinci Concession, Walsh Investors, InfraRed Capital Partners, Alstom and Keolis), Maryland Transit Connectors (John Laing Investments, Kiewit Development and Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate), Purple Line Development Partners (CSCEC and United Labor Life Insurance), Purple Line Transit Partners (Meridiam Infrastructure, Fluor and Star America Fund) and Purple Plus Alliance (Macquarie Capital and Skanska Infrastructure Development).
Macquarie and Fluor's Denver Transit Partners was the winning bidder of the Eagle P3, the only design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM) transit concession that has successfully closed in the US. John Laing and Uberior bought Macquarie's stake in the project when its financing closed in August 2010.
Under a DBFOM concession, a private consortium takes responsibility for the design, construction, financing, operations and maintenance of a project within the parameters of the contract with the grantor, which in this case is the state of Maryland. The deal structure also places the majority of the design, construction and operational risks on the private sector.
The Eagle P3 is a good comparison for Maryland's Purple Line. In addition to being the country's only DBFOM transit concession, it also uses availability payments, which are guaranteed payments to the concessionaire from the grantor.
It also involves an isolated rail system that is separate from Denver's existing light rail. This separation is important in terms of measuring the operational performance since there aren't any other services to affect it. This allows the grantor to accurately reimburse the private concessionaire in the future.
The Purple Line light rail will stretch 16 miles from Bethesda to New Carrollton through Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Operationally separate from the MTA's other transit lines, the concession also includes a maintenance facility and rolling stock.
The Eagle P3 includes three commuter rail lines that will run more than 35 miles from Denver Union Station to Denver International Airport, the suburb of Westminster and the suburb of Wheat Ridge when they open in 2016. It also includes a commuter rail maintenance facility and Hyundai Rotem rolling stock.
Fluor, John Laing and Macquarie will undoubtedly be able to bring best practices to Maryland from their experience in Denver, some of which could help reduce costs and possibly speed up the construction schedule.
Other interested firms also have transit concession experience outside the US. Keolis and Plenary are investors in the eight-mile Gold Coast light rail concession in Australia, and Vinci is an investor in multiple light rail concessions in Europe.
Meridiam and Skanska bring experience from other DBFOM concessions in the US to the table. Meridian built a courthouse in Long Beach, California, while Skanska worked on the Midtown and Downtown Tunnels in Virginia's Hampton Roads area.
The next steps for Maryland include evaluating the responses that the six consortia submitted for the Purple Line P3 and selecting a shortlist of qualified teams who will move on to the actual bidding phase. Robert Smith, administrator of the MTA, says that they plan to shortlist up to four consortia.
The MTA plans to announce the shortlist in January 2014 with proposals due in the early summer, the agency says. It expects to pick a preferred bidder by either the end of 2014 or early 2015.
Construction on the Purple Line could begin as early as the second quarter of 2015, subject to approval of the concession contract by the Maryland Board of Public Works and funds from the federal government to help finance the project.
Maryland is seeking up to $1.05 billion in a New Starts grant from the US Federal Transit Administration and has submitted a letter of interest for a TIFIA loan from the US Department of Transportation. The state plans to contribute at least $711 million and expects between $400 million and $900 million in funds from the private sector.
While there aren't many transit projects built through P3s in the United States, if successful, the Purple Line could set an example for the rest of the country.
Imagine a generic urbanist. Someone who loves walkable, transit-friendly, mixed-use cities. Without knowing where this hypothetical person works, where their friends live, or how much money they might have, what single DC street corner would be the most ideal place for him or her to live?
Put simply, what's DC's most livable urban address?
The answer is 14th and P, NW.
There are thousands of great places to live all over the DC region, but to find the singular best corner, one has to apply some pretty strict criteria.
The ideal corner will be within easy walking distance of all 5 Metrorail lines. It will be on a major commercial main street, within one block of a supermarket. It will have bikeshare access, and it will be near a wide variety of shopping and dining amenities. There will be a park nearby, but it need not be quite as close as the supermarket.
