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January 2014

MBTA head receives humanitarian leadership award from Transportation Research Board

Matt Rocheleau | Boston.com

The transportation division of the National Research Council has named MBTA General Manager Beverly A. Scott the recipient of a biennial award recognizing humanitarian leadership.

The Sharon D. Banks Award for Humanitarian Leadership in Transportation has been given by the Transportation Research Board every two years since 2002 to an individual who exemplifies the ideals of the honor’s namesake, officials said.

Banks, who chaired the research board’s executive committee in 1998 and worked as general manager of Oakland, Calif.-based public transit agency AC Transit from 1991 until she died in 1999 of complications from a series of strokes, was “known for her personal integrity, for nurturing and mentoring young transportation professionals, and for bringing together people of diverse backgrounds and commitments in the pursuit of organizational excellence,” according to the board.

She was the first African American and first woman to lead AC Transit, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Scott, the MBTA’s first African-American woman leader, was picked for the award “for her attention to diversity, fairness, and equity and for her tireless efforts to improve the lives of others as well as to the attention she pays to the personal aspects of the decisions she makes and the impact of those decisions on the lives of those who depend on public transit for their livelihood is core to her recognition as a people-oriented transit manager,” said a statement from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. {….}

Bright Idea for SEPTA: Regional Rail Lite

Sandy Smith | Philly Mag

This week’s big news out of 1234 Market Street is that, as part of its big capital project catch-up list, SEPTA may purchase bilevel electric multiple-unit (EMU) railcars to increase capacity on its Regional Rail lines.

They’re definitely needed, as Regional Rail ridership has been climbing steadily over the last several years. It seems that not even heavy snow has put a real dent in its growth: In December, according to figures from SEPTA, Regional Rail ridership rose from year-ago levels while the two snowstorms that month caused transit ridership to fall off slightly.

So there’s no question that more capacity is needed on Regional Rail, and bilevel railcars are a good way to provide it at peak commute times. But what about the rest of the day?

New Jersey Riverline car. Photo | Sanoyes

Thanks to a proposed rule change, it is now possible to contemplate a solution that would add off-peak capacity while achieving one of the goals recommended in my earlier post on ways to get more riders on board public transit in Philly.

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission likes this idea so much that it touted it on its Philadelphia Planeto blog last week. Boston is seriously considering this idea, and we should too. It’s this: Run service on the Regional Rail lines using lightweight diesel multiple-unit (DMU) railcars.

Service of this type already operates in our region: New Jersey Transit’s River Line, which connects Trenton and Camden via a freight railroad line. New Jersey is currently in the process of extending this service south from Camden to Glassboro. {….}

Public to get a chance to comment on transit development proposal

Mt. Lebanon residents will have the opportunity to comment on a possible major development for the municipality’s business district.

A public comment meeting on March 10 will address transit-oriented development under consideration for a site near the Port Authority light-rail transit station off Washington Road.

“We want active participation,” Eric Milliron, Mt. Lebanon commercial districts manager, said about the meeting, which will be at the municipal building’s commission chambers.

The proposed transit-oriented development is focusing on the proximity of a public transportation hub. The concept has been explored in Mt. Lebanon as far back as 1983, when the now-defunct municipal parking authority acquired the air rights, the ability to develop above the light-rail tracks, from the Port Authority.

The idea has been re-investigated in recent years, with a series of studies considering such issues as feasibility, cost and development opportunities. The latest study is a market analysis conducted last year by Delta Development Group of Wexford, with the goal of preparing a request for proposal aimed at potential developers.

The Mt. Lebanon Economic Development Council has been reviewing the studies in its capacity as an advisory group to municipal commissioners. Among its recommendations is that the municipality place emphasis on low-density development of the site, which would entail the construction of 50 to 60 residential and commercial units. {….}

 

Taking California’s bullet train to a greener future

Brian P. Kelly and Mary D. Nichols | Los Angeles Times

California’s high-speed rail is one of the largest public works projects anywhere in the world. Like the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Area Rapid Transit, Interstate 5 and the California Aqueduct before it, high-speed rail has engendered opposition, consternation and litigation. Every bold, transformative vision faces that litany.

