Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Re: Docket B16-03, Proposed changes to Metrorail operating hours

WMATA has two big issues right now, their proposal to cut service hours ("Plans for Metrorail contraction in the face of London Night Tube expansion") and dealing with next year's budget deficit ("Can WMATA's death spiral be staunched?").

Docket B16-03: concerns the former. Written comments were due yesterday. This is what I submitted. The addition to the text below is only the different proposed options. I was motivated to post these comments in response to the GGW post, "Prince George's County leaders join the chorus to keep late night rail service" (in part because of Alex B's comment, which dovetails the argument in points #1 and #2).

I decided not to submit voluminous comments.

For the most part I am not supportive of the Metrorail proposals for significant cutback in service hours, which have been offered in response to an identified need for more time for maintenance.

First, irrespective of the current SafeTrack program, WMATA has not provided a convincing argument for why it needs significantly more time to conduct maintenance operations when compared to peer transit systems.

For example, the MBTA system runs from about 5:15am to just after midnight on weekdays, til 1 am on Saturdays, and from about 6:15am to just after midnight on Sundays. The TTC runs from about 6am to 1:30am Monday through Saturday, but with an 8am start on Sundays. The CTA provides 24-hour subway service on the Blue Line and about 21 hours of service daily on the other lines, with a start between 4am and 5am on most lines, with a slightly later start on Sundays.

Ironically, WMATA's proposal for service hour cutbacks is occurring at the same time that London is going to 24 hour weekend service on a number of its Tube Lines.

Second, relatedly and furthermore, various inspection reports from FTA indicate that the Metrorail system is extremely inefficient and suboptimal in terms of scheduling and performing maintenance work. Rather than penalize riders for the system's operational inefficiencies, Metrorail should focus attention on better use of maintenance resources and use the time that is currently provided in the schedule for revenue service.

Before WMATA takes the action of cutting back on service, instead this question should be asked and answered:

What is it about WMATA Metrorail operations that makes it unable to perform adequate maintenance in the same amount of time by comparison to peer systems?

If it is the case that objectively Metrorail needs more time for maintenance, then it would be reasonable to consider the current proposals. But so far, Metrorail/WMATA have not adequately made the case, only that the number of hours available for maintenance has been reduced (from 44 to 33) since the adoption of late night service hours on weekends.

Third, regarding the specific proposals, #1 is closest to adequate except that it includes as permanent the dialing back of later service on Fridays and Saturdays. However, the proposed Sunday closing time of 10pm is deleterious and should remain at the current time of approximately midnight.

Previous late hours Metrorail service profile

Mon-Thu: 5:00 a.m. - midnight
Fri: 5:00 a.m. - 3:00 a.m.
Sat: 7:00 a.m. - 3:00 a.m.
Sun: 7:00 a.m. - midnight

WMATA has put forward four different options for reductions in service:

Proposal # 1
Mon-Thu: 5:00 a.m. - midnight
Fri: 5:00 a.m. - midnight
Sat: 7:00 a.m. - midnight
Sun: 7:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.

#1 -- good/adequate in that service goes to at least midnight, Monday through Saturday, but bad in that Sunday service is proposed to end at 10pm.

Proposal # 2
Mon-Thu: 5:00 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.
Fri: 5:00 a.m. - midnight
Sat: 7:00 a.m. - midnight
Sun: 7:00 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.

#2 -- is bad because it proposes ending Mon-Thursday and Sunday service before midnight.

Proposal # 3
Mon-Thu: 5:00 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.
Fri: 5:00 a.m. - 1:00 a.m.
Sat: 7:00 a.m. - 1:00 a.m.
Sun: 8:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.

#3 -- is better than adequate because it proposes ending Friday and Saturday night service at 1am, but it fails in that it proposes a one hour later start and a one hour earlier closure for Sundays.

Proposal # 4
Mon-Thu: 5:00 a.m. - midnight
Fri: 5:00 a.m. - 3:00 a.m.
Sat: 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 a.m.
Sun: Noon - 11:00 p.m.

#4 -- would be the best proposal if it didn't provide for significantly later start for weekend service, at 9am on Saturday, and noon on Sunday. However the proposal for service til 3am on Friday and Saturday is laudable. But it is also a negative that it is proposed to cut Sunday service to 11pm.

Fourth, the service schedules as proposed seem to indicate that WMATA/Metrorail is choosing to abdicate transit service vision in terms of providing the means for residents to adopt a sustainable mobility lifestyle with a foundation of high quality transit service throughout the day, complemented by walking, bicycling, bike sharing, car sharing, and delivery services.

Instead, the organization is focusing primarily on its role as a commuter transit service on weekdays.

The competitive advantage of Washington, DC specifically and the Washington Metropolitan area more generally as a place to live and to locate and conduct commerce and government activities is based on a rich transit infrastructure that allows for efficient conduct of trips that are time and cost effective.

This competitive advantage presupposes a transit service that provides frequent service for much of the day, comparable to systems in NYC and Chicago. Instead, the headways between Metrorail trains have significantly degraded, especially in the evenings and are to the point of deplorability on weekends.

In fact, because of the significant decline in frequency of service as well as various unplanned service interruptions, in this particular household, Metrorail is no longer our first choice for non-work trips. Instead, we choose one way car sharing as a matter of course, especially because the cost of a trip is equal or cheaper to the cost of two Metrorail fares WRT transit service during the week, my wife tends to prefer bus over Metrorail because of higher reliability, while I choose to cycle.

Fifth, related to point one that "WMATA has not provided a convincing argument for why it needs significantly more time to conduct maintenance operations when compared to peer transit systems," Metrorail's service quality degradation has long since destroyed the trust that once existed between the agency and riders in terms of faith in the system to operate well and with rider interests in mind.

The frequent service breakdowns, structural failures (e.g., the fire at L'Enfant Plaza which killed a rider, not just because of equipment failures but failures by Metro personnel including the Transit Police and the Rail Operations Center) and inadequate explanations by Metrorail personnel have cut the bind that once tied riders and operators together.