The Metrorail requirement eliminates everything but Downtown and the southern end of Dupont & Logan. The Capitol Hills and Columbia Heights of the world are wonderful, but comparatively less well-connected.
The major grocers in that area include the Safeway at 5th and L, the new Giant at O Street Market, the Safeway at 17th and Corcoran, and the Whole Foods at 14th and P.
5th Street and O Street have fewer other amenities nearby. Chinatown is close, but not right there. They're less desirable than the other two.
Corcoran Street has all the amenities, but it's on the very outer edge of walkable from the Orange & Blue Lines.
That leaves P Street. It's at the middle of all 5 Metro lines, on 3 major bus routes, has a bikeshare station, and is within a block of the best cycletrack in the city. It has a grocery store, a CVS, a hardware store, and tons of restaurants right there. Logan Circle park is a block away. All the riches of the 14th Street corridor are in easy reach. It's perfect.
And that's why 14th and P is the city's most livable urban corner. Others are nice, others may be better for you given your circumstances, but 14th and P is the prime address.
But what do you think?
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Left to right: Natalie Wexler, David Catania, Ken Archer. Photo from David Catania's office.DC Councilmember David Catania answered questions Monday night from Greater Greater Education contributors and readers. In the course of a wide-ranging discussion, he called for empowering parents, improving middle school options, and generally addressing DC's education issues with a fierce sense of urgency.
Last week, WMATA planners released a proposal for a new Metro loop downtown to help relieve capacity issues on the other lines. How might this new line operate? Details are scarce, but we can talk about some possibilities.
The proposal is to build a new Metro line that would loop through downtown DC. Starting at Rosslyn, the tracks would tunnel under the Potomac to Georgetown. They would then follow M Street and New Jersey Avenue to Union Station. The tracks would turn south along 2nd Street to cross Capitol Hill, and then parallel the Green Line under I Street. The loop would complete itself by joining to the existing Yellow Line bridge over the Potomac River.
Metro's proposal indicates that the loop line will be fed by the current Blue and Yellow lines, which would enter at the Pentagon station, and a new "express" line in northern Arlington, which would enter near Rosslyn.
Why build a loop?
Metro's team of planners looked at a variety of solutions to the core capacity issues, including new lines. The alternative they settled on was this loop. Why did they pick a loop?
Essentially, a loop solves most of Metro's problems relatively cheaply. The primary issue facing Metro over the next few decades is core capacity, espcially in terms of train throughput. The Blue/Orange subway through downtown is at capacity, and no more trains can be added.
Untangling the Gordian knot at Rosslyn is the most complicated part of this. What is most clear is that Metro needs a new Potomac crossing near Rosslyn to increase capacity on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines.
But Metro also needs more capacity around the southern side of downtown DC. Because the Green and Yellow Lines share the 7th Street subway, which is operating very close to capacity, each line can only be increased at the expense of the other line. In other words, WMATA can't add Green trains without subtracting Yellow trains. So Metro also needs a new subway for the Yellow Line.
However, Metro's studies found little need for a new subways outside of downtown based on the expected travel patterns in and density of those areas in 2040.
Essentially, Metro sees the need to build an east-west subway across the north side of downtown and a north-south subway across the east side of downtown. But they don't see a need for the east-west subway to continue east or the north-south subway to continue north.
For that reason, Metro thinks it makes the most sense to just connect the east-west and north-south subways at Union Station and operate them as a loop.
It's not exactly clear how the new subway loop would work, and since this project is decades away from completion much could change. But there are a few likely ways it could operate.
For now, let's only consider the Blue and Yellow Lines. We will discuss the proposed North Arlington Express line in a later post.
Operating an inner and outer loop is one of the obvious choices. In this scenario, one of the lines would run clockwise around the inner loop, while the other line runs counterclockwise around the outer loop.
