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September 2012

Using BRT as a Transit Band-Aid

By: Eric Jaffee | theatlanticcities.com

When a new metro line opened up in Istanbul a couple weeks ago, it mostly served as a reminder of something the city has been awaiting for the better part of a decade. That would be the massive Marmaray project, a rail tunnel beneath the Bosphorous strait that will link the European and Asian sides of the intercontinental city. The delays have been reasonable — crews have had to deal with tricky geography, safety precautions required by a nearby fault line, and archeological discoveries made during the digging — but the initial phase is still a year from opening, and the full deal several more.

The city wisely recognized that the immediacy of its traffic problem demanded some sort of short-term solution. Its response was to lay down, within a couple of years, a bus-rapid transit system known as the Metrobus. The 26-mile line operates in dedicated lanes along the D-100 expressway and connects both sides of the city across the Bosphorous Bridge. By most measures it’s been a great success, according to a recent profile of the system in the Journal of Transport Geography. {…}

How Will Boomers Reshape U.S. Cities?

By: Ryan Holeywell | Governing.com

Walk around Arlington County, Va., the compact, urbanized jurisdiction just outside Washington, D.C., and you may start to notice some interesting design details. The sidewalks are wide — six feet in commercial areas and five in residential neighborhoods. Pedestrian “walk/don’t walk” signals have been replaced with newer versions that count down the seconds left before the light changes. And buses sit lower, eliminating the need for passengers to climb up and down steps to board and exit.
These are just a handful of the new elements that have been implemented in recent years as Arlington has pursued a plan to prepare for its aging baby boomer population. In 2006, the county assembled a task force to examine what it would need to do to accommodate older residents. The move was prescient, but to some residents it may even have seemed unnecessary. Arlington is a bastion of young, educated, urban professionals, many of them working for the federal government and associated industries. More than one-third of the county’s residents are between the ages of 25 and 39; nationwide, fewer than one in five Americans fall into that age range. But county leaders knew that change was on the horizon. By 2030, the county’s over-65 population is projected to double, and its over-85 group is set to almost triple. In the not-too-distant future, officials realized, their relatively small population of seniors would become vastly larger. {…}

Smart growth stories: Michael Lander on changing markets and transit-oriented development

As Ridership Increases so Does the Need for Retail

By RJ Long, TRA Project Manger

MBTA ridership hit an all-time record of 400 million trips this past fiscal year. The ULI Boston report, Hub and Spoke, predicts that ridership could grow to upwards of 500 million trips by 2021. Therefore the MBTA is planning for new stations, new trains and new ways to fund its operations. One source in particular, its retail portfolio, serves as an amenity to the riders and has growth potential. Everything from your morning coffee to your evening movie rental is only made more convenient when adding it to your commute. So what’s happening to help add more options in more places? A lot.

Over the past year the MBTA has restructured how it entertains offers from businesses, it has streamlined its public bid process with simpler & clearer documents, and it has begun utilizing modern leases with requirements similar to that of major malls.

The results: a kiosk program which will economically enhance dozens of smaller locations, a fixed retail program which is slated to overhaul fifteen existing locations system-wide, and the establishment of projects to develop underutilized real estate. While these programs and projects will offer a wide variety of benefits, none will have an impact quite like the revitalization of Back Bay Station.

After researching the opportunities at Back Bay Station a new master plan was implemented to create a concept similar to the MBTA’s best stations, South Station and North Station. The first items on the agenda are to make HVAC, lighting and beautification improvements to the commuter rail lobby. Upon completion, the Station will be ready for the retail improvements. The main concourse retail operations will be revamped and upwards of six “South Station style” kiosks will be added. This, in addition to the strategically positioned tables and chairs, will create a floor plan which can accommodate roughly 33,500 people coming and going. Furthermore, this layout provides a value added resource to both the retails and the riders. Up next, a portion of the underutilized sidewalk under the Dartmouth Street roof overhang will be repurposed as rentable square feet. This will be accomplished as individual businesses build out their space and their unique requirements are addressed. Overall, this transformation will not only create an atmosphere where retailers can succeed and the riders feel comfortable but it will raise the MBTA’s bottom line.

Market Aspects of TOD in Boston, the Region and the Nation

By William Lawrence Managing Director, Consulting Services

Article #1: The National Market Perspective

Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is the place to be and the thing to build. This is not to say that it is for everyone, but it is where much of the development action is and where many of the baby boomers in the suburbs who can sell their homes or the recently minted college grads want to end up.

The national market data suggest that there are three dominant market types that are unfolding—the “24/7 cities,” the “Regional Cities,” and more or less, everything else.

The 24/7 Cities are the place to be —about a dozen of them that have the scale and diversity to create an enlivened downtown, punctuated by good or soon to be good transit of all types. These cities (call them the “Buzzing Dozen”) include New York, Boston, Washington, DC, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Salt Lake, and Minneapolis). These cities are highly “walkable” with high density residential product served by retail and connected to employment by excellent transit service. They have received 50 percent of all private investment dollars in development projects in the country over the last three years. As an example in Boston’s Kenmore Square, at the confluence of 4 transit lines, a medical center and Boston University, private developers have announced four mixed use projects that are really “TODs” in the last four months and are funded with over 2 million square feet of office and retail, 800 residential units and 2200 parking spaces. Citywide, Boston has residential projects of over 3,000 units started or about to be—this Kenmore example is not an aberration. {…} 

Let’s swim to work!