This year’s state budget includes high-speed rail as an important part of California’s landmark effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change. Although the Air Resources Board included high-speed rail in its 2008 greenhouse gas reduction plan, the project’s economic benefits have been discussed in more detail than its environmental ones.

Today, California has 32 million registered vehicles, more cars and trucks that travel more miles — more than 330 billion — than any other state. Without high-speed rail, the existing transportation infrastructure cannot reasonably meet the demands of the projected 12 million new Californians coming to this state. The alternative to high-speed rail is an estimated investment of more than $150 billion to build 4,300 new lanes of highway, more freeways and hundreds of new airport gates and runways, covering large swaths of the state with concrete and asphalt. The effect on the environment — water and air quality, open space, food supply, noise and climate — would be substantial. {….}

Almost $4 billion in real estate projects in the works near DART’s rail stations

Steve Brown | Dallas News

Back in the 1990s when DART built the first leg of its North Texas rail system, developers were late to catch the train.

It took several years before commercial real estate investors and builders figured out what the transit system would mean for the Dallas area real estate market.

“At that time we didn’t have a good grasp on what transit oriented development was and what it meant,” DART president and executive director Gary Thomas said in an interview.

The $1.5 billion CityLine development in Richardson is the largest transit oriented development in the works in North Texas. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Real estate developers have certainly caught on since then.

The folks at DART and the University of North Texas just completed a study of the impact of the commuter rail system on the Dallas-area real estate market.

Since the first transit-oriented project – Mockingbird Station – was announced in 1997, the private sector has spent more than $1.5 billion on real estate developments adjoining DART’s rail stations.

The bulk of that – more than $1.1 billion in property value – has been for apartments and retail construction near the transit stops.

“If we look at what has been planned and under construction within these areas, that’s another $3.8 billion of development activity,” said Terry Clower, director of UNT’s Center for Economic Development and Research, who worked on the study for DART.

The biggest of those is developer KDC’s huge Richardson CityLine project which includes a regional campus for State Farm Insurance, shops, apartments and hotel rooms. The total value of just that one deal is about $1.5 billion.

“In terms of sheer percentages the State Farm project is the large one on the board right now,” Clower said.

DART’s real estate development study doesn’t even include huge public-sector projects located next door to the rail stations, including the Parkland Hospital and the Dallas Police Headquarters in the Cedars district.

And DART doesn’t count projects downtown at all for its figures, only developments outside the central business district.

“There is a lot of that happening in and around the stations,” Thomas said. “As the economy continues to improve we are seeing this really take off.”

Transit workshop focuses on future of downtown Windsor, CT

Jennifer Coe | ReminderNews

A planner’s rendering of the future of downtown Windsor shows a picture of a bustling street filled with businesses and pedestrians. With plans for on-street parking, a new parking garage located behind Town Hall and mixed-use buildings on Mechanic Street, Windsor is looking to capitalize on making downtown appealing to those traveling through town on bus, car or train.

The Transit-Oriented-Development Steering Committee has been reaching out to the public for input over the past year, developing residents’ “vision” for the downtown area. The final Windsor Center Study Workshop was held on Jan. 16. About 60 people came to participate, looking to be a part of the conversation about how their hometown might develop and grow.

Windsor Town Planner Eric Barz leads a group discussion on Windsor’s mobility issues at a public forum on Jan. 16. Photo by Jennifer Coe.
Windsor Town Planner Eric Barz leads a group discussion on Windsor’s mobility issues at a public forum on Jan. 16. Photo by Jennifer Coe.

“We’re here to talk about key opportunities that are before us,” said Steve Cecil of the Cecil Group. “You are on a rail-line. If you can take advantage of that rail connection, you can have a stronger economy,” he said.

According to the consultants, Windsor has a lot of positives, besides the rail connection, including a growing need for housing in the downtown area and an excess of roadway. “You have more roadway width than you actually need,” said Cecil.

