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.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Will buses ever be cool? Boston versus the Raleigh-Durham's GoTransit Model

"Will buses ever be cool?" is the title of an article in the Boston Globe, which discusses the Better Buses campaign of Boston's Livable Streets Alliance, a sustainable mobility advocacy group.  From the article:
Stacy Thompson wants buses to be cool. It might seem like a long shot, but she’s not alone.

Public transportation advocates have long lobbied the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority for better bus service, with varied success. Now, they’re trying another approach: giving the humble bus an image makeover in hopes of boosting its popularity and, perhaps, its perceived status.

“Buses are not the second-class citizens of the transit system,” said Thompson, executive director of Livable Streets Alliance, a local transportation advocacy group. “They can be awesome, and they should be fun.”

The alliance launched a “Better Buses Week” initiative in the fall with a session called “Making Buses Sexy,” and the Barr Foundation in the coming weeks will encourage people to share photographs from buses in a social media campaign called “Beauty and the Bus.”
I have many posts on this topic, dating to 2005, and a too comprehensive post on this topic, "Making bus service sexy and more equitable," dating to 2012,.

DSC_0996wLondon bus, Flickr photo by Clive Brown.

The basic concept is to disruptively rebrand bus service by using a different kind of bus, complemented by a wide variety of other upgrades to the service and amenities package surrounding bus service.

Because of the popularity of the double deck bus in London, and throughout the UK, I figure the best way to do this is to shift to the double deck bus.

(In North America such buses are used by tourist transit services and a few transit agencies.  Ottawa, Ontario has the largest fleet of double deck buses in traditional transit service.)

Later I suggested given anti-transit, I mean anti-streetcar people say we don't need streetcars, just better bus service, that we should truly test a high quality bus service, using double deck buses versus streetcar service, to see if making bus service great, which includes:
  • double deck buses
  • a great design scheme
  • high quality shelters and stations
  • great marketing and wayfinding information
  • reliable and frequent enough service
  • that is efficient in getting people to their destination
would get the same kind of ridership bump that typically is associated with streetcars ("The need for a double decker bus vs. streetcar comparison study").

I like how the buses in the Brighton & Hove system are branded with the route of the bus.
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In DC, it would be relatively easy to shift to double deck buses, because for the most part, utility wires and traffic signal infrastructure doesn't go across the roads--except on side streets. Although there would be a problem accommodating such vehicles in bus garages.

It would be harder in the suburbs because their utility wire and traffic signal infrastructure is different.

Bus rapid transit positioning as the model.  One of the ways bus rapid transit systems aim to reposition their service vis-a-vis traditional bus service is through design, design forward shelter and station infrastructure, marketing, wayfinding materials, and fast, frequent service.

Building a better bus, graphic
Wall Street Journal graphic.

But why should we limit such "amenities" to premium bus service?

In most places, traditional bus service, as a legacy system, is in dire need of a reboot.

Metroway bus stop, Arlington County, Virginia.  Flickr photo by BeyondDC.
27th & Crystal station

Raleigh-Durham and GoTransit.  For years I have argued transit/transportation planning in the DC metropolitan area is sub-optimal, that we don't really plan at that scale, that by default WMATA (Metrorail and Metrobus) is the planner, and for the most part, network breadth and frequency of service is satisficed in favor of year-to-year vagaries of the annual budget.

-- "Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning presentation
-- "Route 7 BRT proposal communicates the reality that the DC area doesn't adequately conduct transportation planning at the metropolitan-scale"

In September, I came across an article about the rebanding of transit in Cary, North Carolina ("Cary's Buses Switching Names, Offering Free Rides," Cary Citizen) which clued me into the fact that this rebranding is part of a larger effort.

Across the Research Triangle region, the transit agencies there--Triangle Transit provides service across jurisdictions, while the major jurisdictions (Raleigh, Cary, Chapel Hill) each have intra-city transit services also--have been developing an integrated form of collaborative service delivery for over a decade.

So I sought out and interviewed David Eatman, the transit administrator for the City of Raleigh, who was kind enough to speak to me at length about the transit program there.

The level of transit service integration includes:

- coordinated schedules
- one single call center 485-RIDE (in DC, each transit agency has its own set up/phone number to provide information), as well as an integrated mobile product that includes information f.  rom all the transit agencies
- a common fare media product
- a regional transit pass charging one price for use of all or any of the transit services (the DC area does have a regional bus pass, but it is not well marketed; it's easier for Baltimore to do this because they do not have multiple agencies providing services and information, whereas in the DC area at least nine different agencies provide bus service)
- joint purchasing
- transportation demand management services across jurisdictions (in the DC area, the MPO provides some services across jurisdictions and in Baltimore, and individual agencies, especially Arlington County, deliver additional programs)

And more recently:

- the introduction of a common brand, GoTransit, with a common design scheme, differentiated by assigning different primary colors to each agencies.  Thus far, only the Chapel Hill Transit agency hasn't shifted to the GoTransit brand.  Each agency is sub-branded, such as Go Cary for the Cary system, Go Raleigh, and Go Triangle, for the regional transit agency, Triangle Transit.

This integration process has been going on for a long time and has been a three-stage process.

The area is covered by two different transit planning organizations (metropolitan planning organizations sanctioned by the US DOT) and 12 municipalities.

There had been interest in reducing costs, so integrating the services had been studied beginning in the 1990s.  That was the regional study and consolidation consideration phase.

The  decision was made not to consolidate, but to go forward together, by collaborating and coordinating to an extremely high degree, but on a voluntary basis. This hinged on an unwillingness to give up unique identities, while recognizing the reality of being part of a larger region.

The analogy many people used was of the college sports teams.  The schools have individual identities, but at the same time are part of a strong conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference.  People can be proud of both their school and team as well as the history and prominence of the ACC as a coordinating league.

The third stage is unified branding and further development of the services.  One reason that they moved to a common design and brand is that citizens were sometimes confused about differently branded buses seemingly serving the same areas, and believed, incorrectly, that the services were inefficient and wasting money.  The agencies also were in favor of a stronger visual identity, and a forward and colorful design.

The area is looking to build a light rail line, and in November citizens voted in favor of a regional sales tax for transit.

The "GoTransit" brand has been extended across the services provided by the agencies, although most of the services provided at the metropolitan scale are performed by Triangle Transit.  GoLive is the integrated transit information app which includes transit information for university-bus services as well as the regional transit service from Greensboro.
transit%20ambassador
GoSmart is the brand for transportation demand management.  The GoPass is the discounted/free transit pass offered to students and staff by universities and to employees by participating employers.. GoTogether is the marketing campaign promoting sustainable mobility and transit use, while GoAmbassador is the sub-brand for their transit volunteer program.

In short, transit service coordination and branding in the Raleigh-Durham region is a model example of best practice, demonstrating that multiple agencies can build and deliver better and seamless services to riders by working together.

Systems with multiple modes like in the DC area (train, subway, various forms of bus, streetcar; in Boston, ferry service and light rail too) might argue that it's easier to integrate in Raleigh-Durham because thus far, they only provide bus services.

But judging by how bus service in London is provided by multiple operators under the London Transport "brand," or how transport associations in Germany's metropolitan areas coordinate service delivery across multiple modes and communities, I don't think that operation of multiple modes is a significant barrier to service integration.  Also see "One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example."

Common transit infrastructure design.  I doubt though, that the transit agencies in the Triangle area of North Carolina have settled on a single model for bus shelters and stations.  That is an issue in the DC area too.

I have discussed elements of this in terms of transportation infrastructure as an element of civic architecture, making these points:

1. Transit infrastructure brands transit
2. Transit stops and stations are key marketing touchpoints
3. Transit stops and stations should better integrate within neighborhoods
4. Transit stops and stations should, when practical, interpret and present transportation-transit history
5. Transit vehicles can be an element of city/urban design and branding
6. Transit vehicles can be an element of transit marketing

Because DC is a large city by comparison, there is interest on the part of large advertising companies like Clear Channel (which has the contract), JCDecaux, Cemusa, and others to provide transit shelters in return for being able to place and sell advertising on the structures.