Since 2009 and the Fort Totten crash which killed nine people I have suggested* that it is necessary for WMATA to rebuild the metropolitan/regional consensus about the value of the transit system and its context WMATA also had this opportunity this year, on the occasion fo the 40th anniversary of the start of Metrorail service, but it has not done so.

Now that the inadequacies of WMATA's current system of finance have been laid bare in the face of increased financial demands for maintenance tied with other cost increases and a decline in fare revenue across the board, WMATA is finding it difficult to raise additional funds from the jurisdictions. Were the regional consensus rebuilt, WMATA would find that the necessity of changing the funding structure would be better understood and there would be greater support on the part of elected officials and residents for doing so.

(It could be argued that the Metro Forward process was an attempt to reconstruct the regional consensus was such an attempt, but I disagree because the proposals were satisficed significantly to ensure suburban support, and a path forward on new financing was not proposed.)

* See attached

Sixth, the discussions of cutting back late night service indicates the more general failure of WMATA to not have planned for a 24-hour transit network anyway in terms of providing network breadth, depth, and redundancy.

In the face of the proposed cutback on the hours of Metrorail service, the indicator of interest in creating a more formal night network as presented in the related planning documents is a step in the right direction but it is not a full blown proposal,

It appears to be inadequate to the overall need generally and in the face of the proposed cutbacks. Furthermore, the planning documents do not offer a commitment on the part of WMATA to undertake such service, only an indication to explore the need.

While the reality is that the TPB should be the primary and lead transit planner for metropolitan transit needs that is not the case in practice, and by default WMATA is that planning agency.

With regard to late night transit service, cities such as Chicago, San Francisco, and Toronto have long offered extensive night transit networks comprised of bus and/or streetcar service, either in addition to or as a substitute for heavy rail service.

In the present day, currently the San Francisco Bay region is working to better provide and coordinate late night service across jurisdictions, to the point where they have constructed an integrated transit map for late night service. This would be a better model for WMATA and riders than what has been currently offered.

The SF late night transit map is offered as Attachment 2 (posted here instead).


From "St. Louis regional transit planning initiative as a model for WMATA," November 2009.

The DC region needs to embark on a wide ranging metropolitan transit (re)planning public process to restore trust in and a common understanding of the WMATA transit system

After the accident in June, which killed 9 people and injured many others, and the continuing problems with safety, financial problems, lack of a regularized funding system, lack of appropriate regulatory oversight, not to mention problems with how the organization is led from the top (both the Board of Directors and top management), it seems reasonable to have a similar kind of regional transit planning exercise here.

Not only would this restore trust in the WMATA system in the DC region, by building a sense that WMATA is accountable to riders, it would also rebuild a regional understanding of what the system is capable of and how it should expand.

It has been 40+ years since the WMATA Metrorail system was first conceived and 33 years since parts of the system began opening. It's time for an assessment/reassessment.

This ought to be preferred over the grab bag of extension proposals in Virginia and Maryland (with little consideration of the impact on the current system) that the system faces currently.

WMATA only sees the world in terms of subway and bus. So the planning process needs to be broader and deeper, focused on transit generally, not just on WMATA operations as they are set up now.

At the same time, such a process should consider truly regional transit planning (which means including railroad service as an option), and the scope of the study should be broad, rather than overly-circumscribed and limited.

WMATA, in conjunction with the Transportation Planning Board of the MWCOG and the local jurisdictions, as well as MARC and VRE and other appropriate state authorities in Maryland and Virginia as well as DC, should launch a planning process similar to that of St. Louis, to come up with a metropolitan transportation plan that allows for transit services to be delivered where they need to be, but one that uses the most appropriate means (heavy rail, light rail, street car, passenger railroad, different types of bus service) to do so.

It should look at funding issues as well as heavy rail expansion where appropriate. That means not just extending transit service outward, but intensifying transit service at the core as well.

Such a planning process should also consider questions of leadership, management, and oversight. As well as funding.

It's the only way to build a truly regional understanding and commitment to transit for the Washington metropolitan region. Without such a planning process, I think we're destined for a lot more of the same incremental and discoordinated transportation planning that we have today.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

General Motors bus ad from 1968 promotes a type of bus rapid transit

I don't know much about the history of dedicated transitways in the United States.  In the days of streetcars and interurbans, the former were typically constructed within the street right of way while interurbans, at least in the suburban and exurban portions, tended to have dedicated right of way, as did traditional railroads.

It turns out that the 1950 DC Comprehensive Plan recommended the creation of a set of dedicated busways in the city, and in association with the creation of I-395 and HOV lanes, there was a busway network.

 According to a blog entry in the PlanIt Metro blog ("We had bus lanes a half century ago and we can again"), the network included streets in DC as well as Virginia, but starting in the early 1980s, for the most part these lanes were given over to cars.

DC busway map, 1976.

I was doing some image research over the weekend, and I came across this 1968 ad for the GMC Coach division, which manufactured buses until pretty recently.

It discusses their  work on a proposal in Southeast Wisconsin (which is part of Greater Chicago) for dedicated lanes for transit buses within the expressway system.  (GM sold off its bus division in 1987 to MCI/Motor Coach Industries.)

It's an illustration of my point in this blog entry that GM in fact did see itself as a transportation company, even if for the most part it was focused on vehicles that run on roadways rather than rails.

As most people in the field know, until recently, GM was one of the largest producers of locomotives in North America.  But in 2005 they sold off the company to private equity firms.  In 2010, Caterpillar Corporation purchased the company.

General Motors bus ad from 1968 promotes an early form of bus rapid transit

Perhaps if GM had also manufactured streetcars (like GE), GM wouldn't have been so focused on buses as their primary interest when it came to local transit programs, and wouldn't have been so interested in buying streetcar lines and shutting them down in favor of replacement by buses ("General Motors and the Demise of Streetcars," Transportation Quarterly, 1997).

This ad was pretty interesting and it made me realize that while we talk about bus rapid transit as deriving from the first BRT transit network in Curitiba, Brazil, created by Jaime Lerner in 1974 ("How Curitiba's BRT stations sparked a transport revolution," Guardian), the reality is that you can argue that BRT builds on the concept of transitway networks, including express bus service using freeways, and that transit malls are another kind of derivation of transitways.

