M-1 Rail in Detroit will boost housing, retail development, backers say

John Gallagher | Detroit Free Press

Woodward Avenue heading south towards downtown Detroit will be closed for the start of construction of the M-1 rail starting Monday, July 28th from Adams street to Campus Martius Park.

Woodward Avenue heading south towards downtown Detroit will be closed for the start of construction of the M-1 rail starting Monday, July 28th from Adams street to Campus Martius Park. / Kimberly P. Mitchell/Detroit Free Press

The M-1 Rail streetcar project breaking ground July 28 could spark a new boom in downtown and Midtown development and spur the creation of 10,000 new residential units over 10 years, its backers predicted today.

“This is not just a transit project,” Matt Cullen, CEO of M-1 Rail, told a media briefing.

He said transit-oriented development that will follow M-1’s forecast opening in late 2016 also could see some 5 million square feet of new retail and commercial development and $3 billion in new development overall in the Woodward Corridor over 10 years.

Cullen said projections done by M-1 planners predict that the $140-million investment in the new line will lead to six to eight times that much in spin-off economic development.

M-1 Rail will operate a streetcar line along Woodward from Jefferson Avenue to Grand Boulevard in New Center, a 3.3-mile route.

Also at the briefing, Paul Childs, M-1 Rail’s chief operating officer, described the “massive balancing act” that will take place over the construction project to inconvenience motorists and business owners along the route as little as possible.

Construction will begin later this month with a closure of Woodward to north-south traffic from Campus Martius to Grand Circus Park. Once construction moves farther north, only partial closures of Woodward will be needed at most times because Woodward goes from four lanes in the immediate downtown to nine lanes in Midtown.

The streetcar line is expected to be open for riders in late 2016.

The Atlanta Transit Agency’s Big Plan to Convert Parking Lots into Housing

Eric Jaffe | Atlantic CityLab

MARTA, the transit authority for metro Atlanta, is quietly becoming a player in the real estate world, and it has its excess parking to thank. In the past few months, the agency has pushed forward with plans to develop under-used parking lots at three stations—King Memorial, Avondale, and Edgewood/Candler Park—into mixed-use commercial and residential buildings. And MARTA expects to secure at least two more such deals by early next year.

Image

Tim Adams/Flickr

Talk about a shift from cars to transit.

The moves are part of a broader push by MARTA to capitalize on the transit-oriented development occurring in and around the city. Rather than sit on the sidelines during the resurgence, the agency decided to join the action. MARTA officials expect the new TOD program to pay off twice over: first, by pumping revenue from the projects back into the system’s trains and buses, and second, by enticing residents who move into the buildings onto the trains.

“People have been looking at these parking lots for decades wondering why they were just sitting there,” says Amanda Rhein, senior director of transit-oriented development at MARTA. “It’s clear there’s a significant amount of in-town resurgence, based on the development that’s happening here, and the majority of it is within close proximity of our stations. So this is really just MARTA finally participating in that activity.”

Like many U.S. transit agencies, MARTA has long struggled to secure reliable funding. The agency doesn’t receive money from the state, instead relying on sales tax income from participating counties, making it vulnerable to big economic swings. After the Great Recession, MARTA reduced staff and service while increasing fares, and when an effort to expand the revenue base failed in a 2012 referendum, the agency found itself facing a $33 million deficit.

So MARTA got creative. Keith Parker, who took over the agency in late 2012, implemented a transformation initiative that involved, among other things, a new planning strategy emphasizing TOD. In spring of 2013, Parker announced that MARTA would have five station-area projects underway within two years; to date the agency has identified developers for three projects, targeted several stations for the final two projects, and expects groundbreaking on some of the buildings as early as next year.

As part of its TOD push, MARTA wants to develop mixed-use properties atop its urban stations; above, North Avenue Station. (Courtesy MARTA)

Enabling the projects is MARTA’s recognition that certain stations have devoted too much space to parking—an insight that several transit agencies around the world now share. At King Memorial Station, an urban station that Rhein says doesn’t make sense to reach by car, the agency owned four acres of parking lots adjacent to the station that it didn’t even use. Instead, the space had been subleased to a nearby hospital.

With the new projects, MARTA will lease the land—typically for 99 years—to developers planning mixed-use, transit-oriented buildings. (Walton Communities plans 13,000-square feet of retail and 386 residential units for the four acres at King Memorial.) Rhein says MARTA has chosen to lease rather than sell its land because agency rules stipulate the lease revenue can go toward transit operations, an area of urgent need for MARTA, while sales revenue must go toward capital projects. In the short term, the TOD influx will be reinvested into better service on trains and buses.

“That is the goal,” she says. “To generate money for operations.”

In the long term, MARTA expects such upgrades to result in more riders, which in turn will mean more fare revenue. The big picture outlook also includes nicer public spaces for the city; each project requires a park or a plaza, and 20 percent of all housing must be affordable, says Rhein. MARTA is also looking into air rights development at four downtown stations—Lenox, Arts Center, Midtown, North Avenue—and working with the Urban Land Institute to target TOD opportunities in weaker real estate markets along the system’s south and west lines.

