Monday, August 31, 2015

Podcast: Remaking California's Transportation System

This week I'm publishing a audio series that I did for the NRDC Urban Solutions program that discusses California's greenhouse gas policies and their effects on transportation policy.  It's gotten some good reviews but also a bit wonky, so I know you all will enjoy it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Map Wire: A Change in the Pearl

At Reconnecting America we looked into a lot of streetcar projects.  For some the streetcar has become an example of the worst of transit planning.  Spending money for transit that's got a land use focus really gets people worked up.  But the maps we're looking at today are just going to look at one area of the streetcar, change in property values proximate to the alignment.  The other mobility issue is a whole other can of worms we can open at a later date.

One of the projects we worked on was looking at the value capture potential of the H Street Streetcar in DC.  In order to compare other lines, we looked at property value changes over time.  And as with other studies we had done on value capture, we found that values increase a lot when you start with a blank slate.

The key to creating value substantial enough to pay for infrastructure or affordable housing or anything else requires a lot of land, and a lot of land that is starting from zero or near zero.  This can mean vacant parcels or underutilized parcels which I discussed in the last map post. 

The maps below show two 6 year periods of the Pearl District, and you can see distinctly a lot of value being created where the vacant property of the rail yards were located West of the Post Office property.  It was interesting to see the changes after buildings were constructed.  I'd be interested to hear what others think of the maps.  You can find similar ones for Seattle and Tampa in the Map Room.  It would be interesting to look at the property value change now in 2015 vs 1997 when the streetcar plan was announced. 18 years is a good period of time to see what happened.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A New Congestion Paradigm in LA

I don't get why we continue to focus on congestion in cities as something we need to "fix".  Repeatedly we focus on congestion as if when it were solved our problems would be over.  But congestion is the sign of a successful city, and curing it as Detroit has doesn't seem to be the right answer either. 

But that doesn't really matter if we have created a better system of mobility and access.  Back in 2011 CNU was in Madison and Joe Cortright was having a discussion with Tim Lomax of TTI about their mobility report which measures hours of delay.  Confused by how they measured delay and thinking about my own situation, I noted out loud that I didn't count.  I never saw any of the congestion on the roads because as a BART rider, I wasn't a part of it...yet we had one of the WORST ratings.  It's because we as a society are often only talking about congestion on roads, and I wasn't on the road, but I had more reliable access to my job than anyone on the road.

This is partially why "congestion" in its current use is bad metric for deciding transportation investment.  We don't account for moving people around more efficiently, just cars.  And there are a lot of people that don't seem to count.

But this new plan being discussed in Los Angeles is going to show the benefits to thinking about mobility in a different way.  The old way of "congestion" would increase according to the environmental report.  The Level of Service Standard that has been used for environmental reporting would increase intersections receiving an E or F congestion score from 18% to 36% under this plan that includes increasing dedicated lanes for buses and bikes.  

In most places this is a red alert to widen the roads and speed up the cars. But under the newer more mobility focused measure of average vehicle miles traveled the plan would increase VMT to 35 million miles per day instead of 38 million which would come if the plan were not implemented.   

3 million miles per day means a lot when we're talking about emissions and mobility, showing that just because a few more interesections are more congested, providing mobility for more people has great benefits.

Of course the opposition still lives in the old paradigm and is upset. Richard Katz, a former member of the MTA board still worries about "congestion". 
"Taking away lanes, which creates congestion, to try and force people to choose a different method of transportation other than the car, is a horrible way to solve a congestion problem," he said. "Why? It creates more congestion … and people don't respond well to being forced to do things."
I would argue that we're forced to drive cars.  Our system should give us opportunities that don't involve driving.  But we know how that works in most places.  LA doesn't have more room to expand the roads, so there has to be another way.