-- Los Angeles conducted a study of "Express buses on freeways" in 1953.
-- Bus Facilities on Limited Access Highways, Guide for Geometric Design of Transit Facilities on Highways and Streets
-- Transit Mall Case Studies, San Francisco MTA
-- Pedestrian and Transit Malls Study, Center City Commission, Memphis
PORTLAND TRANSIT MALL: Urban Design Analysis & Vision, City of Portland
-- What is BRT?, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy

However, the importance of the innovations that Jaime Lerner introduced to bus transit service can't be understated.

The first was physical, a complete dedicated road network for the bus-based transit system. Relatedly, the system was based on the use of high capacity buses--first a one-section articulated bus, then a two-section bus capable of carrying 300 people

The second was operational, pre-payment, comparable to subway systems, which significantly reduces boarding time, because people don't have to pause to pay as they enter. Because of pre-payment, all doors can be used for entry, further reducing the time to board or exit (dwell time).

Curitiba’s 357 tube-shaped stations serve the city’s bus rapid transit system. Photograph: Rodolfo Buhrer/Fotoarena/Corbis.

The third is equally important, when the BRT station was introduced in 1991 it was of a startling, forward design.

High quality design of the vehicles and stations, and the graphic design surrounding and complementing these elements is another mark of distinction that Jaime Lerner introduced to bus-based transit systems, which traditionally had been pretty dowdy when it came to design.

Image from Transit Toronto.

Interestingly, it turns out that GM created some test versions of articulated bus designs but never put them into production, although 12 buses were tested in Toronto-area transit systems from 1982-1984.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, October 24, 2016

Ford Motor Company 1953 Documentary on the history of the automobile

1953 was the 50th anniversary of the start of the Ford Motor Company (which was the third try by Henry Ford as the first company dissolved, and he lost control of the second attempt, which became Cadillac).

They had a big promotional campaign with many dimensions, including advertising.

I am fond of this particular double page ad, which I came across about 10 or 11 years ago when I was doing image research.
"The street was never the same again," 1953-Ford-magazine-ad-, 50th anniversary, art by Norman Rockwell

They also did a documentary, focused on the value of cars especially for outside of the city, but within the city as well.  I didn't know about it, but over the weekend one of the CSPAN channels ran it.  Interesting, the title of the ad "The street was never the same again," was also a line used in the documentary.

The film mentions some of the points I make in my presentation about elements of the system that supports automobility such as maps, signs, and service stations and repair garages, and that it took a long time to build that system, and it will take a long time too, not necessary that long, to build a system equally robust in support of sustainable mobility.

Automobility as a system (slide)

But I realize that this slide needs to be accompanied by two more, one on the road system, although I talk about it during the presentation, and one about the many improvements in the technology of the car.

With regard to the latter, not unlike bicycles, when they were originally introduced, cyclists needed a fair amount of technical and physical prowess to be able to use them, the same was true with cars, especially before the electric starter.  But as the car's technology improved, more people were able to use them successfully, including, eventually, women.
firestone ad, 1927, safe tires make it possible for women to drive
Firestone ad, 1927

There were many ways in which the automobile and oil industries systematically constructed the system necessary to support the adoption of a transportation paradigm centered upon the motor vehicle.

Labels: , , ,

Choosing urbanized places vs. choosing DC as a place to locate significant headquarters business operations: Marriott and CoStar

This is more of an aside.  I've written a number of pieces about how corporations are moving from suburban locations back to the city.  One of the biggest examples of this is how GE is moving from Stamford, Connecticut to Boston.

But DC (and Philadelphia) seem to be immune to the trend.  I am not familiar with the dynamics in Philadelphia, but in DC it has to do most likely with high costs of commercial office space, coupled with high cost of housing and high prevailing salaries.

-- "Businesses moving back to the center: not a universal trend," 2015
-- "A lesson that seeing is believing: Panasonic's new building in Newark, NJ as an example, positive and negative, in businesses coming back to the city center," 2015
-- "Smart Growth America report on businesses moving back to center cities (and suburban core business districts)," 2015

Marriott, based in Montgomery County (but originally based in DC), is moving from a suburban disconnected office park location to Downtown Bethesda ("Marriott to move headquarters to downtown Bethesda with $62 Million in incentives," Washington Post), within a couple blocks of the Red Line Metrorail Station.

I don't know if DC tried to land them, but given that more than 60% of the firm's employees live in Montgomery County, getting them to move into DC was a stretch.

The firm received incentives about 20 years ago to stay in Maryland, but didn't earn the complete amount because it didn't grow its employee count.  Partly this was because the company sold off the hotels it actually owned to a related company, Host, which is now an REIT ("Host Marriott Plans to Become REIT, Purchase Luxury Hotels," 1998, Wall Street Journal).   This reduced its employee growth rate.

CoStar, a real estate information firm which received tax incentives to locate their corporate headquarters in DC in 2010 ("D.C. Council OKs $6.1M in tax breaks for CoStar Group," Washington Business Journal") announced that they will be locating their research division in Richmond, Virginia ("CoStar picks Richmond for major research center; hiring 730 people here," Richmond Times-Dispatch), likely because the cost of space and salaries are much lower than in the DMV. From the article:
"We want to provide our people with competitive compensation," said Andrew C. Florance, CEO and founder of CoStar, adding that most of the research and analytic jobs - the bulk of its operations - will pay in the $60,000 range. ...

"We are thrilled to be in Richmond and we look forward to being an engaged corporate citizen," Florance said. "This will be our single biggest operations and global research center."

The company started its search about a year ago, narrowing its list from 20 cities to Atlanta; Kansas City; Charlotte, N.C.; and Richmond. Factors under consideration were a high quality of life, culture, cost of living and a highly educated workforce. ...

The company is expected to infuse a quarter of a billion dollars into the Richmond economy over the next several years in leases, payroll taxes and capital expenditures.
DC needs to study why it seems to be exempt from the trend of corporations relocating to the city from the suburbs, which is particularly pronounced in Chicago ("Companies moving to Chicago from the suburbs," Chicago Tribune) although yes, CoStar moved its headquarters to DC from the suburbs, but rather than to continue to grow its business footprint in the city, it chose to locate in Richmond. Even so, CoStar is a rare example of a somewhat large firm locating in the city from the area suburbs.