Plenty of challenges remain. The biggest may be a longstanding policy that MARTA must replace any lost parking spaces for transit patrons who drive to a station. While the rule makes sense, says Rhein, it poses problems in terms of financing the spots and incorporating them into the mixed-use project. (“It’s just a little bit at odds with what we’re trying to accomplish,” she says.) Whatever the hurdles, Rhein believes the TOD program is a critical step toward shifting public perceptions of MARTA as wasteful and of Atlanta more broadly as car-reliant.

“I definitely think that will be a byproduct of this initiative,” says Rhein. “We’re going to make the stations themselves and the surrounding areas more pleasant and more easily accessible, and we’ll be providing amenities to our riders and to the surrounding community. So I think people will realize that and give MARTA a chance.”

HART unveils plans for rail station at Honolulu International Airport

Web Staff | khon2

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation unveiled Wednesday designs for the Honolulu rail system’s station at Honolulu International Airport.

The future station site will be built along Ala Auana Street between the overseas and international parking structures.

“That would be an extremely big convenience for any tourist I would imagine to be able to do that,” said visitor Marilyn Lopiti.

“I get here to the airport and guess what. The parking is full because everyone else is going to the neighbor islands too,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “What a relief it’s going to be when in 2019, five years from today, instead folks — local folks who live on this island — can instead take the train to the airport.”

Officials say the station will be elevated, with sky bridges connecting to the parking garages and access to the international and inter-island terminals.

Oahu Transit Service head Roger Morton told KHON2 there is much work to be done to figure out the bus to train to airport transfer with passengers luggage in tow, but transportation officials say it is possible.

The Department of Transportation Services says it will work with HART to ensure city buses and rail offer the same accommodations.

“We don’t want the system to break down,” said department director Mike Formby. “It’s bus and rail. So once HART comes up with their specifications, we’ll work with them to make sure it works on bus as well.”

“We actually visited New York and we were able to get on and off the bus and the trains with our bags and so that was a good idea,” said Lopiti.

Public meetings will be held later this summer for the community to participate in design discussions. Details have yet to be announced.

Meanwhile, the Department of Planning and Permitting will hold the first of several community workshops for residents and businesses to create the Airport Area Transit-Oriented Development Plan.

The workshop is set for Tuesday, July 22, at the Aliamanu Elementary School Cafeteria, 3265 Salt Lake Boulevard, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

The plan will focus on the areas around the rail stations planned at Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Honolulu International Airport and Lagoon Drive.

The completed plan will will address local issues related to land use, circulation, infrastructure and community character, and provide a guide for future public and private investment in the neighborhood.

Site of the future rail station at Honolulu International Airport

2014-Airport Station_Aerial Perspective-Labels_resized_4

Renderings provided by HART

 

Connecticut Looks To Add Another Train Station In Bridgeport

Daily Voice

Bridgeport will be getting another Metro-North train station.

Bridgeport will be getting another Metro-North train station. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — Commuters should have more options — and more places to park — when Metro-North adds a new Fairfield County train station in Bridgeport on its New Haven Line by 2018, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced Wednesday.

Malloy made the announcement at the former Remington Arms factory, a brownfield property, which will be the location of the city’s second train station.

“With this investment in the Barnum Train Station, we are improving the quality of life for residents in Bridgeport’s East Side and East End while at the same time encouraging transit-oriented and economic development in our largest city,” said Malloy.

“Moving this project forward demonstrates our commitment to helping municipal partners and stakeholders make their communities more accessible, more walkable centers of cultural and economic activity.”

The State Bond Commission at its next meeting will approve $2.75 million for the Connecticut Department of Transportation to hire a consultant to complete the engineering, design and environmental permitting to develop the site of the new Barnum Train Station, he said.

When this funding is in place, the 18-month design phase can begin. Soil remediation can begin in spring of 2016, and construction on the station could occur in 2017 for a start of operations in the fall of 2018, according to a statement from Malloy’s office.

“We’re making smart investments in the future,” said Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch. “Key investments include the East Bridgeport Development Corridor, which will serve as a catalyst for growth in the city’s East End, East Side, and Mill Hill neighborhoods. This project is already gaining steam. But it will never reach its full potential without a train station nearby. The proposed Barnum Station, which will be the second train station in our state’s largest city, will help ensure the East Bridgeport Development Corridor becomes a place where people want to live and work, and where companies want to invest and hire people.”

ConnDOT Deputy Commissioner Anna M. Barry applauded the project.

“If we are going to get people out of their cars and onto public transportation, we have to make it convenient, clean, safe and reliable,” said Barry. “Adding a new station helps move us further along toward that goal. It will also help us fulfill another commitment to the people of Connecticut – the creation of new transit-oriented development.”

