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Transportation Nation

Could San Francisco Become the Next Manhattan?

Monday, September 17, 2012

(Photo courtesy of Alfonso Jimenez)

This is part 3 of a 3 part series on re-thinking Market Street. Check out part 1 and  part 2.

(Ben Trefny - San Francisco, KALW) Photographer Richard Morgenstein has lived in San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood since the late 1990s. Before that, he lived in Manhattan and enjoyed it. In many ways, Morgenstein is still very New York. He doesn’t have a car. He relies on public transportation to tote his camera bags around. But the new construction soaring above a growing San Francisco doesn’t really make him nostalgic for his former hometown. Rather, he’s inclined to give a Bronx cheer.

“I do think that one of the issues of multiple large buildings is a sort of a Manhattanizaton of San Francisco and a change in the character of, say, street life, the character of the light of the city, character of walk-ability,” he says. “I look at them as some sort of negative that comes along with the positive of extra housing.”

San Francisco is in transition. According to the Department of Building Inspection, there are 56 major developments in various stages of the approval process, with more than 5,000 residential units under construction. That means the city is, for sure, Manhattanizing, according to Tim Colen, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Coalition.

He says, “We’re very much interested in increased heights and density to add significantly higher levels of housing production in San Francisco and at the same time reducing the influence of private auto use.”

San Francisco’s General Plan calls for construction of more than 30,000 housing units by 2014 with the majority for affordable to moderate income earners. A third of that is being built on the city’s Eastern waterfront, from Mission Bay to the south. Other primary targets include the mid-Market, and SOMA neighborhoods. The city’s planning department is considering options in every area.

“San Francisco is fortunate that high-tech is red hot right now. The office market is red hot,” says Colen. “There’s an enormous demand in particular south of Market and eastern part of the city for office space, and as a result [the] rental housing market is, in a way, going through the roof. Anyone can talk about the insane levels of rent that we’re seeing on housing now, and that gets to the question of building," he says. "How do we build housing, and who gets to live here?”

Colen’s easy solution, and the one many developers are going for, is to build up. But that’s easier said than done.

He says, “San Francisco, in spite of everything we might think about it, is really a very conservative city as far as land use goes and is very, very resistant to change and anything that adds new housing a lot of folks get quite upset at.”

Throughout the last decade, more than a dozen neighborhood associations have filed lawsuits against the San Francisco Planning Commission over aspects of their housing plans. The plans called for Smart Growth, around “major transit lines.” The associations didn’t think that should include bus routes. Parking is also an issue. There were concerns about infrastructure, like accessing water. Disagreements about how to retain historic character in neighborhoods like Pacific Heights.

“The city was planning on changing the zoning which would have made that entire area have hundred foot plus buildings,” says Greg Scott, president of the Pacific Heights Neighborhood Association. That “would have meant that many of the single-family homes and even some of the smaller apartment buildings would have been demolished to build those much higher buildings. And that whole area would have become like Manhattan.”

But not anymore.

After settlements and environmental impact reports, developers, today, cannot build buildings more than forty feet tall in historically residential parts of Pac Heights and other low-rise neighborhoods, unless they have a permit from the San Francisco Planning Department. And with active neighborhood associations intent on retaining historic character, those are hard to come by. So San Francisco’s skyline is being reinvented, but only so far, and mostly near downtown; which is one reason why residents like transplanted New Yorker Richard Morgenstein are happy they moved to San Francisco in the first place.

“It’s still not quite like Manhattan,” he says. “I think huge swaths of Manhattan are… there’s so much going on, things are moving so quickly that the pace is very different. And the pace in San Francisco has amplified somewhat or accelerated, it’s not even close to Manhattan though. It’s not even close.”

Which, to him, anyway, is just fine.

This is part 3 of a 3 part series on re-thinking Market Street. Check out part 1 and  part 2.

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Transportation Nation

Gentrification and Transportation in Washington: Part II of a Special Report

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Caoital Bikeshare station in DC's Deanwood neighborhood (photo by Martin DiCaro)

This is the second of a two-part series on the relationship between gentrification and access to transit in Washington D.C.'s rapidly changing neighborhoods. Part 2 examines the Deanwood and Kenilworth neighborhoods in Ward 7. Part 1 examined the Shaw and Pleasant Plains neighborhoods in the Georgia Avenue corridor in Ward 1.

Despite the presence of three Metro stations -- four when counting the station just over the border in Prince George's County -- redevelopment has been slow to take hold in D.C.'s Ward 7. If you take the train east of the Anacostia River and arrive at the Minnesota Avenue Metro station in the Deanwood area, you will arrive in what looks like a different city in one significant respect: while other parts of Washington are exploding with new high-rise apartment buildings and retail space, this neighborhood is only starting to grow.