It is another example, IMO, of how the height limit drives up the cost of office space (and housing) therefore encouraging businesses to locate outside of the city.

But note also the companies also use the relocation process as an element of rightsizing, moving "headquarters workers" Downtown, while keeping support staff in lower cost locations in the suburbs and elsewhere. This isn't a new phenomenon, and was pioneered by Wall Street firms in the 1980s, which began moving support staff to nearby locations in Brooklyn and Jersey City.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Mount Pleasant DC music walking tour tomorrow, Sunday October 23rd, 1:30 pm

From email, just rec'd it, apologies for the late posting:

Meet up with local historians Mara Cherkasky and Natalie Avery to learn about the musical history of Mt. Pleasant. The walking tour will begin at 14th and Irving St. NW (in front of the CVS) and end at the library.

-- Facebook page for the event
-- Learn about more DC Public Library Know Your Neighborhood programs happening this Fall.
-- Learn about more DC Punk Archive programs and events

Natalie Avery is a local activist who has always impressed me. She's been involved in many Mount Pleasant neighborhood organizing activities for a couple decades.

... at one Mount Pleasant neighborhood outdoor music event I attended a number of years ago, Ian MacKaye was the sound technician. How cool is that?

He did a presentation a few years ago that I unfortunately missed, on the importance of community social halls as a necessary element in supporting the development of the punk music genre in DC

Also see this past blog entry which discusses live music as an element of cultural planning.

Labels: , , , , ,

Seattle Times special feature on Sound Transit/Puget Sound transit tax referendum

One of 2016's major transportation stories is how the short extension of the Link light rail line in Seattle to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington has resulted in a doubling of light rail ridership there, from around 30,000 daily riders, to more than 60,000 daily riders.

It's proof that with the right conditions of density and in-demand destinations, transit service can be very effective.

This fall, Sound Transit has a big tax referendum, called Sound Transit 3 (ST3) on the ballot to continue the expansion of the transit system, primarily beyond Seattle.

The Seattle Times, not known for its support of tax referenda, has a nice graphically-oriented feature on the referendum, with a map of the system and the proposed extensions, information on cost and revenue sources, a listing of pros and cons (not particularly deep) and related articles.

-- ST3: What you'd pay, what you'd get, Seattle Times

The feature is a good model for how government agencies of all types--not just transit agencies--might want to up their game in terms of communicating about tax proposals, benefits, costs, etc.

Although Sound Transit has produced a very good website related to the referendum on their own.

-- Sound Transit 3 referendum webpage

Although were it produced by a government agency, rather than a newspaper, I'd also include live links to more information for each of the sections.  Which is what the ST3 website does do.

Labels: , ,

Friday, October 21, 2016

Update/revision of H Street transit oriented real estate development table

Streetcar on H StreetFlickr photo of the H Street streetcar by BeyondDC.

Originally in "DC and streetcars #4: from the standpoint of stoking real estate development, the line is incredibly successful and it isn't even in service yet, and now that development is extending eastward past 15th Street" and updated last month in "Update on the DC Streetcar program on the verge of launching Sunday service," I compiled a rough list of large residential real estate developments which in my estimation are the result of the investment in the H Street Streetcar program, a program that is widely derided across the city.

The original compilation was sparked by the report of a development on the 1700 block of Benning Road/H Street NE ("Developer hopes to extend 'attraction' of H Street NE to the east with 180-unit project," Washington Business Journal), well outside of the walkshed of Union Station, but at site that will be served by the new streetcar, 1.5 miles from the station.

But the original list is somewhat confusing in that it lists "all" H Street projects, even though I don't count the value of developments west of 6th Street as part of the total value of projects influenced by the streetcar. So there needs to be two lists.  And I didn't include a totals column within the table.

Below I have split out the original table into two.

Washington DC - Benning Rd. and Bladensburg Rd. NE - September 3, 2014  (8)Flickr photo of the H Street streetcar on the 1600 block of Benning Road NE by Kevin Mueller.

First is the list of properties developed because of their proximity to Union Station.

This list is due for an update because of the Pullman Place condominiums being constructed on the 900 block of 2nd Street NE, but also because of the announcement of a 112 unit apartment building to be constructed on three parcels at 315 H Street NE by MRP Realty and Kruger Real Estate, on property that they acquired from Telesis Corporation, which had planned a smaller project.

Note that the value estimate is understated some become it doesn't separate out the value of ground floor retail space as part of the development.  Nor does it ascribe a value to the economic activities of businesses located within that space.

New multiunit residential real estate development along the H Street corridor spurred by proximity to Union Station
Building name Address # of units Value
Stationhouse 701 2nd Street NE375 $165MM*
Senate Square 200 block north 476 $210MM*
Pullman Place DC 909 2nd Street NE 42 $14MM*
Capital City Realty 301 H Street NE 25 $9MM*
MRP/Kruger 315 H Street NE 112 $37MM*
360 Apartments 360 H Street NE 270 $120MM*
Ava 300 block I Street NE 140 $60MM*
Douglas Development 501 H Street 25$11MM*

Second is the list of properties east of 6th Street NE which can be attributed primarily to the streetcar.

New multiunit residential real estate development on the H Street-Benning Road corridor spurred by the development of the streetcar program
Building name Address # of units Value
Anthology Apartments 601-645 H Street NE 307 $135MM*
Apollo 600 H Street 430 $189MM
Rock Creek Realty 600 block north 32 $15MM*
H Street Connection 800 block south 368 $162MM*
Wall Development 1115 H Street NE 16 $6MM*
The Maryland 1350 Maryland Avenue NE84 $40MM*
TBD 1401 H Street NE34$15MM*
Atlas Flats 1600 Maryland Avenue NE 257 $36MM
Valor Development 1603 Benning Road NE 300 $100MM*
1701 H Street NE 1700 Benning Road NE 180 $60MM
Ditto Residential 1326 Florida Avenue NE 45 $13.5MM
Corey Condominiums 1350 Florida Avenue NE 43 $13MM
Havana Condominiums 1124 Florida Avenue NE 52 $15.6MM

* = the value of the project is an estimate, and the cost does not necessarily include the cost of land.  Figures may be rounded.