In 2005, DC signed a long term contract with Clear Channel, and the city has upgraded the shelters across the city.  Meanwhile, the other jurisdictions, and WMATA have different standards, shelters, etc.  Some are better than others.

DC's old bus shelters are comparable to the shelters still used today at Metrorail stations
Luxury bus stop

Current DC bus shelter
DC bus shelter

Montgomery County Maryland bus shelter, Wikipedia photo
Montgomery County Maryland bus shelter, Laytonia_-2008_03_17_-_EB_Bus_Shelter

It would be optimal to build a common transit shelter system at the metropolitan scale so that "surface transit" would read the same way across the metropolitan area, regardless of what city or county you're in.  Much of the analysis in my recent review of the new Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center is relevant to this general point.

This also came up in Arlington, where citizens revolted against what they thought was an overly expensive program for new bus shelters ("Arlington County's bus shelters and a public realm framework of quality").

MBTA Silver Line bus station.  Photo by Steve Pinkus.  One problem I have with these shelters is that they are open to the elements, which is no fun in bad weather.  The stations typically include kiosks with route maps and sometimes interpretation boards on cultural history.
Bus shelter, Silver Line, Boston

Conclusion.  Boston doesn't have the same issue of polyglot and discoordinated branding and services that is the case in DC which has a separate service for most of the separate jurisdictions.
By contrast, like in Baltimore, all of the transit services are provided by one agency, the MBTA.  The problem is that bus service is a legacy service and in desperate need of a reboot--and its branding lags the train and subway services.

MBTA did that kind of reboot with their Silver Line bus rapid transit service ("Silver Line: 10 years of history, changes," Boston Globe, and "The Silver Line Expansion Is a Rare Bright Spot for the MBTA," Boston Magazine; Boston Silver Line Washington Street Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Demonstration Project Evaluation, FTA), but those ideas haven't migrated to regular bus service.

That's the kind of quantum change that needs to be considered by most transit agencies.

The Raleigh-Durham model of coordination is one that is relevant to transit agencies and metropolitan areas whether or not they have one transit agency or several.

The learning is that riders hanker for a seamless service and that agencies can change and reposition legacy services to do this, if they are willing and committed to doing so.

Recommendations

1.  If there are multiple agencies: coordinate and collaborate.
2.  Develop and implement a common branding system.
3.  Develop and implement a common system of transit infrastructure.
4.  If it is a single (but legacy) system: rethink; reboot; reposition; rebrand

Boston's newer transit stations incorporate some design thinking that is quite forward, but as a whole the system hasn't been rebranded. Image by the SubwayNut. The tagline reads: "America's first subway and the best way to get around Boston."

For other elements of a high quality surface bus network, see "Is making surface transit free the best transit investment DC can make?."

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Sub/urban land use and political development: Bethesda and Montgomery County, Maryland

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Some past blog entries relevant to Bethesda area development include:

1. The recommendation to create a broader transportation management district rather than a "parking district": "Parking districts vs. transportation/urban management districts: Part one, Bethesda."

2.  The need to think about transportation between DC and Montgomery and Frederick Counties in terms of corridor management: "Transportation network service interruptions part 3: corridor/commute shed management for Northwest DC and Montgomery County, Maryland."

3.  and discussions about the Purple Line, suggesting that planning for extending the line west into Northern Virginia should already be underway.
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Washington Post graphic.

Bethesda has been in the news because some residents are objecting to the update of the area's "sector plan," which calls for additional development ("In downtown Bethesda, residents and county debate whether more height is right," Washington Post).

Interestingly, the additional developable space created by the plan is assigned to the district generally, not to individual parcels, which allows for creating amenities and community benefits in more directed ways than is typical of development processes that are led by the private sector, which ultimately owns and develops the properties. According to the article:
The plan places new emphasis on design and environmental sustainability and would require property owners to pay for parks and affordable housing to get permission to build bigger and taller — up to 29 stories along the neighborhood’s central artery.

The hope is that the downtown Bethesda of 2035 will truly be greener, more walkable and architecturally striking. In other words, a significant change.

Under the new plan, all additional density, 4.6 million square feet, would go into a central pool.

To tap into it for their projects, property owners would have to pay a $10-per-square-foot “park impact” fee that would finance the acquisition of new green space. They also would be required to set aside 15 percent of all new apartments as affordable or workforce housing (instead of the usual 12.5 percent) — meaning that prices would be within reach of families making between 60 and 120 percent of the area’s median income, in a neighborhood where new apartments rent for an average of $2,750 a month.
According to one opponent ("The half-baked Bethesda plan," Post):
Developers want to go forward because they expect to generate considerable income from young professionals eager to move somewhere close to the District on the Red Line, with many bars and restaurants. And Montgomery County planners are eager because they anticipate a tax revenue windfall. They also argue, with some justification, that if there is to be development in Montgomery County, it’s better that it be in areas dense with public transport than out in, say, Germantown where cars are the main mode of transport.

But there is one major problem with these plans: They would bring more people (with more cars and more children) to a location where the public schools are already bursting at the seams and where drivers experience daily a kind of traffic Armageddon during rush hour on the Wisconsin Avenue corridor, affecting local residents and D.C. commuters alike.
-- A counter op-ed, "A half-baked critique of the Bethesda plan," Post

Rendering of new Marriott Corporation headquarters, flanked by a new Marriott Hotel.

And just today, Marriott announced they will be moving their headquarters to a site within a couple blocks of the Bethesda Metro Station, moving from a car-centric location in the I-270 corridor ("The search is over for Marriott International's new headquarters. The winner is...," Washington Business Journal).  

This is in-line with companies moving headquarter operations to more transit-friendly locations, like how a couple years back, Choice Hotels moved from a completely car-centric location on Colesville Road in distant "Silver Spring" to a site within the Rockville Town Center development, adjacent to subway service.

The Washington area is not immune to the trend of of the decline in value of automobile-centric suburban commercial properties as location preferences change ("Office bust hits suburban Washington DC: metro area awash in vacant buildings," Building Design & Construction).

What some people call a corporate "back to the city movement" is really more subtle, as it is a move from car-centric locations to transit/walkable locations that aren't necessarily in cities.

Counties too are intensifying, and in fact the long-time Bethesda Row development was an early example of this (Bethesda Row, ULI Case Studies), whereas now in both Montgomery County (White Flint) and Fairfax County, Virginia (Tysons), large swathes of what had been islands of suburban development are being reproduced into more town-like urban design configurations marked by connectedness.

Resources on Suburban Revitalization

-- Build a Better Burb
-- Classic Towns (Greater Philadelphia}
-- First Suburbs Consortium (OH-revitalization)< -- Michigan Suburbs Alliance
-- The Next Frontier: Retrofitting Suburban Commercial Strips
--Putting the Urban in Suburban: Art and Business of Placemaking
-- The Quest to Confront Suburban Decline: Political Realities and Lessons
-- Reinventing Suburban Business Districts
-- Reinventing America's Suburban Strips
-- Revitalizing Distressed Older Suburbs
-- Revitalizing Suburban Downtown Retail Districts

It is this intensification that Bethesda residents are objecting to, because it conflicts with their understanding of what the suburban land use development paradigm means, and admittedly, because at the edge of the commercial district, some residents will be more directly affected by the changes (tall buildings looming over low scale residential housing).

On the other hand, given today's economic circumstances, in the 21st Century, not the 1940s and 1950s, suburbs have to change in order to remain relevant  ("The suburbs aren't dead, but they do need to change") and financially sustainable ("The real lesson from Flint, Michigan is about municipal finance"), which is something that many residents aren't attuned to nor willing to consider.