"We still like the small-town feel of this area, and we have an older population," says Dennis Chestnut, 62. He runs the grassroots community group Groundwork Anacostia. "We like to retain a little bit of that as the growth takes place, so I think that very rapid growth has its drawbacks."

"When you look at this Metro station and all of the space that is available here, there is opportunity here for Metro and transit-oriented retail that could support the community in a lot of ways," Chestnut added.

That section of the city has remained underserved for decades, and developers are now beginning to take advantage of what is fertile ground for real estate projects. At the very busy intersection of Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, ground has been broken on the Park 7 development, a $67 million mixed-use real estate project that will include 20,000 square feet of new retail space and mostly affordable rental housing among its 370 apartment units, a key to protecting existing residents from rising property values as gentrification takes root.

"The people who are most vulnerable are renters because their rents can keep going up," says Cheryl Cort, the policy director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "D.C. does have a moderate rent-control law for older buildings, but there are ways for building owners to get around that, so renters are most vulnerable to rising prices."

In July, about 100 affordable housing units for residents 55 and older opened at Victory Square on Barnes Street NE, a component of the ward's Parkside master plan. Tenants with moderate incomes will pay rents ranging from $775 to $960, according to a statement by the Banc of America Community Development Corporation.

There are at least seven major real estate projects in Ward 7 receiving city subsidies.

New transit and gentrification

Coming changes could cause unintended consequences for the ward's poorest residents. A plan to extend the H Street/Benning Road streetcar line east of the Anacostia River is under consideration. A study by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University found that neighborhoods that get new rail transit systems like streetcars experience a significant increase in housing prices. In some places, renters and low-income households have been priced out.

"A streetcar or light rail can lead to gentrification here," says Peter Tatian, a senior researcher at the Urban Institute. "It has in other places. It brings investment into a community and new people who are attracted by the new transportation. What the city needs to do is think about how it can take advantage of the benefits of light rail as well as mitigating the negatives that might exist, particularly for renters."

While many residents may welcome the streetcar line, Octaviah Holt, a 21-year-old professional, has her doubts about whom it will benefit.

"Who would put a trolley in this neighborhood?" says Holt. "I don't feel as though there is a lot of crime, but a lot of people wouldn't want to ride a trolley, the people that I know. I feel as though it's not for us, the people in the neighborhood. It's meant for the newcomers."

The perception that Ward 7 is not a place where developers want to build or people want to move is fading, according to Tatian.

"People who come out here will see the changes, but the problem is getting the people to come out here in the first place," he says. "There is still this perception that this is not a good place to be, but that is starting to change slowly."

New pedestrian bridge over I-295

One can get a bird's eye view of the traffic roaring by on Route 295 by standing on the old, narrow, poorly lit pedestrian bridge connecting Deanwood to Kenilworth. The latter neighborhood has been isolated from its neighbors since the highway was built through here, Chestnut says.

"This bridge is the only connection for this community to Minnesota Avenue and the Metro," he says. Now that Kenilworth is starting to grow, a new pedestrian bridge will be necessary to accommodate increased foot traffic.

"This pedestrian bridge was built a while ago, and it is time for it to be rebuilt," says Cheryl Cort. "It doesn't feel like a very safe place. We talk to residents and there's a tendency to use it during the daylight hours and take the bus home at night. The new pedestrian bridge will be designed to be a much safer place. It will deter crime."

Preparing for change

Whether the neighborhood Dennis Chestnut has called home his entire life can avoid the negative consequences of gentrification remains to be seen. The addition of affordable housing units amid new apartment buildings will certainly help. He says the late development of Deanwood has also turned out to be "a blessing."

"It wound up being a blessing in disguise for this particular area because of how rapidly it happened in some of the other areas," he says. "On the east side of the city, Ward 8 was one example of how rapidly it took place there. It has allowed the residents here in Ward 7 to witness that and to prepare to some extent. This is where the local engagement has been very important to get involved with the process."

Resident O'Neal Odom, 70, who has lived in the ward for 40 years, welcomes the expected transformation as major real estate projects are realized.

"We're finally starting to get some services," he says. "You know, streets fixed, getting stores, we are getting government. It's becoming a better place to live. I have no problem with gentrification. It's going to change like that anyway. Once they start building new houses and new things like that, people will stop being afraid of us."

For more on how gentrification has affected DC residents, listen to the TN documentary "Back of the Bus: Mass Transit, Race and Inequality."