So Yellow Line trains coming from Huntington would cross the Potomac north of the Pentagon, as they do today. Then they would continue east to Capitol Hill before turning north toward Union Station and going around the loop to return to Huntington via Arlington Cemetery. Blue Line trains would do the reverse.
One of the advantages of operating the Yellow and Blue lines as a loop through downtown is that the loop can actually carry more capacity. If the Blue and Yellow didn't need to share tracks with the Orange and Green lines, each could run at a frequency of 13 trains per hour (TPH) in each direction. And that means that the outer loop would have 13 TPH, as would the inner loop. Since Metro's track capacity is 26 TPH, there's actually room to add two more lines to the loop.
One of the disadvantages, though, is that riders who have a short one-seat ride in the morning have a long one-seat ride in the afternoon. Someone who commutes from Franconia to Georgetown has a pretty direct trip in the morning. But in the afternoon, they either have to face a long ride on the Blue Line via Union Station and Potomac Park or take a two-seat ride by riding the Yellow Line to Pentagon and changing.
"Transforming" loop trains would resolve that problem, though it would be more complicated and difficult to show on the map.
In this scenario, a Blue Line train leaving Franconia would run as far as Pentagon and then continue toward Arlington Cemetery. At some point on its journey, the train would magically transform into a Yellow Line train bound for Huntington. Yellow Line trains would operate similarly, becoming Blue Line trains during their journeys.
This way, a person who commutes from Franconia to Georgetown would have a short, one-seat ride on the Blue Line in both directions. The same would be the case for Yellow Line riders.
For anyone waiting for trains at a station on the loop, trains on the outer loop would always be bound for Franconia, but would have come from Huntington. On the inner loop, trains would be bound for Huntington, but would have come from Franconia.
To avoid confusion, trains bound for the loop would just be signed with their color and a destination of "Downtown." The change of color and destination on the loop wouldn't matter for the passengers on board, since the train would continue around the loop. This is, incidentally, what Chicago L trains do as they arrive at the Loop: they change their headsigns from "Loop" to whichever destination they're headed back to.
Alternatively, trains don't have to "loop" all the way around the loop. Instead, the Blue and Yellow lines could just be interlined on the new tracks.
In this scenario, Blue Line trains would operate onto the new tracks for a certain distance. On the map above, I've shown trains going as far as 4th & Eye, but they could stop at any point along the line (Union Station, for example). Then trains turn back around and run over the same tracks back to Franconia. Yellow Line trains would operate similarly.
Anywhere the two lines overlap would max out the capacity of the new line, just as the other lines in the core are currently topped out at 26 TPH. The reason this is true for the interlined scenario but not for the loop scenarios is because in the loop scenarios, trains run around the loop once. In the interlined scenario trains run over the tracks twice, once inbound and once again outbound.
North Arlington Express trains
As noted above, the new loop would also carry trains from the North Arlington Express line. We haven't discussed those trains yet, but we're going to cover how they might work with the loop in another post soon.
Metro's vision for the future is still decades away, so we have no idea what the final product will look like exactly. It might look like one of the operating patterns shown here, but then again, lots can change in 25 years. But Metro's core is approaching capacity, and expansion is desperately needed. Metro's new vision will set the stage for building the system's next generation.