To its credit, Montgomery County government has realized the need to change, which is why they had hired a planning change agent, Rollin Stanley, to lead the County's Planning agency and the update of the county's Master Plan (Tall Talker: Rollin Stanley, Montgomery County’s new planning director, has a big personality and big ideas. Both are rubbing some people the wrong way," Bethesda Magazine).  He did that, ruffled a lot of egos, got the plan changed, and then moved on to Calgary.

(Similarly, the creation of the Silver Line in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties isn't so much about providing rail service to Dulles Airport as it is about repositioning those areas for 21st Century development paradigms.  See "Short term vs. long term thinking: transit, the Washington Examiner, Fairfax/Loudoun Counties vs. DC<" and "Silver line reshaping commercial office market in Fairfax County.")

But as I say, a plan isn't an end, it's a beginning, and there remains a lack of consensus amongst Montgomery County residents about how to go about "reproducing space" in the context of the "new" Master Plan.

The Brady Bunch
This house in Suburban Los Angeles stood in for exterior shots for "The Brady Bunch" television show.

The general intent of the plan is to shift mobility towards sustainable modes away from automobile dependence, although the message doesn't always get through to either the Montgomery County Department of Transportation or the Maryland State Highway Administration, and to intensify land use in areas with high capacity transit.

A complementary initiative is the County's plan to create a wide-scale bus rapid transit system ("Bus rapid transit taking shape in Montgomery Co.," WTOP Radio) and to embrace the east-west Purple Line light rail line.

Incorporation as a city as a strategy to ward off change.  Some of the objecting residents have called for incorporating Bethesda as an independent city ("Bethesda Residents Weigh Merits of Incorporating as a City," Bethesda Magazne") which they believe would give them more control over land use policy within the incorporated area.

But this is unlikely for two reasons.  First, the County Council has to sanction a vote by the residents.

Second, the County Government would retain control over land use and transportation policy within the area, unless the City of Bethesda is able to get home rule legislation passed by the State Legislature, which is now vested within the county.

Parallel to the creation in the 1920s of what became the federal National Capital Planning Commission in DC, Maryland created a similar planning and building regulation system in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, to encourage congruence between "national city" planning goals in the City of Washington and the two suburban counties that abut it.  The county governments, not sub-jurisdictions, control planning and building regulations.

Levittown House, 1948Levittown, NY, 1948.  

It's unlikely that Bethesda residents could muster enough support to change that law, even if they passed the initial hurdle of being able to vote on incorporation, and then were successful in getting people to vote in favor--let alone all the difficult work of creating a new governmental body.

Interestingly, while there are many examples of cities and counties merging over the past couple decades, there is also the trend of deconsolidation or the creation of separate cities or school districts such as in Suburban Atlanta ("Suburbs secede from Atlanta," WND.com) or Memphis ("One county, seven districts: Vying for students as Shelby County Schools de-merges," Chalkbeat), where the city and county school districts merged a few years ago, are about maintaining "white control" of local government.  Fortunately, that's not what's going on in Bethesda.

County government as a structure separate from cities.  I am from Michigan, where for the most part, cities and to some extent townships, are the primary form of local government, supplanting counties, which mostly focus on social service matters (hospitals, public health, sometimes roads).

Bethesda is the major west county activity center that is town-like in design and practice, whereas much of the development paradigm is otherwise focused on automobile-centric development. Photo: Bethesda Magazine.

When I moved to DC in the late 1980s, I was surprised at how "around here," counties are dominant form of government and that in Maryland especially, there are large conurbations that function like cities, but aren't incorporated as such.

In Montgomery County, Bethesda and Silver Spring are the primary examples, although incorporated cities and towns (e.g., Rockville, Takoma Park, Chevy Chase) do exist elsewhere in the county.

Similarly, for the most part, in this area public schools are organized at the county scale, rather than according to the boundaries of cities and townships as is the case in Michigan.  For example, Oakland County, Michigan, which is about twice as large as Montgomery County, has 28 separate local school districts while there is only one school district in MoCo.  (In Northern Virginia, school districts are organized at the county scale, with a couple of exceptions, such as separate school districts in Falls Church in Fairfax County and Manassas City and Manassas Park in Prince William County.)

While I do understand the value of local control over land use and transportation policy, to be effective and substantive, increasingly such matters need to be addressed at larger scales, and with changes in the financial capacities and demands on local governments, smaller units of government are becoming less sustainable.

That's why I do advocate for, such as in Baltimore, the merger of cities and counties ("Opinion: What Baltimore and D.C. can do to start working better together as a region (Baltimore Business Journal op-ed).

Hennepin County and Minneapolis, Minnesota.  In doing some research on parks planning, I found fascinating a journal article about Hennepin County's Community Works initiative.

The program launched in the early 1990s and invested in parks, trails, and open space in Minneapolis as an economic development and stabilization strategy ("A County and Its Cities: the Impact of Hennepin Community Works," Journal of Urban Affairs, 30:3, 2008).

Because Hennepin County relies on property tax revenues for the bulk of its annual income and because Minneapolis comprises a disproportionate share of the county's tax base, the County Government was alarmed over the economic deterioration of the city.

The county found that except for neighborhoods around parks and lakes, the city's property tax base was rapidly declining in value.  As the property assessments declined, so did the amount of money collected in property taxes.

As a matter of risk management, the County realized they needed to to step in and invest in urban economic revitalization in order to reverse the downward trajectory of property values within the city.

Initially, they focused on the expansion of parks, open space, and trails development, and later the program incorporated the development of light rail transit service as a way to further build value in the core of the metropolitan area.

Conclusion.  Were Bethesda to incorporate and win home rule control over land use policy and practice and to adopt an anti-growth approach, likely this major economic center would start to decline in terms of its centrality, while also negatively impacting the county's revenue picture.

A need to explain and educate citizens about "how things work" today.  Like how in DC I argue that the city government has been ineffective in laying out the economic and quality of life arguments that favor selective intensification ("Zoning redo in Miami: and 21st century planning and zoning in DC" and "DC and the zoning rewrite and the approach not taken" and "The Takoma Metro Development Proposal and its illustration of gaps in planning and participation processes"), Montgomery County may have the same issue.

Montgomery County is known for particularly thorough and time consuming planning processes and sometimes the amount of time required to go through the process militates against innovation and taking advantage of opportunities as they are presented because those concepts "aren't in the plan." Nonetheless, despite the complaints, it is robust and transparent process.

Even so, that isn't enough.   Montgomery County needs to invest more time and energy in educating citizens about the economic constraints faced by the polity and how selective intensification, the addition of new transit services, and other steps can help their community become more successful and resilient, and relevant in 21st Century, and that the conditions these choices are made in are fundamentally different from the Postwar period in which all the trends favored simple choices promoting growth of any kind, rather than better choices and optimality.

Also see "The tension between planning a community's future and the present is much more complicated."

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Seattle to not continue forward with bike share

The city had already decided to junk its current system, called Pronto ("Seattle's launch of bike share and four interesting elements"), but they were planning to replace it with a system comparable to that just launched in Baltimore by Bewegen.  Instead they will be reprogramming the money to other bicycle and pedestrian projects ("Seattle’s Mayor Murray kills city-run bike-share program," Seattle Times).

This event is a good illustration of my point that "The problem when you define every outcome as a success, you don't learn, and therefore failure is more likely: bike share in Seattle and Los Angeles as examples" (also see ""Bike share and sustainable bike share systems: sometimes other programs can have more effect for less cost").

In reading some of the stories about the declining state of the NHS in the UK, they refer to the practice of "always being positive as "manifestation" ("Ministers can't silence NHS concerns because people can see it unravelling," Guardian).

