Downtown living doesn’t stop for storms

Hugh Bailey | Hearst Connecticut Media

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Bicyclists make their way through Salt Lake City traffic. Officials are pushing to promote more walking and biking as the Wasatch Front population is predicted to double in coming decades.When planners promote what is known as transit-oriented development, it is situations like this week’s winter storm they have in mind.

In some Bridgeport neighborhoods, where a growing number of people are able to live a life less dependent on cars, events that severely limit options for everyone else can be more or less shrugged off.

“With the bodegas and small grocers every couple of  blocks, it’s easy to bundle up and head down the street if your fridge needs replenishing,” Becca Bryan, who lives in the South End and works downtown, said in an email. “The colder the weather, the cozier the neighborhood becomes.”

As described by the Regional Plan Association, transit-oriented development “is a strategy for growth that produces less traffic and lessens impact on roads and highways. Households located within walking distance of transit own fewer cars, drive less and pay a smaller share of their income on transportation-related expenses.”

With roads out of the city not an option during the height of the storm, most people not living in a dense neighborhood were stuck. The state told people not to drive after 9 p.m. Monday and bus and rail service were suspended. But that didn’t mean downtown was closed.

Adam Wood, chief of staff to Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, said a number of downtown businesses were able to weather the storm.

“This is why we have such a focus on transit-oriented development in the city,” he said. “You don’t have to own a car, buy gas, move your car and all the rest if you want to live here.”

Wood mentioned Tiago’s Bar and Grill, Barnum Publick House and the Holiday Inn among downtown businesses that did not close. Read more

 

The Remarkable Turnaround of Atlanta Public Transit

Hugh Bailey | Hearst Connecticut Media

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Bicyclists make their way through Salt Lake City traffic. Officials are pushing to promote more walking and biking as the Wasatch Front population is predicted to double in coming decades.Atlanta’s transit agency, MARTA, was on the brink of financial disaster when Keith Parker arrived as CEO in December of 2012. Ridership was down roughly 5 percent on the previous year. Annual losses ranged upwards of $33 million. An outside audit found the agency’s business model to be “structurally unsustainable” and projected that without major changes it was on a path toward insolvency.

“The first thing we had to do was convince people the service was even going to be here in five years,” says Parker. “There was a real sense that the agency may shutter its doors.”

So Parker, who’d overseen transit agencies in San Antonio and Charlotte, drew up a rescue plan. MARTA would cut unfilled positions but retain existing staff and launch a transit-oriented development program. He brought more work in-house: the agency developed a real-time transit information system itself for $50,000, he says, while outside firms wanted more than $1 million. And he convinced Wall Street to upgrade the agency’s credit rating.

Then he reinvested the savings. MARTA increased service and high-frequency hours, upgraded its bus fleet to natural gas, and—most importantly in Parker’s eyes—kept fares flat. As of October 2014 ridership was up for the year. In November, Clayton County voters overwhelmingly approved a penny sales tax to join the MARTA network, the first expansion since the agency formed in 1971. Read more

 

What Does Living ‘Close’ to Transit Really Mean?

Eric Jaffe | City Lab

Plans are underway to completely rebuild the Metro Center on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)The question of how far people will walk to reach a transit stop has a pretty significant impact on the shape of cities. American urban planners conventionally draw that line at about a half-mile. Some guidelines pull it back to a quarter-mile, while others adjust the distance for bus stops (typically a quarter-mile) and train stations (typically a half-mile), but the consensus holds that no one makes it farther than half a mile that on foot.

The impact of this thinking can be seen clearly in the planning rules a city creates for its transit-oriented development. Take two recent examples: Denver just started a fund to help finance properties built within a half-mile of light rail and a quarter-mile of good bus stops, and the town of Mamaroneck in metro New York just zoned for TOD within a quarter-mile of its commuter rail station. Even as such guidelines encourage urban growth, they also establish a hard edge for it.

New research, set to be presented Monday at the 94th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, suggests that some cities indeed might be selling their TOD footprint short. A study group led by planning scholar Arthur Nelson of the University of Arizona analyzed the impact that proximity to a light rail station had on office rents in metropolitan Dallas. They found that a quarter of the rent premium (“not a trivial amount,” they submit) extended nearly a mile away from transit. Read more

Texas A&M study finds ‘walkable’ communities improve health

Erin Mulvaney | BeyondChron

Rendering of a walkable community Beacon Island in League City.

Rendering of a walkable community Beacon Island in League City.

Want to be healthy? Like your neighbors? Drive less? A recent study from Texas A&M University suggests a “walkable” community means less driving, more physical activity and social interactions result when people live in a “pedestrian-oriented, activity-friendly development.”

These types of communities, the study’s authors conclude, could be considered “preventative” health care.

In “A Retrospective Study on Changes in Residents’ Physical Activities, Social Interactions, and Neighborhood Cohesion After Moving to a Walkable Community,” lead researcher A&M architecture professor Xuemei Zhu and co-authors Chanam Lee, professor of landscape architecture, Zhipeng Lu, architecture lecturer, George Mann, professor of architecture, and Ph.D. candidate Chia-Yuan Yu, studied a transit-oriented development called Mueller. Read more

Transit Oriented Development Critical to Florida’s Metropolitan Growth

James W. Shindell | The National Law Review

Plans are underway to completely rebuild the Metro Center on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)Urban Development: Faster Greener Commutes Key to Sustained City Growth, a report released in October 2014 by Cushman & Wakefield, provided insight into Transit Oriented Development as it explored “the consequences of rapid population growth in 10 major North American cities”—with Miami being one. The study found that the majority of these major cities’ workforce is burdened by challenging commutes and substantial congestion because of aging and insufficient infrastructure.

Developers and municipalities have recognized this direct impact on growth and, as a result, a rapidly growing portion of new commercial development has shifted to be strikingly more transit oriented. All Aboard Florida, a leader in this development, is seeking to connect South Florida’s tri-county area with each station (Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach) being a vehicle to improve individuals’ transportation, while also serving as an engine for growth in its surrounding areas. Read more

11 Reasons Why Transit, Bikes & Walking Are Moving us to a Brighter Future

Jay Walljasper | BeyondChron

Plans are underway to completely rebuild the Metro Center on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)According to the pundits and prophets who dominate the media, the future of transportation is all figured out for us.  Cheaper gas prices mean we can still count on our private cars to take us everywhere we want to go in the years to come. The only big change down the road will be driverless autos, which will make long hours behind the wheel less boring and more productive.

But this everything-stays-the-same vision ignores some significant social developments. Americans have actually been driving less per-capita for the past decade, bucking a century-long trend of ever-increasing dependence on automobiles.

This startling turnaround is usually written off as a mere statistical blip caused by the great recession and $4 gas, both of which hit in 2008. But, in fact, the driving decline began several years before that.  (In light of these facts, The Federal Highway Administration recently reduced its forecast for the future growth from driving between 24-44 percent. This is after overestimating the actual rate of driving in 61 consecutive reports to Congress.) Read more

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