Note also that the original estimate for Atlas Flats failed to include the value of development rights on an abutting undeveloped parcel.  The property later sold for $95 million ("Kettler JV Scoops Up Flats at Atlas, Lot for $95M," Globe Street).

Rendering of the Anthology Apartments project showing a sleek streetcar in front of the building.

The Anthology Apartments development just sold ("Jair Lynch cashes out on H Street NE after landing an institutional buyer," Washington Business Journal).  The price was $160 million, which is $25 million higher than my estimate, which hopefully indicates these estimates are reasonably accurate, but probably under the market.

Similarly, I had accorded the value of the previous Telesis project, at 42 units much smaller than the replacement project as $12 million, yet the property alone sold to the MRP group for $9.5 million.

Transit oriented development as a result of the NoMA Metrorail station.  Note that in terms of valuing "transit oriented development" in the H Street neighborhood, a third table could be constructed, of properties developed or planned on the east side of the railyard, as a result of proximity to the NoMA Metrorail station.  IMO, the dividing line for such developments is K Street NE.  Properties south of K Street are in the H Street zone, and properties north of K Street are in the NoMA Metrorail station zone.

As an example, see "Trammell Crow subsidiary releases plans for massive NoMa project," and "Toll Brothers' D.C. march continues with the approval of Union Place," Washington Business Journal.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, October 20, 2016

If apartment buildings are "forced" to join Business Improvement Districts, there must be a way for residents to be represented on BID boards independent of property owners

I have written about this issue from time to time concerning the NoMA BID in DC ("NoMA revisited: business planning to develop community," 2011) as well as the Capitol Riverfront BID ("Integrating citizen residents into "business" improvement districts: Capital Riverfront district as an opportunity and example of the need for change," 2014).

Apparently, DC's laws concerning the creation of business improvement districts tend to be specific to each district.  Currently, the NoMA, Capitol Riverfront, and Mount Vernon Triangle BIDs can include apartment buildings as qualifying for assessment, while this is not the case for the Downtown DC BID.

When I raised this issue with the then planning director for the NoMA BID years ago, she seemed shocked at my assertion that residents might have different interests than the property owners renting to them, and that resident interests may not be adequately represented.

The Washington Business Journal reports ("Live, work, play — and pay: Downtown D.C. BID eyes levy for condos, apartments") that Central Business District Councilmember Jack Evans has introduced legislation that would make apartment buildings assessment payers, condominium buildings--owner occupied, not managed for renters--would have the option to join if they want to.

From the article:
Under the proposed legislation, introduced by Councilman Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, condominium boards could choose to join the BID but would not be required to. Condo associations would be charged $120 per unit per year. Some seem inclined to join and others will wait to make the decision, Bradley said. Forty percent of the BID's residential units are condos.

Apartment buildings, on the other hand, will be treated as commercial properties and automatically assessed by the BID. The BID has met with 80 percent of the owners of downtown apartment buildings and many have indicated that they support this, Bradley said.

Condo boards, obviously, would assess residents for the added costs. Apartment building owners could cover the cost themselves or factor them into resident fees.

“Our intention is to be as helpful as we can in promoting downtown living, residential living, and that will be something we’ll give special attention to,” Bradley said. “So they’re getting a service and a benefit from this.”
-- B21-0905: Downtown DC Business Improvement District Amendment Act of 2016, Proposed, DC City Council

According to the Downtown DC BID's annual report:
As of April 2016, Downtown is home to 35 market-rate residential properties – 15 apartment buildings (3,584 units) and 20 condominium buildings (2,428 units).
The Avalon at Gallery Place apartment building located in the Chinatown section of Downtown has 203 units.

The issue of including residential properties in assessment districts.  I don't have a problem with the creation of "community service districts" with residential members.

And the reality is that residents within the district are benefiting from the extra services provided by the BID, and it is reasonably for them to pay in towards those costs, just as commercial property owners do.

My only issue is ensuring that resident tenants have representation on the board independent of the property owner. And that resident owners, if part of condominiums, have representation as well.

While the law that authorizes the creation of BIDs lists residents as eligible for board membership, the law does not specify how each class of property shall be represented.  It is up to the BID and how it structures its laws of incorporation and bylaws on whether or not to include resident owners or resident tenants as board members.

Note that the Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District does have some residents on its board, while the NoMA and Capitol Riverfront BIDs do not.  But the resident members come from condominium properties.  Resident tenants on not represented on the MVTCID board.

Baltimore's Community Benefits Districts.  The Charles Village and Midtown "Community Benefits Districts" in Baltimore have had residential members--and single family houses at that--since their creation in the 1990s, although in the Charles Village district there has been a minority number of residents militantly opposed from the beginning.  Board membership is a mix, including residents, community organizations, commercial property owners, institutions, and representatives appointed by the Mayor and City Council.

-- "Benefits district" articles collection, Baltimore Sun

San Francisco.  San Francisco created Community Benefits Districts more than 10 years ago. While many are organized as business improvement districts exclusively representing commercial property owners, the legislation authorizes a variety of types of members, depending on the choices of the organizing groups.

More recently the city has created a new type of district called a "Green Benefit District" where residents can pay a supplemental assessment to support and maintain, parks, sidewalks, and public = and open space in their neighborhood.  Interestingly, the first GBD, for the Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill neighborhood, has three types of board members, "property owners," "tenants," and "green space advocates."

Conclusion:  Representation of residents is the issue, not whether or not residential buildings should be including in business/community improvement services districts.  As it is, I think independent residents should have membership on BID boards anyway, because by default, BIDs are the planners and managers of place and space that ultimately is publicly owned or of the public interest.

This is doubly the case for those BIDs that are "mixed use districts" incorporating residential properties, be they owner occupied or renter occupied.

Condominiums are owner occupied and BIDs with condominium properties as members endeavor to include representatives from that property category.