Others are also upset at not being able to focus on congestion anymore.
"Cars are just going to sit there," said Don Parker, a board member with Fix the City, an advocacy group fighting the plan. "So labeling it a mobility plan is just not reflective of what the plan actually does."
Of course what he doesn't mention is that if cars just sit there, it's less likely they can hurt people in collisions at high speed.  Or that they aren't creating greenhouse gasses.  Or that people are finding more sustainable means of mobility.

While we don't know where the plan will eventually end up, this is an exciting move that we'll hopefully start to see in other cities over time.  Thinking less about "congestion" which we've been trying hard to fix since we started building freeways over 60 years ago will benefit everyone more.  Instead, let's think of how we can get the most people to the places they want to go.  Car optional.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Podcast: Discussing San Antonio Transportation

This week on the podcast we're joined by Trish Wallace and Jillian Harris of the San Antonio Transportation Department to talk about the cities current past and current plans for mobility.

Map Wire: Calculating Underutilized Land on Transit Lines

For Realizing the Potential: Expanding Housing Opportunities Near Transit, a report done for FTA and HUD, we looked at five transit lines that were existing or under construction at the time. The lines included different transit modes including streetcar, light rail, and commuter rail. 

This map shows the method we created to look at underutilized land, or land where the building values were worth less than the land on which they were located.  Parcel data is always tricky given different estimating methodologies and tax systems as well as values attached to different land use types, but using this ratio gives an idea of how much land along a line might be available for redevelopment.

In the maps you can see that an established line such as Boston's Fairmount has less underutilized parcels than say Charlotte.  The parcels are also much smaller.  But Charlotte, based on the maps posted last week, has a lot of industrial land.  There's also something to be said for industrial preservation, and transit lines can create a lot of pressure for redevelopment, even in places with productive industrial uses.  It's a less mentioned form of displacement that has been happening in cities with industrial cores that have been on the receiving end of a lot of redevelopment and adaptive reuse. 

In any event, this map might be of interest. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Map Wire: Land Uses in 5 Transit Corridors

Back in 2008 we finished a report called Realizing the Potential: Expanding Housing Opportunities Near Transit.  It was one of the first times that HUD and FTA had worked together and was a starting point for those agencies eventually working together as the Partnership for Sustainable Communities along with the EPA.  You can see many of the recommendations for FTA and HUD to work together in this action plan from 2008 presented to congress.

But in the Realizing the Potential report, we looked at the affordable housing situations of five different rail corridors. I did 5 maps for each line looking at land use and housing data. The map below represents the different land uses on those corridors in Boston along the Fairmount Line, the Denver West Corridor which was recently completed, the Portland Streetcar, the Charlotte South Corridor, and Minneapolis' Hiawatha Line.  Each map individually can be found in the report or in the map room.  I believe this was put together for a powerpoint.

The interesting part is the huge difference in developable land on each line.  While Boston is a built out corridor, Charlotte has a lot of industrial properties and large parcels that could be changed to housing.  This was a fun map to make, but I must say the Boston parcel data was not fun to work with.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Podcast: Tanya Snyder Joins to Talk Earthquakes and City Kids, Not In That Order

This week we're joined by Talking Headways alum Tanya Snyder to discuss a whole bunch of issues including single family zoning in Seattle, the Cascadia Subduction Zone, folks leaving the cities they love and kids in cities.  Join us for a fun half hour of chit chat about this and that.

Map Wire: High Speed Rail Flashback

I'm starting a new series of posts based on maps I've made in the past.  Today's maps are from 2011 and feature the big hopes for the United States high speed rail program.  Due to continued lack of funding after the stimulus and blockages from Congress, plans outside of California and Texas have been slowly moving along without much fanfare.  There's been lots of talk about the Northeast Corridor but as I tweeted recently, I wonder how many New York Times articles it would take to get it going. 

It's fun to take a look back at what we were thinking about in the past.  Perhaps at some point it could be our future.

You can find the originals here [Investment Levels] + [ Project Pipeline]

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Podcast: The Freeway That Never Was

This week on the podcast we chat with Brendan Wittstruck about I-755 in St. Louis, a freeway that was never built.