From the article:
Believe hard enough, and you can get what you want. Or at any rate that’s the theory behind the fashionable cult of manifestation, as championed by Oprah; focus on your heart’s desire, tell yourself you’re going to get it, and it’s amazing what positive thinking can achieve. Only now this form of secular prayer seems to be catching on in Downing Street too.

This week Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, became the latest civil servant accused of failing to believe. He is said to be regarded by some within No 10 as “unenthusiastic”, insufficiently on board perhaps with thrilling efforts to solve the NHS crisis by claiming there isn’t one. Think positive, man! Best foot forward! Like Ivan Rogers, the departing ambassador to the EU said to be too gloomy about Brexit, apparently Stevens just needs to jolly well buck his ideas up.
Manifestation is not in my nature.

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Monday, January 09, 2017

Fawning coverage of DC school "reform" doesn't push better practice forward

DC's Schools Chancellor, Kaya Henderson, left her position at the end of September.  The Post, in articles and an editorial hailed her great accomplishments, although they are arguable, and never came close to fulfilling the measurable promises first made by Michelle Rhee to her foundation overlords -- Guy Brandenburg's series of articles evaluating Rhee's promises found a pass rate of 1.5 on 62 items ("Did Michelle Rhee Actually Close Those Achievement Gaps").

The Washington City Paper has a particularly blistering article, "Left Behind: How Kaya Henderson Failed At-Risk DCPS Students," assessing the Henderson era, as Kaya Henderson missed most of her goals on improving educational outcomes for children from low-income households.
... A 40/40 school is among the 40 lowest performing schools in the District. When she announced her plan, Henderson said her second-highest priority—“invest in struggling schools”—was to increase proficiency rates in those schools by 40 percentage points by the end of the current school year. Initially, DCPS defined “proficiency” according to the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS), designed to test mastery of English, math, and science according to local “content standards,” but it abandoned that metric after the 2013-2014 school year.

Schools designated as 40/40 schools have certain traits in common: They mostly reside in parts of the city plagued by high crime, high unemployment, high rates of disease and mortality, and high numbers of single-mother households. More than half are elementary schools, which experts agree is the educational stage that is most critical to any future prospects for success in academics—or life. ...

As Kaya Henderson departs DCPS, the schools are nowhere close to the goal she set, with marginal or inconsistent gains in some schools, stagnation in some, and losses in others, according to a City Paper review of DCPS performance data. DCPS, after four years, still lists 10 of the 40/40 elementary schools as “priority” schools, meaning they still need “intense support to address low performance of all students” and require “special quality monitoring and professional development.” Six are labeled “focus” schools, meaning they need “targeted support to address large achievement gaps,” according to the DCPS website. Just five are considered to be either “rising” or “developing.”

Which is not surprising, given that investment in 40/40 schools has ranged from non-existent to inequitable to compromised, according to DCPS funding data, proficiency scores, budget experts, and education watchdogs.
Meanwhile, the charter schools continue to grow their enrollment, and probably only the existence of Pre-K education for 3 to 5 year olds helps to keep DCPS enrollment figures up ("Report: Charter Enrollment Outpacing Traditional Public School System," Washington City Paper; "DC Public Schools See Seventh Consecutive Year of Increased Enrollment," Georgetown Hoya).

The resignation of Kaya Henderson offered the city and its media an opportunity to take stock, to compare DC's "reform" efforts to other cities, to gauge the impact of the charter schools on the traditional school system, to look in-depth at specific initiatives, and even to compare DC to other best practice K-12 efforts in the area (Arlington County, Montgomery County).

Outside of the City Paper article and some e-list discussion, such a review did not occur, even to how the Mayor inadequately followed the law on selecting a chancellor that was passed as part of shifting authority of the school system over to the Mayor from an elected school board ("Antwan Wilson confirmed as chancellor of DC Public Schools," Post).

Review: Lots of Pain, Minimal Gain. Perhaps the biggest problem in "reforming" K-12 education has to do with asking and answering the wrong questions ("Missing the most fundamental point about urban educational reform).

And ideology in terms of an anti-government or neoliberalism agenda that promotes charter schools, private schools and vouchers, or home schooling ("Mitt Romney: Trump has made a smart choice for education secretary," Washington Post) over what anti-government types are now calling, pejoratively,"government schools"

Although we must concede that school systems become bureaucratic and lose focus on what matters. Teacher's unions often end up focusing on maximizing pay. And too often personnel decisions can be particularly arbitrary--I know plenty of good teachers who got screwed by vindictive principals or other school administrators.

A failure to focus on the need for different types of resources.  But comparably to how I argue that the problem with a disinvested property is lack of investment and the solution to disinvestment is not demolition but investment, the problems around teaching low income children aren't solved by forcing students to spend lots of time studying for and taking tests or to fire the teachers, but are solved by providing additional, focused and the "right" resources necessary to address economic and other gaps that make it much harder for children from such households to succeed.

I used to get furious in how Michelle Rhee was allowed to shift the argument from resources to teacher blaming, when just about any successful charter school is successful because they have more resources in terms of special programs, more instruction time, etc. For example, the Harlem Children's Zone model ("The Harlem Project," New York Times).

But rather than argue for more targeted resources and innovative programs for children and schools in need along the lines discussed in various past blog entries ("Powerful story of how Bristol Virginia elementary school deals with extremely impoverished students," "Creating cultures of excellence in schooling," "International Baccalaureate program at an impoverished high school in Seattle as a way to improve academic outcomes," "Back to school as a reason to consider schools issues comprehensively"), the focus in DC was on tests and demonizing "bad teaching" (and failing to acknowledge that "bad teachers" were produced by the system, and that therefore, the system has some responsibility for dealing with that, rather than tossing people out.

Community Schools model as an alternative. A model for delivering an actual program for the "40/40" schools is the Community Schools concept, which is not new and pre-dates programs like the Harlem Children's Zone. It's about bringing to impoverished schools a wide variety of additional types of resources. 

Austin, Texas is one place where the Community Schools model has been shown to be particularly successful ("Years Into Austin’s Community Schools Experiment, National Policy Catches Up," Texas Observer).

The initiative came at the instigation of the advocacy group, Austin Voices for Education and Youth.

According to the report, Community Schools: Transforming Struggling Schools into Thriving Schools, two previously failing schools, Webb Middle School and Reagan High School are succeeding.
From 2010 to 2015, Webb went from the lowest-performing middle school in Austin ISD, based on its test scores, to one of its best. Its enrollment has grown 55 percent, and fewer students are leaving the school mid-year. Reagan’s enrollment has more than doubled and its graduation rate has improved from 48 percent to 85 percent.
The Observer says the report:
lauds Webb and Reagan’s discipline policies built on restorative justice, early college partnerships, daycare programs and mobile clinics for student mothers, new mental health and trauma support programs, on-campus English classes for parents, and new band, orchestra and dance troupes.
It's not that DCPS hasn't implemented bits and pieces of these kinds of programs here and there across the system.  But they haven't developed and implemented a comprehensive program.

And the Webb and Reagan schools are demographically comparable to the many school buildings that DCPS closed in Wards 7 and 8 ("Rethinking community planning around maintaining neighborhood civic assets and anchors").

What has prevented development of comparable stories of success in DC is a complete failure to develop, fund, and implement a real plan for improvement--asking and answering the right questions instead of the wrong ones.

And it's not apparent that anything will change with the new regime.

==============
Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 (the mayoral takeover legislation).

Sec. 105. Chancellor; appointment; duties.

(a) The DCPS shall be administered by a Chancellor, who shall be appointed pursuant

to section 2(a) of the Confirmation Act of 1978, effective March 3, 1979 (D.C. Law 2-142; D.C. Official Code § 1-523.01(a)), and in accordance with subsection (b) of this section. The Chancellor shall:

(1) Be the chief executive officer of DCPS;
(2) Be qualified by experience and training for the position; and
(3) Serve at the pleasure of the Mayor.