He also described some challenges that Windsor has in moving forward, namely, the lack of land to develop. Downtown is a “compact neighborhood,” he said. “This was a streetcar community.” {….}

Detroit, get ready for transit-oriented development

Nina Ignaczak | Model D Media

All around the Motor City, people are starting to talk transit.

In 2013, M-1 Rail broke ground along Woodward in Detroit, work commenced to speed up the Pontiac-to-Chicago Amtrak line, talk of an Ann-Arbor to Detroit commuter line moved incrementally closer to reality, AirRide expanded bus service between Ann Arbor and DTW, Bus Rapid Transit emerged as the preferred alternative for regional mass transit, and after 40 years of failed attempts, a Regional Transit Authority was finally established for metropolitan Detroit.

Now, public officials and developers across the region are readying themselves to reap the economic potential of functional transit — something many cities across the country have already done.

Take Atlanta, for example.

“Atlanta was the poster child for sprawl,” says Chris Leinberger, Research Professor at George Washington University School of Business. “The metro area grew from 50 miles north to south in 1970 to over 120 miles today, sprawling farther and faster than any city in human history.” {….}

Embracing density – Keeping urban sprawl in check beneficial to everyone

Brent Bellamy | Winnipeg Free Press

It has been a difficult time for Winnipeg’s infrastructure. Our water periodically looks, but certainly doesn’t taste, like a fine Canadian whiskey. A combination of the polar vortex and daily water-main breaks has entombed cars from Charleswood to Transcona in knee-deep ice. Recent snow-clearing efforts left most of us wanting to trade in our car for a late-model Mars Rover, and of course in the not-too-distant future, the annual pothole invasion will begin.

The rising cost of maintaining this infrastructure and other civic services have left the City of Winnipeg scrambling to balance its budget, resulting in a third straight property-tax hike for 2014. This increase will be accompanied by a rise in sewer and water rates and likely, education taxes. A few months ago, a KPMG report recommended a ‘winter surcharge’ be added to property taxes in years when snow-removal costs exceed the city budget.

These reactionary solutions to infrastructure deficits leave governments trying to catch up by spending greater amounts of money fixing problems, without addressing their root cause. Over the last 50 years, Canadians have built sprawling, car-oriented cities that have resulted in a sharp reduction in population density. This has left civic governments responsible for a larger stock of infrastructure with fewer taxpayers to pay for its construction and long-term maintenance. {….}

Rail alone can’t reinvent L.A.

Ethan N. Elkind | LA Times

With the Crenshaw/LAX light-rail line groundbreaking last week, Los Angeles now has three rail transit projects under construction — an example of how the city is leading the country in a rail renaissance. The “city that destroyed cities,” as GQ recently described L.A. for pioneering auto-oriented development, has been planning and building a multibillion-dollar rail network, thanks in part to up to $13 billion in local sales tax funds from a successful 2008 measure.

But these billions risk being wasted if city leaders do not promote, and residents do not allow, new growth around rail stations and corridors. Why? Rail is expensive to build, operate and maintain compared with other forms of transit. It only becomes cost-effective with high ridership. And the best way to boost ridership is to locate new jobs, housing and retail near stations.

Focusing development around rail provides multiple benefits. It allows the region to accommodate new residents and natural population growth without building endless subdivisions on open space and worsening traffic and air pollution. It can reduce the high cost of housing by boosting in-town supply, making it easier for businesses to attract and retain talented employees. Finally, rail-accessible development can create convenient, walkable neighborhoods that meet the growing demand among millennials, childless professionals and empty nesters to move “back to the city” — as many recent urban success stories attest.

But the modern history of rail and land development patterns shows that politics and economics conspire to prevent new growth around rail. Decision-makers typically locate rail lines in less dense or develop-able areas to save costs and accommodate powerful interest groups around the region, running lines through blighted areas or along freeways to save land-acquisition and construction costs and to minimize neighborhood objections. {….}

Expo Line
A Metro train passes by the groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday for the new Crenshaw/LAX line at the Expo/Crenshaw stop. The new line will connect the Expo and Green lines. (Los Angeles Times)

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