To ensure that residential tenants are represented on BID boards, BIDs should aim to have some board members be representatives from the apartment tenant category.  This is somewhat counter to the property orientation of representation that dominates BID boards now, but corrects a current defect in democracy as it relates to BID board leadership as it is generally structured.

Hearing.  The public hearing for the legislation is scheduled for Wednesday, November 16, 2016, 11:00 a.m., Room 120 - John A. Wilson Building/City Hall. "Those who wish to testify should contact Sarina Loy, Committee Assistant at (202) 724-8058 or, and provide your name, organizational affiliation (if any), and title with the organization by 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, November 15, 2016. Witnesses should bring 15 copies of their written testimony to the hearing."

Labels: , , , , , ,

Today Open House/Hearing on WMATA service changes

In "Plans for Metrorail contraction in the face of London Night Tube expansion" I mentioned today's hearing on service changes, which includes very gross-grained suggestions of how WMATA could offer overnight transit service.

Because a deficit is projected for next year, separately WMATA is considering a variety of changes including bus and subway service cuts, fare increases, and other measures for the FY2018 budget ("Can WMATA's death spiral be staunched").

Proposed changes to Metrorail operating ours, Docket B16-03

They are seeking input through a variety of methods, and have set a deadline of 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday October 25th to respond. Public feedback will be provided to Metro's Board of Directors in December 2016 as part of the final decision process.

-- Email written comments to

-- Provide feedback to staff in person at various Metrorail stations. Click for a list of dates, stations and times

-- Attend an open house on Thursday, October 20, 2016 (anytime between noon and 9:00 p.m.) and public hearing anytime between 12:30 and 10:00 p.m.) at Metro Headquarters, 600 5th St NW, Washington DC

The "death spiral" entry mentions that Maryland especially but the State of Virginia too may not be fully on-board in providing more funding to WMATA, seeing such funding as disproportionately benefiting DC at their expense, which may or may not be true.

In the comments on that piece, charlie pointed out that in calling WMATA as being in a death spiral, I failed to distinguish between the system falling apart, versus its dialing back to a commuter-focused service, as opposed to a transit service supporting a sustainable land use and transportation planning paradigm and lifestyle more generally.

(Note that Metrorail was created as a commuter focused service, that it helped promote urban revitalization in DC outside of Downtown was more of side benefit that had been acknowledged in the planning process--after all, that's why the routing for the Green Line was changed within DC--but wasn't a top priority for WMATA.)

On Monday, the Baltimore Sun ran a great editorial on the perilous state of transit funding in Maryland, both for Greater Baltimore and in the context of WMATA's current debacle and the need for more funds to get out its various crises, and how Gov. Hogan has been quoted as saying "why put in good money after bad" (paraprhase).

Inexplicable, the editorial is not available online in most any form (other than if you subscribe to pressreader), but I managed to make a jpg and have posted it below.

Baltimore Sun editorial, 10/17/2016, "Starving Maryland Transit"

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Creating a two-tier (part time vs. full time) salary structure for elected officials

Monday's Washington Post has an article, "Arlington County board chair floats trial balloon on pay raise for lawmakers," where the Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey suggests a significant salary raise for that county's elected officials, because the job, at least for her, is more than full time. From the article:
Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey (D) said she wants to discuss raising — and possibly doubling — pay for elected board members, because the job requires “more than full time” hours.

Garvey said in an interview that she would support “something on the order” of matching board pay more closely to the median family income in the county, which is $110,900. Board members are currently paid $51,480, and the chairman receives $56,629 per year; the board last raised its own pay in 2012.

“This is more than a full-time job, with more than one event practically every night, board meetings that go late into the night and weekend appearances,” said Garvey, who manages real estate part time and has become known on the board for questioning major capital spending.
In Arlington, two board members work full time on their jobs as elected officials, while the three other members have other jobs.

Arlington County's legislative branch officials make significantly less money for their work compared to most of their peers across the metropolitan area. According to the article:
Washington, which acts as both a city and state, pays full-time council members $134,852 per year; the council chair makes $190,000. Fairfax County, the biggest local government by population, pays its board chair $100,000 and board members $95,000. Montgomery County pays council members $128,519 and the council president about $141,000.

The city of Alexandria, with about 150,000 residents, pays its part-time council members $27,500 and its mayor $30,500.
In DC, technically Councilmember positions are part-time, even though they are paid very well, and some Councilmembers have outside income.  Outside income can be a significant problem, because it creates the potential for conflict over whose interests are being represented when voting--even if the Councilmember chooses not to vote on particular matters involving outside interests.

In the past, I have suggested reducing DC Councilmember salaries, because they are allowed to have outside employment, but instead of forcing members to either have other jobs or to work full time, why not offer a choice, with a significant difference in salaries, by creating a two tier salary structure, for "full-time" and "part-time" elected officials.

Elected officials choosing to continue with outside work should be paid the lower salary.  And unlike DC, the "part-time" salary should be set at a rate significantly lower than the amount, $134,852, that it is today.

Recommendation 1:  Create a two-tiered salary structure for DC's legislative branch.  Arlington should consider a similar action.

Recommendation 2:  For DC, set the part-time salary significantly lower than the current amount of $134,852.

Recommendation 3:  For both DC and Arlington, require elected officials to make a choice between taking a full time or part time salary, where those members choosing to take outside jobs are paid the lower salary.

State legislatures.   could be extended to State Legislatures as well.  Both Virginia and Maryland have part-time legislatures, which means they have "part-time" salaries too.  This means that they have other jobs, which is intended to keep them grounded in their communities.

At about $18,000/year, Virginia representatives make significantly less than Maryland representatives, who make about $43,500/year.

On the other hand, only certain kinds of jobs and levels of household wealth lend themselves to this kind of household income structure, likely meaning a significantly less diverse group of people serving as legislators, because many people won't choose to run, because they may not be able to work a second job, may prefer to work full time as a legislator, etc.