(b)(1) Prior to the selection of a nominee for Chancellor, the Mayor shall:

(A) Establish a review panel of teachers, including representatives of the Washington Teachers Union, parents, and students ("panel") to aid the Mayor in his or her selection of Chancellor;

(B) Provide the resumes and other pertinent information pertaining to the individuals under consideration, if any, to the panel; and

(C) Convene a meeting of the panel to hear the opinions and recommendations of the panel.

(2) The Mayor shall consider the opinions and recommendations of the panel in making his or her nomination and shall give great weight to any recommendation of the Washington Teachers Union.

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A great example of the market at work: making a business in restoring blighted properties/curing nuisances (Philadelphia)

Many times I have written about how the State of Ohio has a strong receivership statute which allows nonprofits to take over properties that are "notorious" nuisances, "cure" the nuisance, and get awarded ownership of the property, which they subsequently sell.

The Cleveland Restoration Society has acted under that statute to fix properties and preserve their historic character, and then to sell them to property owners committed to maintaining the property ("Housing receivership to cure nuisance properties").

Pennsylvania has a similar law, called Act 135 ("Pennsylvania passes receivership law").  In Philadelphia, two people have created a business of curing nuisances and fixing properties on behalf of nonprofits ("These guys are Philadelphia's professional Blightbusters," Philadelphia Inquirer).

From the article
Operating under the more-corporate-sounding Scioli Turco Inc., they have mastered the ins and outs of an obscure state law called Act 135 that enables nonprofits to take control of blighted properties, fix them up, and sell them ("Philly nonprofit finds way to reverse blighted properties," Philadelphia City Paper). The owner gets the proceeds, minus the cost of repairs and Scioli Turco’s expenses.

It sounds almost too easy, yet Scioli Turco’s successes with Act 135 promise an alternative to the usual, slow-moving approach to attacking Philadelphia’s blight problem.

Scioli Turco is the brainchild of two Bella Vista activists, Joel Palmer, a retired pharmaceutical salesman, and Jeffrey Goldman, a database analyst. Frustrated by a long-vacant VFW post in their neighborhood, they asked the courts in 2011 to appoint them as the building’s conservators under the Act 135 rules.

Using their own money and loans, they put in $100,000 to stabilize the building. After selling it for almost three times that amount, Palmer said, they realized “the process was scalable” and decided to form a nonprofit to pursue other eyesores. ...

Since then, Scioli Turco has rescued 50 problem properties, not just in Bella Vista, but around the city.
Seems like a pretty creative and proactive method for revitalizing neighborhoods and addressing persistent problems.

-- Implementation and Best Practices Manual, Pennsylvania’s Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act, Regional Housing Legal Services
-- Using Conservatorship to Reclaim Properties: Case Studies

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Saturday, January 07, 2017

Great concept, but I don't love the videos: Orlando's "Discover Your Urban" promotion campaign

A very early blog post of mine (late in December I passed 10,000 entries, although some are reprints, and others mostly just a photo, but even so it represents a body of work of many millions of words) from February 2005 is "Town-City branding or 'We are all destination managers now'," where I make the point that those of us in commercial district revitalization, urban revitalization, tourism development, cultural planning, economic development, etc., are "brand managers" for our communities.

Later I extended this idea in a couple commercial district revitalization framework plans I did for two small communities, Brunswick, Georgia and Cambridge, Maryland, where I wrote:
Just as the study team believes that “we are all destination managers now,” elected and appointed officials in particular and in association with other community stakeholders serve as a community’s “brand managers”—whether or not they choose to think of their roles in this manner.

That means that decision-making on land use and zoning, business issues, infrastructure development (roads, sewers, water, utilities, transit), technology (broadband Internet, etc.) and quality of place factors (arts, culture, historic preservation and heritage, education, public schools and libraries, etc.) must be consistent and focused on making the right decisions, the decisions that collectively achieve and support the realization of the community’s desired vision and positioning.
Richmond Virginia probably has one of the best branding frameworks in the country. Years ago I came across a "design identity system book" for Richmond, produced by the art and design program at Virginia Commonwealth University.  See "Can The Old South Rebrand Itself? Richmond Tries, With A Dynamic New Logo," Fast Company, and "Sticking it to Richmond: the origin and future of the RVA sticker," RVANews, although recognize that a "logo" is only one element of a brand.

-- RVA Creates

And if you work with campaigns, or sign onto campaigns, it's not unusual for an identity system to be in place, with constraints on how you can use logos and other identification elements.

Were DC to develop the concept of brand management for the city, such a document would have to be produced. (This isn't the Richmond branding guide I found--which is buried somewhere in my files or piles of stuff that need to be filed--but it's comparable.)

I came across the "Discover Your Urban" campaign from the Downtown Orlando organization and while I think the execution in videos is too wacky for my tastes--featuring players from the town's hockey team, I guess because "snow-related sports" would be the last thing that comes to your mind when thinking about Orlando, Florida--the tagline is super strong as are the print-based materials.

According to Jen Hiatt, the chief designer and Graphics Supervisor for the City of Orlando's Office of Communications when the campaign was originally developed:
This work was done in conjunction with the Downtown Development Board marketing team during my tenure at the City, most notably Kelly Allen, the Downtown Orlando Marketing Coordinator. While I developed the creative concepts and design for the campaign, I cannot take credit for all the hard work invested by others on the concept, tagline, content, advertising/marketing plans, photography and award-winning videography.
What I find very interesting is how as Graphics Supervisor, Ms. Hiatt acted as a "brand manager" for the city within the position and the Office of Communications & Neighborhood Relations. According to Ms. Hiatt's resume:
Daily responsibilities included developing overarching vision for the City’s brand and marketing initiatives; designing marketing collateral for the City’s initiatives, programs and events while coordinating with City departments, including the Office of the Mayor, on marketing initiatives and brand development. Also assists with digital branding, including website conception and design.
I find that conceptualization of the "job" as graphics supervisor very interesting.

For all the talk of cities and reformulating how they approach information technology, innovation, and data (e.g., in Boston "Walsh appoints Haverhill native as city's first chief data officer," Boston Globe; "Chief Innovation Officers in State and Local Government," Government Technology), cities need to be reconceptualizing how they think about, implement, and execute their communications program, using the design method and process--managing the city's brand and "brand promise," but through the lens of authenticity, not merely "selling." (Note that no brand manager would ever say that they are focused merely on selling.)



-- Orlando, Free Time, video
-- While Staying Downtown, video

What strikes me about the RVA logotype is how versatile it is in so many different applications.  I am not particularly enamored with the DC Cool campaign, see "I don't get DC's visitor marketing ad campaign at all, for the same reason I don't like the Downtown Orlando videos, because neither the DC ads nor the Orlando ones accurately captures either city's identity and authenticity--and note I came across the Orlando ad on tv, during a rebroadcast of the Citrus Bowl Parade.

It might be just that I am a fuddy-duddy, having written a couple years ago ("Area Tourism Development") about the Pure Michigan campaign and Visit Fairfax video, which I think does a good job of capturing the variety of elements that characterize Fairfax County, although it's not quite so punchy as a 30-second ad.

Many states have strong marketing and tourism development programs.  Ones that stick out besides Pure Michigan ("State: Pure Michigan campaign prompted 4.6 million trips in 2015," Crain's Detroit Business) are Utah's Life Elevated ("Utah chooses slogan: 'Life elevated'," Adweek) and the Love New York state marketing program ("'I Love New York' Campaign, 30 Years Old, Gets Web Push," New York Times).
.