Photo by Abbey Hendrickson on Flickr.The rent is too high: Half of all renters now spend at least 30 percent of their income on housing. As the trend to own a home is reversing, what can be done about the rising cost of rental housing? (City Paper)
Affordable housing saved: A team of developers purchased Channel Square Apartments to preserve affordable rental apartments in Southwest DC. The group says at least 51% will remain affordable to individuals making less than the median income. (Post)
Affordable housing gone: The supply of affordable housing units is declining, as homebuilders and landlords target the upper end of the market. What happens to the working poor who can't afford their rent? (NYT)
DC's changing demographics: A new study from the Urban Institute shows demographic changes in the District are not equal. The Hispanic population is leaving Columbia Heights and the Black population continues to decline. (City Paper)
ANCs losing weight: ANCs are supposed to be given "great weight" in public issues like zoning changes and public land dispositions, but recent decisions like 965 Florida Ave suggest DC doesn't take their suggestions seriously. (City Paper)
New plans for Columbia: Leaders in Columbia, MD want to bring a central park, housing, and retail development to the area, hoping new recreational activities will draw young professionals to live in the planned community. (Post)
I-66 going up: Could the I-66 expansion go vertical? Most responses to an RFI included managed toll lanes, but one group believes building upward is the only way to provide bus routes and rail extension along the corridor. (WBJ)
And...: Charges against WMATA for redevelopment of the property above Shaw-Howard Metro Station were dismissed. (WBJ) ... DC Streetcar will make its debut appearance on H Street in the coming days. (DCist) ... Bethesda might get creative crosswalks. (BethesdaNow)
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San Jose City Hall will be home to the United States Patent and Trademark Office's new West Coast satellite office. Photo by Flickr user Steven Christenson
Two big lease deals in downtown San Jose indicate that the city center’s underappreciated assets may be proving attractive to those seeking more urban workplaces in Silicon Valley. Apigee, Inc., an enterprise API management company, recently signed a lease with Equity Office for a 41,000-square-foot space at 10 Almaden — downtown’s biggest new lease in nine years. And the United States Patent and Trademark Office will establish a 40,000-square-foot satellite office in San Jose’s City Hall building.
The patent office considered other cities on the peninsula, including Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, before selecting San Jose. Apigee is moving from Palo Alto. Why did these two tenants choose downtown San Jose over nearby competitors? Four things attracted these tenants to downtown San Jose: access to transit, urban amenities, real estate costs and a responsive government. As we have noted in our reports The Urban Future of Work and Getting to Great Places, more and more firms today are seeking the benefits of urbanism.
Access to public transportation. Downtown San Jose is the biggest transit hub in the South Bay, and Diridon Station has the most frequent Caltrain service. With 20 percent of its work force commuting from San Francisco, Apigee saw Diridon’s regular Baby Bullet Caltrain service as a step up from the limited service at the firm’s current location near the California Avenue Caltrain station in Palo Alto.
The patent office, which will serve as the West Coast regional office (one of four satellite offices nationally), was looking for an urban center in Silicon Valley that was easily accessible by transit. Downtown has many transit connections to the region and beyond, including the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) and Amtrak’s Capital Corridor routes to Sacramento and the Central Valley. Future plans for high-speed rail and BART will only strengthen downtown’s transit connections.
The largest collection of urban amenities in the South Bay. Downtown San Jose’s walkable core is the largest in the South Bay and houses more restaurants, bars and entertainment options than any other South Bay center. It is also the home of San Jose State University, a school with nearly 30,000 students. This appealed to the patent office, which was looking for the opportunity to partner with a university.
Supply of reasonably priced real estate. For Apigee, San Jose’s low real estate price tag (Class A office space averaged $2.72 per square foot in the third quarter of 2013), was undeniably more cost-effective than Palo Alto’s (at $6.29 per square foot), especially with the company’s ambitions for growth. (Apigee’s current home at 260 Sheridan is maxed out.)
The patent office was especially attracted to the nearby supply of reasonably priced housing stock. Cost of living for patent office employees was a key criteria in the selection process. Downtown San Jose has the largest collection of high-rise residential buildings in the South Bay, with more in the works. It is also surrounded by several historic neighborhoods with pre-war homes.
Responsive government. San Jose’s leadership role in attracting the patent office is worth noting. To compete with other Silicon Valley locations, the city offered two years of free rent and reduced rent for an additional three years.
These two deals are a significant win for downtown San Jose. Over the coming year, we hope to see more employers choose downtown as the accessible, amenity-rich urban alternative in Silicon Valley.
It's not surprising that corporate offices and sprawling suburbs are consuming the green fields between DC's and Baltimore's beltways. What is surprising is there's no real alternative: no urban places are being built at all of the MARC stations in the same corridor.
Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.
My wife and I live in Baltimore. Each morning, we splash cold water on our faces before heading to Penn Station in the dark. There, I drop my wife to catch the 5:50 MARC train to Union Station, where she will then transfer to the Metro and arrive at work by 7:30. This is a better choice than driving through morning and evening rush hour in two cities, which she has tried before.
I work in Baltimore, but have meetings in the suburbs between there and DC. By being in the middle, families and businesses can access the employment, cultural, airport and other benefits of both regions. But the traffic is terrible, and there is pressure to use taxpayer dollars to widen roads or create new ones, like the Intercounty Connector.
The status quo development between Baltimore and DC is comprised of both commercial and residential sprawl, some of which is very close to MARC stations. But the way it's designed and sited makes it inaccessible to train passengers.
The US Green Building Council (USGBC) and its LEED rating system need to play a role. USGBC should not be giving isolated, land-gobbling sprawl producers green credentials for energy efficiency when these same buildings require inefficient commuting.
By contrast, all seven Penn Line stations, and most of the Camden Line stations between Baltimore and DC lie in a desert of surface parking lots (there's actually a garage at BWI Airport station). It's difficult to even get a cup of coffee at most of these outposts. But the train service offered there can deliver a passenger to the center of Washington or Baltimore roughly as fast and as comfortably as the Metro or a car.
Can we encourage transit-oriented development around MARC stations, the way we have around places like Arlington, Rockville, Bethesda, and Silver Spring, which have grown up around Metro stations? Kaid Benfield has covered Arlington's success in revitalizing neighborhoods without increasing traffic. And Chris Leinberger has described the growth of what he calls "WalkUP" development that is becoming so prevalent in the DC area.
While I advocate for infill development inside the beltways, there's still demand for development in between. It is time to start urban, mixed-use development along the MARC Penn and Camden lines.
The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) proclaims they are open for business partnerships at MARC stations, and have a transit-oriented development (TOD) underway at Odenton. Private sector developers have made lots of money building urban neighborhoods at Metro stations, particularly in Montgomery and Fairfax counties. There is potential for similar opportunity adjacent to MARC stations.
So why has scattered growth continued between Baltimore and DC while MARC stations remain constellations of barren surface parking? I speculate the issue is the cost of structured parking, which frees up room for urban development. With cheap available greenfields to build lots on, why spend the money?
The frequency of MARC service also affects the prospects for development around stations. Headways on the Penn Line are close to an hour outside of rush hour, while the Camden Line is even less frequent, and offers no trains in the middle of the day or on weekends.
More frequent MARC trains help overcome one advantage the Metro has over Maryland's commuter lines. Increased service, like weekend service on the Penn Line that started this December, makes TOD more viable because the people who live and work there can rely on it.
There are an increasingly large number of people who travel between Baltimore and Washington that may prefer a hassle-free train ride to a drive in traffic. Especially if there's a cosmopolitan urban environment where they get on and off the train. There is a premium for this in Bethesda and Arlington, and there could be at MARC stations as well.
To get on a roll at MARC stations, the public sector may have to help build and finance structured parking to open up land adjacent to stations for development. Stu Sirota, principal of TND Planning Group, says there needs to be an overarching vision coupled with marketing. "A real regional planning effort or charrette will show how all these station areas could become cool transit villages (or bigger)," he says, "and what an incredible impact that could have on the Baltimore-Washington corridor."
Once there are a few hot spots along the Penn and Camden lines, the areas around MARC stations will become coveted real estate. It is time to get started.
Come spring, Boston's transit system, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), will start offering late-night service on all subway and 15 major bus lines. Like Metro, MBTA may charge higher fares for it. Could this discourage transit use?
Photo by Justin Baugh on Flickr.