You could create a two tiered salary structure for such legislatures too, where people choosing to work full time as legislators could be paid more in salary than those with outside income.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Maybe the Purple Line light rail project in Suburban Maryland is a lot bigger deal than is recognized (It's our Crossrail)

-- "To build the Purple Line, perhaps Montgomery and Prince George's Counties will have to create a "Transportation Renewal District" and Development Authority," 2015
-- "Purple line planning in suburban Maryland as an opportunity to integrate place and people focused initiatives into delivery of new transit systems," 2014
-- "Quick follow up to the Purple Line piece about creating a Transportation Renewal District and selling bonds to fund equitable development," 2014
-- "Inner ring suburban community improvement," 2014

Granted the Purple Line light rail line that is being built in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties in Suburban Maryland isn't the full circumferential line proposed in a Washington City Paper cover story dating to December 1987.
Purple Line Map  DC Metro
For maximum benefit, the Purple Line needs to be extended westward from Bethesda to Fairfax County on the north and on the south westward from New Carrollton to National Harbor and Alexandria.  Currently, no such planning is underway.

Even though it is a much smaller project than two major suburban transit expansion projects in London and Paris:
  • Crossrail: a passenger rail program, much of it underground in new tunnels, with 73 miles of new track and 40 new stations, connecting a multitude of subway and rail lines across London and its suburbs, scheduled to be completed in 2019.  (Proposals for Crossrail 2 and Crossrail 3 are being floated also);
  • Grand Paris Express: this program will add four new subway lines and extend four others, providing suburb-to-suburb connections that don't current exist as well as better connections to the center city focused Metro and RER network of subway and commuter railroad service, simultaneously addng capacity to ease congestion on existing lines.  The project will add 125 miles of track and 72 stations.  It will open in stages, with completion expected in 2030.
By comparison the "initial" Purple Line will be just over 16 miles long with 17 new stations and four connections at existing Metrorail stations.  Construction will start later this year and the system is projected to open in 2022.

-- "Mapping the Purple Line," Washington Post

The line will connect the east (Bethesda) and west (Silver Spring) legs of the Red Line to the northern leg of the Green/Yellow Lines (College Park), and the eastern terminus of the Orange Line (New Carrollton), along with connections to each of MARC commuter rail's three lines: Brunswick (at Silver Spring); Camden (at College Park); and the Penn Line (at New Carrollton).
Purple Line routing and station map
Washington Post graphic.

It's not Crossrail or Grand Paris Express, but it's still a big deal--even though it won't be underground, is in mixed traffic, and will be slower.

It's a project that isn't given enough credit for its pathbreaking elements and opportunity to give a positive jump start to Metrorail given its current difficulties and will expand and connect the metropolitan transit network in significant ways.

It could even set the stage for some expansion of the MARC railroad passenger service ("One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example").

anti-transit headline, "What's the Point of the Purple Line," Washington Examiner, 7/24/2011While I am always sorry to lose a newspaper, the Washington Examiner free daily constantly took positions against transit expansion--car companies are much bigger local advertisers than transit systems.

Instead the line has been controversial for many reasons, too many to recount here.

With the extensions mentioned above, while light rail, the Purple Line could have comparable impacts to the Crossrail and Grand Paris Express projects, and the London Overground ("In the loop: How one railway line helped change the way Londoners commute," Economist).

Hopefully, as the Purple Line comes closer to reality it can spur proposals and planning for extension, comparable to how the Crossrail program is spawning similar proposals in other areas of Greater London.

-- Crossrail 2 | Supporting growth in the South east, Transport for London
-- "TfL takeover of London rail could be 'Crossrail 3' – Lord Adonis," Rail Technology Magazine

Similarly, RATP is improving the existing Paris transit system simultaneous with the Grand Paris Express program of expansion.

-- Métro 2030, our new Paris Metro, RATP

Adding intra-suburban service, even light rail, will boost Metrorail reliability.  Elsewhere ("Redundancy, engineered resilience, and subway systems: Metrorail failures will increase without adding capacity in the core") I wrote that the Purple Line can have a significantly positive impact on Metrorail system reliability, for some of the same reasons that Crossrail and GPE will provide similar benefits, by providing suburb-to-suburb connections and additional options to transfer between lines without having to travel to the center city.

Images from East MoCo blog of the promotional Purple Line informational signage posted at the Silver Spring Library, which will be one of the stations for the line.

You could argue that by adding riders to the current system, it could add stress because of the failure to add capacity to the core.

However, by providing a missing east-west connection between the subway lines outside of Downtown DC, likely the Purple Line will "add capacity" by providing four new transfer points between subway lines, facilitating transfer between lines without requiring riders to go all the way to Downtown DC to do so, as is required today.

As a light rail system, it isn't compatible with Metrorail, so the lines won't "interline" the way that the Orange, Blue, and Silver Lines and the Green and Yellow Lines share tracks.

And as light rail, it has less capacity, able to move about 15,000 riders/hour, versus 25,000+ on subway lines.  (Interlining reduces maximum capacity.  Only the Red Line, which doesn't interline, can exceed 30,000 riders/hour per track.)

This is a beneficial feature because interlining reduces the capacity of any one line and often leads to service problems replicating like a virus across lines.

By comparison, adding the Silver Line to the Metrorail system appears to have been "the straw that broke the camel's back" in terms of leading to multiple, regular, and cascading failures across the system.

Labels: , , , , ,

Can WMATA's death spiral be staunched?

GGW reports ("WMATA is up against a budget deficit. Today, it floated ideas for some very big, very difficult changes") on WMATA initial discussion of how to deal with a projected $275 million budget shortfall for FY2018 which will be on the agenda of Thursday's Finance and Administration Committee meeting.
WMATA farecard, The Future Is Riding On Metro
Is it the case that the Washington area's sustainable mobility future is no longer constructed with Metrorail and Metrobus as the foundation?

Options include fare increases of as much as 35%, shutting as many as 20 stations during non-commuting periods, eliminating poorly performing bus routes, personnel reductions, more appropriations from the local jurisdictions, and using FTA funds, among others.
Concept map for closing Metrorail stations outside of commuting periods
Concept map for closing Metrorail stations outside of commuting periods.

Lately, Metrorail operations resemble the train wreck that is the Trump presidential campaign.

Both seemingly have daily reports of new failures each more incredible than the day before.