Still, these campaigns remind me the importance of reiterating a couple of my thoughts about graphic design, the design process, and urban planning, that:

(1) I have argued that cities need a "Graphic Design" element in their master plans

-- Design as city branding: transit edition
-- City (and university) branding: brand deposits; brand withdrawals; brand destruction
-- Georgetown: A subtle but important difference between branding and identity-positioning--- Identity ≠ branding or Authenticity is the basis of identity
-- The taxi livery debacle as a lead in to a broader discussion of the importance of "design" to DC's "brand promise
-- Illustration of government and design thinking: Boston's City Hall to Go truck
-- (DC) Neighborhoods and commercial districts as brands

(2) the design method may be superior to the "rational planning methodology" for planning but also for thinking about how to deliver public services

-- Social Marketing the Arlington (and Tower Hamlets and Baltimore" way
-- All the talk of e-government, digital government, and open source government is really about employing the design method
-- Best practice bicycle planning for suburban settings using the "action planning" method
-- A DC [Government agency] example of branded communications

I have come across a couple of planning firms that use the design method and process in their approach to planning projects, including Arnett Muldrow.

(3) I haven't gotten around to writing about the opportunity for universities in creating "graphic design studios" comparable to the community planning and architecture design studios that typically exist, such as the Nashville Civic Design Center or the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative program by Kent State University, to work with community programs on communications and design matters.

-- Graphic design, advocacy, and social marketing

One example of a program that does that kind of work is Artists for Humanity in Boston, and depending on the term, some of the design studios at MICA in Baltimore.

-- Boston Hubway Bike share program expands presence in Roxbury neighborhood: insights into transportation equity
-- Engaged civic planning efforts

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Friday, January 06, 2017

Biggest transportation stories of 2016

It's hard for me to stay on top of this, both locally and nationally.  Locally, it is so depressing that a transit system has to decline so precipitously before the political will can be mustered to fix things--although it's not clear yet that the will has been mustered for the DC area and its heavy rail transit system, WMATA/Metrorail.

Dr. Gridlock at the Washington Post ("2016’s top 10 transportation stories: good and bad, plus a lot of ugly") says these are the top 10 stories of the year.

1. Bad Metro.
2. Good Metro.
3. Opening of the DC Streetcar.
4. Sudden snow the afternoon of January 20th, paralyzing the evening commute.
5. Transportation project scoring systems introduced in Virginia and Maryland. (Gov. Hogan in Maryland is not supportive.)
6. I-66 widening/tolls.
7. Virginia's "Atlantic Gateway" project, which will invest in rail and highway expansion in the I-95/DC to Richmond corridor ("What to expect from Virginia's Atlantic Gateway projects").
8. Nuclear Security Summit didn't contribute to gridlock.
9. Beach Drive closing.

Here's my list, separated into local and national. At some point the order becomes arbitrary. What did I miss?

Local

1.  The continued service failures of WMATA. Dr. Gridlock's second most important story is WMATA's improvements.  I'm not there yet, seeing such.

A DC board member's call to not connect the Silver Line extension to the system because "Virginia won't approve a sales tax for WMATA" is grandstanding of the highest order and not helpful.  Then again, DC Councilman and chair of the board Jack Evans' call for the Federal Government to take WMATA over is equally unhelpful--imagine Mitch McConnell in charge of the "local" transit system--hmm, sounds like England, where the national government calls most of the shots.

I don't think there is the political will, not to mention vision and leadership, to pull off the necessary improvements.  Although they are piping music into Gallery Place ("Love the Christmas tunes at Gallery Place? Music may soon come to other Metro stops," Post).

And the agency sure needs a personnel overall in terms of operations and maintenance ("Nearly half of Metro track inspectors disciplined over falsified reports," WTOP Radio).

2.  Virginia's plan to extend HOT lanes to I-395 and I-66 and to toll the road within the Beltway at all times.  HOT lanes promote single occupancy vehicle trips and that isn't good from a sustainable mobility standpoint.  But tolling within the Beltway is interesting (not unlike Toronto's call to toll its two freeways, "How John Tory went from calling tolls 'highway robbery' to crusading for them," Toronto Star).  Whether or not there will be transit and bicycle and pedestrian improvements in association with the project, only time will tell.  (The HOT lane extension and other improvements on I-95 are part of the "Atlantic Gateway" initiative.)

3.  Signing the Purple Line agreement/picking the concessionaire to build and run it, and the Court Case which says that construction should be delayed pending a new EIA ("Transit Agencies Say Metro's Woes Won't Impact Purple Line," Bethesda Magazine).  I argue that the Purple Line will help improve the reliability of the Metrorail system, by allow east-west transfers between subway lines, rather than requiring a trip to the center city ("More on Redundancy, engineered resilience, and subway systems: Metrorail failures will increase without adding capacity in the core").

4. WMATA's cutback on service hours.  This was pushed by GM Paul Weidefeld, to increase the amount of time for maintenance--but peer systems in major systems have about the same time as the current schedule.  In response, WMATA offered a weak expansion of late night bus service ("Metro has a bare-bones plan for late-night buses, but will the board go along"  and "Metrorail is a mess. Can we at least have reliable buses?," Washington Post. The Post says we must take the hit ("Cutting Metro's late-night hours is a hardship we must endure").

5.  The DC streetcar finally opened, although the line is too short to have much transportation impact, but it sure is having impact on real estate development, and on that basis, has already paid for itself ("Update/revision of H Street transit oriented real estate development table"). The failures in opening it have made it much harder to make arguments in favor of expansions to rail transit. I'm sure it is in the minds of people when it comes to the Purple Line.

6.  DC agrees to seek funds to repair the Memorial Bridge in conjunction with the National Park Service ("Park Service makes deadline to apply for Memorial Bridge funds," Post). The DC area is a cross cut of separate jurisdictions.  Because technically, DC extends to the edge of the bank on the "Virginia" side of the Potomac River, Virginia has no financial obligation to fund bridges that cross the Potomac and connect to the city.

This is further complicated by the fact that some of those bridges are under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, like the Memorial Bridge.  Because the Bridge mostly serves commuters, NPS shouldn't be financially responsible for it.  But that's an argument for another day.

7.  Beach Drive closings/WMATA closings indicate the failure to adopt cross-jurisdictional "corridor management" approaches ("Transportation infrastructure interruptions as a missed opportunity for improving transportation demand management programming" and "Transportation network service interruptions part 3: corridor/commute shed management for Northwest DC and Montgomery County, Maryland").

8.  Car2Go service privileges between DC and Arlington.  Car2Go one-way carsharing was introduced into DC a few years ago, and to Arlington a couple years ago.  But users couldn't travel between jurisdictions on a one-way trip.  Now we can.

Now if National Airport would allow Car2Go vehicles to park there.  They've opened a lot for "For Hire" vehicles including Uber, why not carsharing?

9.  A plan to rebuild the Nice Bridge.  Like the DC-Virginia bridge issue, similarly, Maryland controls the Potomac River where the state borders Virginia.  That means that the Nice Bridge on US 301 is Maryland's responsibility ("Hogan plans $765 million replacement of Nice Bridge in Southern Maryland," Baltimore Sun), not Virginia's. Ouch.

I don't think 2015's rollback of Maryland's toll prices was judicious given long term demands for replacement and improvement ("Governor Hogan Rolls Back Tolls Statewide – Saving Marylanders $54 million a year," State of Maryland press release).

Collab-18-Anacostia10.  East side Anacostia Trail network is completed, linking trail networks in DC and Prince George's and Montgomery County,  Late November's opening of a long segment of the trail between Benning Road and Maryland enables trips from DC to Greenbelt and various points in Montgomery County, providing a viable commuting route to and from the city for many ("New segment of Anacostia Riverwalk Trail expands the region's trail network," Post), linking 60 miles of trails.

Although there are issues in terms of facilities integration and trail width, the basic wayfinding signage system is great.  And it makes it so much easier to explore the east side of the city by bike.