Malloy said the funding for Barnum Station is just one part of a coordinated strategy to increase ridership along the New Haven Line by investing in new stations, train cars and rail infrastructure to ensure safer, faster and more reliable service for residents.

The State Bond Commission is scheduled to vote on the item at its July 25 meeting at 10:30 a.m. in Room 1E of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

In recent years, the state has opened new train stations at Fairfield Metro and West Haven in Connecticut.

Blind Passengers Still Ride Free in Culver City, California

Lynne Bronstein | Culver City Observer 

After considering whether to have blind passengers pay a fare equivalent to disabled fare on Culver City busses, the City Council on July 14 decided to retain free bus rides for blind passengers while still charging 35 cents for disabled, Medicare, and senior bus fares.

The issue was raised after a disabled rider protested the policy of free rides for blind bus riders while people with other disabilities had to pay. The protester suggested to the city that the different fare policies for blind and disabled passengers might constitute a form of discrimination.

At a public outreach meeting held in June of this year, comments were made to the effect that the individual who raised this issue should take the approach of having his disability category approved to ride the bus for free.

Staff also encouraged those who might be impacted by the fare change to apply for an Access Services TAP card, which would allow them to ride for free under the Free Fare Partnership Program established with several of the municipal operators including Culver CityBus, or apply for Metro’s Rider Relief Transportation Program.

According to Culver City Transportation Director Art Ida, most cities charge the same fare for blind and disabled passengers. Of the cities that do not charge blind passengers, Torrance Transit has not made any change to its policy for the blind, Long Beach Transit is in the process of conducting research, and Gardena Transit recently changed its policy to charging blind and disabled passengers the same (reduced) fare after receiving a similar complaint.

Ida told the Council that allowing all disabled passengers including the blind, to ride for free, could result in a loss of $360,000 in fare revenue, with the loss of revenue leading to further financial loss in grant monies.

Staff recommendation was that fare for the blind be charged at the same rate presently charged for disabled and senior passengers-35 cents base fare, ten cents for a local transfer, 20 cents for an interagency transfer.

The passenger who filed the protest with the city was not present at the Council’s public hearing on the topic. But two passengers were present to state their views.

Ken Rubin, who wore his disabled access pass on a lanyard around his neck, suggested that if a fare was required for blind passengers, a 25 cent fare would be good for all disabled passengers. He didn’t think the issue should have been raised due to one person’s complaint.

Sammie Shipman, blind since birth, came to the public comment mike accompanied by her service dog Mozart.

“It’s very hard for us,” she said. “I am a frequent user of Culver City busses. The 35 cent fare [proposed] would be a lot easier for me if it were 25 cents. To get a single coin out of my purse- I carry a lot of stuff and I have my guide dog-is hard for me. We need our hands. We have to fumble in our pockets [to get a coin out."]

In short, Shipman thought that if a fare for the blind was inevitable, that it should be a single coin-25 cents, rather than 35 cents.

Ida stated that the 35 cent fare proposed would be financially more sound as a 25 cent fare for all disabled people would result in some financial loss.

But council member Andrew Weissman thought that there was no reason to make a change to the present policy.

“This is pretty close to the old saying ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,’ ” he said. “Historically we have always had free fare for the sight-impaired.”

Mehaul O’Leary agreed, noting that he thought the proposal for a fare for blind passengers was “outrageous.”

“This [the one rider who complained] is someone who just wants to ride for free,” he added.

Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells said she was disappointed that the complainant had not shown up to speak or submitted a statement at the meeting.

Unanimously, the council voted for the record, to retain free rides for the sight-impaired and to charge 35 cents for all other disabled and senior passengers.

In other actions, the Council continued a public hearing item regarding the sale of land for development as a Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) at the “triangle” at Washington and National at the Expo Line station.

A $75M ticket to ride: Germans on board with Seattle transit-oriented apartment

Marc Stiles | Puget Sound Business Journal

A German group called Universal Investment has paid $74.8 million for the Station at Othello Park, a large apartment complex in South Seattle, according to public records.

The 351-unit project next to the Othello light rail station was one of the region’s biggest development gambles. Built in 2010 by the sellers, Othello Partners of Seattle and USAA Real Estate Co. of Texas, it was both the first large market-rate development in Rainier Valley in 40 years, and the first major “transit-oriented” commercial real estate project along the light-rail line.

Would the lure of living near a station where they could catch a train to downtown Seattle draw renters to a neighborhood that lacks upscale shopping and dining amenities? Initially, no.

The project at 4219 S. Othello St. struggled, and rents had to be dropped to fill up the apartments. That did the trick. Ayear ago, Steve Rauf of Othello Partners said 93 percent of the units were leased.

Leasing out the 18,000 square feet of retail has proved more difficult. Last year, only half the space was filled despite the owners dropping the lease rate. That apparently did not work because, according to city permitting records, Rauf applied this spring to turn 10,000 square feet of retail into live/work units.

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