I wrote over the weekend about WMATA's desire for permanent cutbacks in Metrorail's hours of operation and the contrast with London's roll out of 24-hour weekend service ("Plans for Metrorail contraction in the face of London Underground's service expansion"), and mentioned both FTA's report about failures in execution by Metrorail in their maintenance repair program and the decline in trust in WMATA's capacity to operate the system and how they communicate to riders.

That followed two pieces last week about Metrorail's falling ridership ("Why Metrorail ridership is down" and "Re: why Metrorail ridership is declining").  The latter piece reported on a study of the effects of a two-day work stoppage with the London Underground, which found that as a result of the forced change, 5% of riders changed their commuting routine.

Then, on Monday Metrorail had to go to single tracking on the Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines on Monday because of defects in fasteners used to tie down tracks meant that one track had to be taken out of service--during rush hour.

And now the proposals to deal with next year's projected deficit call for making much of the system unusable outside of commuting hours and even more expensive--when Metrorail is the second most expensive "subway" system in the US (after BART in the San Francisco Bay, but that system, even more than Metrorail, functions like a commuter railroad).

In the GGW comments, many people write about how they chose to live in the DC area because of the once functioning transit system and how it enabled mobility without having to be dependent on automobility.

Those days are behind us, unless you are fortunate enough to live in the core, where transit service and other sustainable mobility choices (walking, biking, car share) are supported by density and tight connections between residential areas and employment centers.

This is especially poignant because I argue that DC's success as a place to live and locate business is dependent on the city's transit network and is a primary source of the city's competitive advantage vis a vis other locations in the metropolitan area.

Metrorail's failures create an economic development crisis for DC, one that it is difficult to dig out from, especially because the States of Virginia and Maryland aren't inclined to go out of their way "to help DC." (For example, it can be argued that plans to toll I-66 are in part designed to encourage businesses to relocate from DC to Northern Virginia, and Maryland's current mobility agenda isn't particularly inclined in favor of transit.)

Can a crisis be an opportunity for improvement?  Frankly, while I agree with Rahm Emanuel that opportunities present in crisis shouldn't be wasted, the reality is that exigency and crises are terrible times to bring about positive change.  Much of the time, elected officials especially, when faced with bad choices, make worse choices.  Rather than rise to the occasion, they stoop towards it and often stumble.

Reconstructing the region's consensus about the value of transit and sustainable mobility.  I still argue as I did in 2009 ("St. Louis regional transit planning process as a model for what needs to be done in the DC Metropolitan region") and 2014 ("WMATA 40th anniversary in 2016 as an opportunity for assessment") that it is necessary to update and reconstruct the metropolitan-regional consensus about what transit and sustainable mobility are supposed to look like, today and in the future, and somehow to communicate that today's constant and repetitive failures don't have to be routine and expected outcomes.

But despite the honesty in the assessment of Metrorail's problems in the documents prepared for tomorrow's meeting:
After 15 years of consistent growth, total rail ridership peaked in 2009. It held relatively strong in the aftermath of the recession (2010-2012), and then declined in 2013-2015 due to combination of external factors (federal spending pullback, telework, alternative modes, transit benefit instability, lower gasoline prices) and internal factors (weekend trackwork, relatively high rail fares, service quality). Ridership then declined further in FY2016 as a result of poor service quality and high profile disruptions and safety incidents, as riders turned to increasingly available alternatives. Ridership so far in FY2017 is down even further, primarily as a result of closures and service interruptions due to the SafeTrack initiative.

The variability in bus ridership has been different. Bus declined more during and immediately after the recession but had fully recovered by FY2014, with strong ridership on the major Priority Corridor Network routes (especially mid-city and along Columbia Pike, etc.) and relatively weak ridership on lower frequency routes. Ridership was flat in FY2015 but then dropped in FY2016. Some of the decline appears to be a 'spillover' from the rail reliability challenges, as many riders use Metrobus to access rail. Declines in ridership on other local bus providers (e.g., Fairfax Connector, Montgomery County
Ride-On, etc.) are also occurring, indicating broader, region-wide challenges.
I am not confident that the capacity to bring this about is present within WMATA or the region's elected officials and stakeholders ("Getting WMATA out of crisis: a continuation of a multi-year problem that keeps getting worse, not better" and "What it will take to get WMATA out of crisis continued and 2016's 40th anniversary of WMATA as an opportunity to rebuild," 2015).

NYC's transit system was once in similar straits.  Today's decline is reversible.  The NYC subway system came back after being pushed to a similar level of failure in the 1970s, but the NYC region has more capacity for leadership than is typical of the DMV.

Although the polycentric nature of the system here doesn't help ("Redundancy, engineered resilience, and subway systems: Metrorail failures will increase without adding capacity in the core") but the Purple Line, ironically, seems as if it can strengthen the core subway system by providing east-west connections that don't exist currently and reducing the need to travel to the core to transfer between lines.

Can WMATA be fixed?  It needs world class leaders.  Right now, the only way I can see change maybe happening is having WMATA hire multiple people from the world's best transit systems: London Underground; Paris Metro; HVV in Hamburg; Tokyo; etc., and rebuilding the organization from top to bottom.

While normally NYC Transit would be a good place to hire from, and we should, the situation is so dire that maybe "foreigners" are the only way to bring about a reset (although note, London Underground's reset came about by hiring from NYC Transit).

A better structure.  It'd help to create an HVV-like set up here, with a strong transit planning regime separate from the transit agency.

A transit withholding tax for funding.  And a transit withholding employment tax like in France (versement transport), Tri-Met and the Lane Transit District in Oregon, and in New York State.

Also paid by the Federal Government.  With an agreement by the Federal Government to pay this tax on the part of federal employees

Service is too bad to justify raising fares. Finally, as long as service and reliability is so bad, the system has no business raising fares, at least for Metrorail.

Will Virginia and Maryland invest more in Metrorail when they see DC benefiting disproportionately?  Whether or not Virginia and Maryland will join in with DC and increase "subsidy-appropriations" to the system so that it can get through its current crisis and budget gap is an open question.

Labels: , , , , , , ,