11.  Virginia Beach votes against extending light rail to their city; the state ceases planning and funding activities for the project ("Virginia Beach light rail referendum vote fails in a landslide," Norfolk Virginian-Pilot; "State stops funding for Virginia Beach light rail project," WAVY-TV).  One of the problems with rail projects taking so long and having so many review and other requirements is that it creates many opportunities for scuttling the project.  That's especially the case in communities with limited experience with transit.

Although as we have seen with opposition to the Purple Line light rail and streetcars in Arlington County, Virginia and DC itself, such opposition is not limited to places with limited experience with transit (shockingly).

National

1. The Election.  It empowers the Republicans who now fully control both houses of Congress and the Presidency.  It's important to distinguish between Congress and "the President."  Congress makes the laws.  Not Trump.

Congressional Republicans aren't big on mobility options other than the automobile, aren't into increasing the federal gasoline excise tax, don't want to fund transit, really don't want to fund biking and walking, etc.  At least the major proponent of rail privatization, John Mica, didn't get reelected.  But that's small consolation.  The Republican campaign agenda was not friendly to transit or cities ("Transport Politic's definitive piece on the Republican and Democratic Party platform positions on infrastructure").

2.  President-elect Trump talks about infrastructure.  To my way of thinking, what he proposes is a wacky concept, putting the onus on the private sector to lead the process, giving them huge tax breaks for providing financing, and ultimately, ownership of the asset, which completely redefines the concept of "public goods" ("Trump's big infrastructure plan? It's a trap," Post). From the article:
First, Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports, as did Hillary Clinton’s 2016 infrastructure proposal. Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects. These projects (such as electrical grid modernization or energy pipeline expansion) might already be planned or even underway. There’s no requirement that the tax breaks be used for incremental or otherwise expanded construction efforts; they could all go just to fatten the pockets of investors in previously planned projects.

Moreover, as others have noted, desperately needed infrastructure projects that are not attractive to private investors — municipal water-system overhauls, repairs of existing roads, replacement of bridges that do not charge tolls — get no help from Trump’s plan. And contractors? Well, they get a “10 percent pretax profit margin,” according to the plan. Combined with Trump’s sweeping business tax break, this would represent a stunning $85 billion after-tax profit for contractors — underwritten by the taxpayers.
But because the Republican Congress isn't big on funding investments in much of anything, I can't see this program ending up equal to the hype, especially because such projects take so long to come to fruition, even if Trump were to be re-elected, most of the projects would not be realized until after his second term of office.


Twitter photo.

3. Gasoline shortages in the South and East.  A pipeline break cut supply to many markets. Something similar happened last year, as a result of a refinery fire.

These experiences demonstrate the dependence of the transportation system on automobiles and gasoline, as did Superstorm Sandy, which led to delays in resupplying gas stations.

From the Montgomery Advertiser story, "Alabama pipeline leak: What we know so far about the spill, gas shortages and more:
The gasoline he was smelling came from Colonial Pipeline's Line 1, an underground pipeline three feet in diameter that normally pushes 1.3 million barrels of gasoline per day from refineries in Houston to distribution centers across the Southeast and along the eastern seaboard.

That 36-inch line, built in 1963, has been estimated to supply the east coast of the United States with up to 40 percent of its gasoline supply. Colonial Pipeline initiated a shutdown of Line 1 within 20 minutes of receiving the report about a potential leak.

That section of pipeline remains closed. Eight days later, official estimates climbed to 336,000 gallons of lost gasoline. More than 700 people were working around the clock to dig up the pipe, plug the leak, clean up the old mining property south of Birmingham and restore supply.
Sustainable mobility is a far more resilient foundation for transportation.

4.  Gas prices remain "low."  The glut of oil on world markets keeps prices comparatively low, stoking car sales, especially of bigger cars, and puts a brake on significant increases in transit ridership.  It also makes electric cars, at least in markets without high gasoline excise taxes, less competitive with gasoline fueled cars.  Nonetheless, many analysts believe that electric cars will overtake the industry ("Oil groups 'threatened' by electric cars" and "Diesel faces global crash as electric cars shine," Financial Times).

Still this has fueled high auto sales, mostly of SUVs and light trucks, but analysts believe the industry has hit its high point ("Americans bought more cars than ever last year: in 2017 things could get bumpy," Post).

This doesn't quite rate a separate item, but consumers waste billions of dollars per year buying premium grade gasoline to fuel cars with engines not built for higher octane ("U.S. Drivers Waste $2.1 Billion Annually on Premium Gasoline" American Automobile Association ).

Even so, rather than agree to gas tax increases, for a time New Jersey Governor Chris Christie let the gas tax funding system shut down ("As roads crumble, Christie treats his job like a sporting diversion," Newark Star-Ledger).

And he got the elimination of the state estate tax in return.

5.  Driverless technologies.  They might not have worked out so well for Joshua Brown ("Tesla driver dies in first fatal crash while using autopilot mode," Guardian"), but this topic is all the rage.  Too many threads and articles to count.  My own take is it will take decades to re/build the road network to integrate the necessary "intelligent transportation systems" required for cars to operate on their own.

It could work sooner on limited access freeways.  And that's where it's likely to be pushed forward, especially with trucks--not just because of the labor cost of truck drivers, but because of the difficulties in finding qualified drivers to begin with ("Self-driving truck makes first trip — a 120-mile beer run," USA Today; "Robots could replace 1.7 million American truckers in the next decade," Los Angeles Times; "Daimler's Freightliner Tests Self-Driving Truck in Nevada," Bloomberg).

But instead all the punditry is focused on the impact of the driverless car "on cities" and presumes huge benefits.  I think it will result in some benefits. Although an article I read recently says that it will cost billions of dollars to set up streets to be able to accommodate driverless technology, money local and state governments don't have.

But the reality is that promoting single occupant vehicle trips isn't necessary a benefit to the capacity of the road network, even if it will result in a significant reduction in crashes. Driverless cars can can induce more trips, not fewer, even if it reduces the amount of land and building space devoted to car storage, a/k/a parking.  Finally, some attention is being paid to this reality ("Self-Driving Cars: A Coming Congestion Disaster?," Human Transit).

From a transit standpoint, driverless buses and shuttles could enable what I call tertiary or intra-neighborhood transit between home and commercial districts, transit stations, grocery stores, schools, etc., because it would reduce the labor cost of providing such a service.  Labor costs are usually what doom such programs.

6.  Ride Hailing.  Remember when Uber said drivers could make thousands of dollars per week, prevaricating about the reality that most people who drive taxis do it because they can't find other better paying work, so it's always a race to the bottom?  I've gotten a couple marketing letters from the firm, stating I could make $140/day driving on the weekend.  That's before gasoline and other expenses.

Anyway, Lyft is having a hard time raising money.  Uber continues to experiment with other forms of delivery (which won't likely have much upside except in a couple markets) and driverless technologies so they won't have to worry about pesky drivers.  There were some high profile regulatory matters.  A vote earlier in the year by residents in Austin, Texas requiring that ride hailing driver get fingerprint checks led Uber to drop out of that market.

Transit agencies have also been working with ride hailing companies on services at the outskirts of service areas, although this is merely a form of shared taxi service ("Intra-neighborhood tertiary transit service revisited").

Meanwhile there has been good writing out there about the anti-government, anti-public good nature of Uber and its business model, such as the article series in Naked Capitalism.

-- Can Uber Ever Deliver? Part One – Understanding Uber’s Bleak Operating Economics
-- Can Uber Ever Deliver? Part Two: Understanding Uber’s Uncompetitive Costs
-- Can Uber Ever Deliver? Part Three: Understanding False Claims About Uber's Innovation and Competitive Advantages
-- Can Uber Ever Deliver? Part Four: Understanding That Unregulated Monopoly Was Always Uber’s Central Objective
-- Part Five: answering reader questions

From the second article:
85% of Taxi Costs Are the Direct Costs of Vehicles, Fuel and Drivers

There are four major components of urban car service costs: driver compensation (take home pay plus the benefit costs they must cover), fuel and fees directly related to passenger service (credit card fees, airport access fees, tolls, cell phone charges), vehicle ownership and maintenance, and corporate overhead and profit (including dispatching and branding/marketing).
7.  Transit expansions in other cities like Seattle and Los Angeles to high in demand places results in significant increases in use.  Interesting about LA is that the weekend ridership increases are greater than during the week.