Currently, the MBTA shuts down shortly after midnight seven days a week, leaving revelers and workers of unusual hours with no recourse but automotive ones. Under the new schedule, which is a one-year pilot program, Boston will match DC's practice of staying open until 3am on Saturday and Sunday starting this spring.
The announcement was a big deal to native Bostonians like myself, who for years have been frustrated having to choose between staying out late and being able to get home. However, the MBTA is also considering emulating WMATA in another, less desirable way: charging higher fares for late-night service.
The MBTA may consider charging $3 or $3.50 after midnight instead of the usual $2 fare for a train ride. (Boston has a flat fare that does not increase, even during rush hour.) It's not hard to understand why WMATA charges rush hour fares during the wee hours, and why the MBTA might want to follow suit. Late-night public transit is a niche service that only a small subset of the population uses.
Rather than spreading the cost of providing it across the whole transit-using population of greater Washington, late-night riders should have to pay a little more to support their customized service, right? Put another way, if WMATA is expending a constant amount of resources for fewer-than-usual users, each user needs to pay more than usual in order to meet budget.
The problem is that Metro does not apply this logic evenly. If you accept this premise, then fares should actually be lower during rush hour, when huge ridership will never have any problem sustaining even elevated frequency of service.
Instead, the correct pricing principle is one that conforms to supply and demand. Metro rightly charges peak fares during rush hour precisely because that is the busiest time of day; it knows most commuters don't have the choice to be scared away by sticker shock then, and if they are scared away it knows it can absorb the blow.
Higher fares serve to some degree as crowd control; if we have to discourage transit use (which higher fares necessarily do), we ought to do so when transit use least needs to be encouraged. And, most elegantly, people rightly pay higher fares when they are causing the most strain on the system, helping to offset the wear and tear caused by rush-hour crowds.
The flip side of this, of course, is that WMATA, and the MBTA that seeks to emulate it, should charge its lowest fares when the system is least crowded. These are the times when transit use needs more incentives, and of course entrance fees are one of the most surefire ways to manipulate that.
By charging peak fares between midnight and 3am, Metro is creating a deterrence, even a small one, to people taking public transportation. Crucially, peak fares after midnight also do not come with the benefit of extremely frequent trains that accompany rush-hour peak fares.
Of course, there is always the chance that fare manipulation may not have a huge effect on ridership after midnight. In that case, by charging off-peak fares, WMATA would give up revenue it currently relies on. However, it's dubious to think that the laws of pricing dynamics cease to apply after midnight.
Perhaps Metro volume is fairly inelastic during rush hour, when many people have to commute to work no matter what, and when many people feel that they have no other choice but to take the train because of DC traffic and the cost of car ownership. But people certainly do have a choice about whether and how to travel late at night. Lower fares after midnight would not only result in that many fewer Uber trips, but more importantly, they would entice more people to go out.
The upside-down fare system is unfortunate in DC, but in Boston, it could be fatal to its experiment of late-night service. MBTA officials will only make late-night transit permanent if enough people use the service during the one-year trial period. If higher fares deter people from taking the train, the MBTA may very well determine that there is not as much demand for the service as it thought.
This is a realistic worry; $3.50 doesn't seem like much, but it's a 75% increase on the fare Bostonians are used to paying; and for a group of four friends out at a bar, a taxi ride would only need to cost $14 to be an equal or better deal. Indeed, excessively high fares were one reason Boston's previous foray into late-night service, "Night Owl" buses that cost up to $4 one-way, went under. (The Night Owl's failure to attract riders is more proof that late-night ridership is not inelastic.)
Thankfully, because Boston is just reacquainting itself with late-night service, there is still time to avoid these mistakes. DC has fulfilled an important role by serving as the Boston's likely model for late-night service; a fellow cash-strapped system that needs all the overnight maintenance it can squeeze in, WMATA showed the MBTA that late-night service was still possible.
It's probably no coincidence that Boston is adopting the same weekend schedule, but that doesn't mean it should copy DC's methods wholesale. At least in the way late-night fares are structured, Boston can and should do better.