This public pressure, combined with new technological cleanup advances, is changing some cities’ waterways so quickly that they may soon be unrecognizable. In fact, this transitional moment might be the most intriguing time to explore such areas, especially for anyone who loves the hidden and ignored corners of cities where few dare to venture — those weedy, quiet, eerily beautiful abandoned spots that, just a few years from now, might be jam-packed with backstrokers and jet skiers. “It’s a very urban experience,” says Jim Burns.

Burns is a fisherman who lives in Los Angeles and “can be at a mountain stream within 25 minutes.” But more often than not, he chooses to fish in the L.A. River, a brutalist, concrete-lined waterway that offers an unusual — and unusually peaceful — refuge from the city’s throb. “I’d lived in Los Angeles for 34 years and didn’t even know there was a river,” says Burns. Three years ago, he and his son heard about it and decided to find it. “It was an incredible hassle. L.A. is lots of concrete and freeways. We would spot the river and try to find access to it, and you’d end up behind a Target or something, and the parking lot would be right up against the river with barbed wire and No Trespassing signs.” {…}

There is a new star coming to Fenway. TOD becomes a neighbor

By: Francis DeCoste, TRA Chief Operating Officer

As spring emerges, Bostonians usually shift their attention on all the action going at Fenway. Although this year, with the performance of the home town team being less than stellar, a new star in the Fenway may steal the spotlight. At a recent Biznow gathering, developer John Rosenthal discussed plans for the start of construction of the 1.3 million square transit oriented development called the Fenway Center.

The project, located in the Fenway neighborhood of Boston, is a 4.5 acre assemblage which includes air rights over the Massachusetts Turnpike as well as ground up development on the surface parking lots between the Beacon Street and Brookline Avenue bridges. The development plan includes approximately 500 residences, offices, and a retail shopping center featuring a local grocery store.

Transportation is a major amenity for the Fenway Center. Located adjacent to the MBTA Yawkey Commuter Station, the MBTA Kenmore Square and Fenway Green Line Stations are just a block away. A component of the development includes what will be one of the largest private solar power plant in Massachusetts, which will provide a significant portion of the projects electricity and all the power needs of the new commuter rail station. Yawkey Station will become the first zero net energy commuter rail stations in the state. In addition, the Fenway Center will also feature over 30,000 SF of parks and green space, bicycle storage and share station, community space and a daycare center.

It has been a long time coming for the Fenway Center. But just like the Red Sox, good things are always worth the wait. Construction of the Fenway Center is expected to begin in mid 2012.

Spotlight on Sustainability: Planning for a self-sufficient Grand Traverse County, Michigan

Located in northwest Michigan and with a population of about 90,000 people, Grand Traverse County boasts a host of natural amenities and idyllic Great Lakes beauty. But like most places across the country, it has faced an economic slowdown in recent years.

Unlike most other places, though, the communities and local governments in the area decided to take advantage of the recession, using it as a chance to pause and assess what residents wanted for the future. That unique, forward-thinking perspective has helped Grand Traverse County create a vision for the region as a whole moving forward.

Coming out of an extended phase in which its local governments and planning commissions simply tried to manage growth, Grand Traverse County sought to create a system that would better account for expected development and direct it toward shared County goals. With the input of tens of thousands of the public gathered through surveys, public meetings, and discussions, the Grand Vision was born. Encompassing six priorities –transportation, growth and investment, housing, food and farming, sustainable energy, and natural resources – the Grand Vision is a commitment from local organizations and people to move towards a shared plan for the region.

The Grand Traverse County Master Plan and Housing Strategy, funded by a HUD Community Challenge grant, builds off of these six priorities and addresses the development of housing for families of all income levels and neighborhood corridor revitalization. {…}

Urban Roulette – Next American City

Earlier today, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn had vetoed a controversial bill that would have brought gambling to that state’s largest urban center. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed to rally support in the legislature for expanded gambling, stopping short of threatening to seek votes to override the veto.

Both men are Chicago Democrats, and both nominally support casino expansion in a state that introduced gambling in 1991 and now has nine riverboat casinos. The new bill would increase that number to 13, create a single brick-and-mortar casino in Chicago, and allow for video slots at existing racetracks. Quinn believes the bill is too lax, and would open “loopholes for mobsters,” harkening Chicago’s past as a center for organized crime. Emanuel insists that a downtown casino is so lucrative an economic development tool that any delay in construction is depriving the city of valuable tourist dollars and a new source of educational funds.

The debate is just the latest in a decades-long controversy over what role, if any, casinos can play in the revival of America’s cities. The economic downturn has given states an impetus to open up new sources of revenue, with gambling often viewed as low-hanging fruit. Twelve states have expanded gambling options in the last three years, 22 now permit commercial casinos (up from two in 1974), and Hawaii’s legislature is currently considering plans that would leave Utah as the sole state without some form of legalized gambling. {…}

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