I think that's because the area is so decentralized, it's hard to capture significant numbers of work trips except over long periods of time as people make job choice and residential location decisions with an eye on transit connectivity.

Amazingly, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune ("Why weekend ridership is up on Gold, Expo line trains"), 25% or more trips to Rams football games are on transit.  They say it's because of the high cost of parking.  From the article:
Why do these lines show bigger increases on weekends than weekdays? Riders tell Metro they like saving money on parking.

Parking at the Sept. 18 Los Angeles Rams game at the Los Angeles Coliseum was as high as $200, according to some bloggers and fans. The Expo Line — with stops at USC and Exposition Park — carried 21,000 of the 80,000 who jammed the Coliseum for the Ram’s first win, Metro reported.

“I know some friends from West Los Angeles who are music aficionados and go to the Music Center downtown but hate to pay $35 to park your car,” said Bart Reed, executive director of The Transit Coalition, a nonprofit, pro-mass transit group based in the San Fernando Valley.

While exiting the symphony for the nearest train station may be a breeze, hopping an Expo train with 20,000 riders exiting the Coliseum meant long lines and required plenty of patience. It took about 90 minutes to clear the last passenger, and that was with three-car trains every six minutes, Hillmer said.
If that's not evidence of the "value" of high parking costs in increasing transit use, I don't know what is.  Too bad the new football stadium in Inglewood won't be opening with transit access.

The Seattle Times ran a really cool article on "transit tourism," exploring the various neighborhoods with Link Light Rail stations.  It's a model for what other locales should be doing--and transit agencies should be doing this themselves, not merely expecting media outlets to do it.

Image from "Chevy Bolt EV's battery is as big as a Tesla's," HybridCars.

8.  Chevrolet releases the Bolt electric car.  For all the talk of Tesla, they are more a stock play than a significant manufacturer of automobiles.  Chevrolet re-engineered and re-imagined a new electric car, the Bolt, from the ground up.

It's in production today, by a company that has decades of experience building cars in volume ("GM's electric Chevy Bolt looks to take on Tesla," Financial Times).

 But as pointed out above, comparatively low gasoline costs make electric cars less of an economically rational decision. That being said, electric cars are more reliable and require fewer trips to the mechanic.

What's particularly interesting about the Bolt, is that it is the first electric car by a traditional manufacturer that has been designed from the ground up as an electric car, rather than a car model that had been designed out of the paradigm of the internal combustion engine ("How GM Beat Tesla to the First True Mass-Market Electric Car," Wired Magazine).

9.  Driving while black. Many of the police killings of civilians have involved African-Americans being stopped for infractions that might have been ignored had they been white. See "Philando Castile killing: Officer charged with manslaughter," CNN; "Photo contradicts key claim made by Tulsa police in unarmed black man's fatal shooting," Denver Post.


Image from DownTrend.

Related would be various Black Lives Matter protests conducted in a manner which halts traffic on roadways ("Black Lives Matter protesters block highway in Minneapolis," ABC-TV; "'Black Lives Matter' protesters block I-64 in downtown St. Louis," FoxTV2, and "Why highways have become the center of civil rights protest," Washington Post).

(Note with regard to the latter, during my student protest days in college, I used to say we shouldn't bother taking over the Administration building, which is more about visibility, but taking over the parking garage across the street, where their cars were parked, and the university's two computing centers.)

10.  Automakers investing in technology firms, opening offices in the Silicon Valley, etc.  Tons of stories about this, including the traditional European firms too.  Not just Ford ("Ford Motor Company as a transportation company, not just a 'car' company").

WTVF-TV photo, Nashville.

11. School bus crashes.  A vehicle-centric school transportation system puts children at risk.  This past year there were particularly devastating crashes with deaths in Baltimore and Chattanooga, and a scary crash in Metropolitan Nashville that didn't kill anyone, but injured 23.

-- past entry on Walk to School Day

12.  Many transit votes succeeded (Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco) while others failed (Detroit, Virginia Beach, etc.).  Generally they pass, at about a two-thirds rate.  But it's really hard in places with limited modern-day experience with transit.

13.  Trains.  Amtrak ridership up ("Amtrak says rail ridership hit record numbers in last fiscal year," Richmond Times-Dispatch) but train crashes like in Hoboken, New Jersey get a lot of publicity also demonstrating commuter train crashes often happen in an environment of systematic underfunding ("Experts Blame Chris Christie For Underfunding NJ TRANSIT," CBS/NYC"and "NJ Transit Funding Under Scrutiny," Wall Street Journal) and the need to speed up implementation of positive train control and better hiring practices and risk management ("What's key to preventing train crashes," Yahoo).

Still, wrt those crashes, "More than 70 people killed in US commuter train crashes since 2000," (WPIX-TV11) while in the same period about 550,000 people died in motor vehicle accidents.

In DC, at the end of the year the first double stack freight train traveled through the Virginia Tunnel, enabling double stack container trains in this part of the Mid-Atlantic. I have since noticed double stack containers on the freight trains on the Metropolitan Branch CSX line. But generally, freight railroads are having a tough time, with the decline in trade with China, the oil glut, and a decline in the use of coal for power generation.


14. Relatedly, HSR is dead in the Northeast Corridor. In the last week of the year, the Federal Railroad Administration announced its support of improvements all along the Northeast Corridor ("Feds Back Ambitious Plan To Speed Up Northeast Rail Service," WBUR/NPR).

-- Northeast Corridor Future website, Federal Railroad Administration

 There has been coverage of this in newspapers from Boston to DC, focusing on regionally-specific provisions. For example, in Connecticut some cities don't like a proposed "straightening of the line" in one area, which would go through their community unlike the current alignment ("Shoreline Officials Want To Hit The Brakes On Federal Railroad Proposal," Hartford Courant.  From the article:
Mayor David Martin said Thursday he likes the plan to expand capacity at Stamford's busy train station. But he's against building new track routes to Greenwich and to Westport that might eat into his city's neighborhoods or commercial base.

"This plan looks more like fantasy than fact, and we're going to fight it," U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal told reporters.

The Federal Railroad Administration's proposal to overhaul sections of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor route in Connecticut has already hit heavy resistance in southeastern Connecticut, where the agency wants a new 30-mile inland segment to bypass the curving, twisting tracks between Old Saybrook and Kenyon, R.I.

Martin is the first Fairfield County leader to raise concerns about how it would affect the southwestern region, but Blumenthal predicted that opposition will keep growing.
15.  Bike share. The first death of a bike share user in Chicago ("Family of Divvy rider killed in crash sues truck driver, company," Chicago Tribune).  Bike sharing systems continue to open, although not necessarily to great success ("L.A.'s new bike-share program isn't as popular as in other cities," Los Angeles Times) and other systems are going through changes ("Seattle's failing Pronto bike share program to end in March," Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

-- "The problem when you define every outcome as a succoess, you don't learn, and therefore failure is more likely: bike share in Seattle and Los Angeles as examples,"
-- "Bike share and sustainable bike share systems: sometimes other programs can have more effect for less cost"

16.  Shots fired: not! at JFK Airport.  False reports of shootings can be as chaotic as real ones ("False Reports of Gunfire at J.F.K. Airport Offer a Real Case Study in Security," New York Times). 

Since airports are are increasing target for shootings and bombings (Brussells, today in Ft. Lauderdale) it's important to be able to distinguish truth from fiction.

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