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Transportation Nation

Proposed Lowline Underground Park Debuts "Solar Harvesters" for Subterranean Photosynthesis (PICS)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A sample "canopy distributor" channeling sunlight into a darkened warehouse demonstrates how the proposed Lowline underground park in Manhattan could have enough light to grow plants. (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

New Yorkers can get their first peek at the technology required to construct a proposed park in an underground abandoned trolley station. A year ago (almost to the day). the Lowline project teased the imaginations of New Yorkers and dazzled park lovers everywhere by releasing dreamy renderings of a lush park paradise-to-be in a most unlikely place: below ground. And not just below ground, but below Delancey Street, one of the most disparaged and dangerous stretches of asphalt in the whole city for a pleasant pedestrian stroll.

In dense Manhattan, though, clusters of unused cubic feet are precious, be they in a penthouse or buried in infrastructure purgatory. So an abandoned trolley terminal dating back to the early 1900s is a contender to become New York park space. The plan depends on subterranean sunlight shining through the sidewalk in beams powerful enough to grow greenery.

"What I envision is that we will have this kind of undulating, reflective ceiling actually functioning as an optical device to draw sunlight into the space to make it somewhere that you would actually like to spend some time," says James Ramsey, co-founder of the Lowline and designer of the "Imagining the Lowline" installation that opens Saturday to showcase sample "solar harvesting" technology.

A 35-foot wide aluminum canopy showers light upon a mock indoor park to demonstration the "remote skylight" concept. (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

The Lowline name is a play on the wildly successful High Line, which turned an abandoned freight rail line on Manhattan's far west side into elevated park space. To showcase how that might be replicated in cavernous conditions, the Lowline team has set up an exhibit in a warehouse at ground level, right above the proposed site on Essex Street between and Broome and Delancey Streets. The rugged, blackened warehouse aims to recreate what it might be like to amble through the 100-year old trolley terminal below.

"On top of this roof we created  a massive superstructure, that's way in the air, that's actually harvesting the sunlight, redirecting it through light pipes," Ramsey says. A computer guides the rooftop solar collectors to track the sun all day long for maximal reflected light through a system created by a Canadian company, Sun Central.

The solar technology was designed by Raad Studio, engineering firm Arup, and physics professor Lorne Whitehead of the Univ. of British Columbia. Landscape by Hortus Environmental Design. (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

To fund the exhibit, the Lowline raised $155,000 on Kickstarter. But it has to cross a number of hurdles before -- not to mention if -- it becomes reality.

Ramsey cautioned that the final design will depend on "many, many different conditions." Including negotiations with several city agencies. Delancey Street -- presently under a years' long redesign to become more bike and pedestrian friendly -- would need another overhaul to install "remote skylights." The preliminary engineering study for the Lowline is still weeks away from being finalized. That will bring with it cost estimates for tasks like lead paint abatement and adding drainage. After the price tag is tabulated, a design will be hatched, and the dreamers crazy enough to build a park below a busy city will have to commence some serious fundraising.

Also sharing space with the "Imagining the Lowline" exhibit is "Experiments in Motion," an installation sponsored by Audi and executed by Columbia architecture students to explore multi-modal transportation possibilities. The centerpiece of the projects on display is a 50-foot 3D model of New York's underground public spaces, mainly subway stations, meant to place the Lowline in spacial context.

Close up of the midtown Manhattan portion of a 3D model of the NY subway system. (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

The exhibit is open to the public Saturday, September 15th - 27th. More details are at the Lowline website.

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Transportation Nation

DC "Pioneer" in Walkable, Transit-Friendly Neighborhoods

Thursday, September 13, 2012

(photo by Martin DiCaro)

(Washington, DC - WAMU) D.C. is known for its great tourist attractions -- not to mention political scandals -- but among real estate developers the metropolitan area is receiving attention for what one expert says is a pioneering approach to the development of neighborhoods.

The D.C. metro area is leading the nation in the creation of WalkUPs --Walkable Urban Places -- according to a report released by George Washington University professor and smart growth advocate Christopher Leinberger.

In Leinberger’s view, developers are reversing decades of thinking about how people want to live, work and be entertained by creating anti-sprawl: densely-built office space, housing, and retail space in urban settings where residents can have most of their daily needs met within 1,500 to 3,000 feet of where they live.  While WalkUPs may differ in many respects from neighborhood to neighborhood, they all share one thing in common: access to multiple modes of transit, including commuter rail, bus, and bike sharing.

“There are 43 regionally significant WalkUPs in this region and they total only 17,500 acres, less than 1 percent of the land mass,” said Leinberger, who heads the political advocacy group Locus. “But this is the future of where most regionally significant job growth and development will go over the next generation.”

(photo by Martin DiCaro)

How walkable is your neighborhood? Leinberger developed a zero-to-100 scoring system at walkscore.com.

“These walkable urban places that I have been studying have a walk score that is a minimum of 70. As [a neighborhood] gets more walkable we have found that its economic performance goes up, and this is why developers are so fascinated by these places. Greater walkability, higher rents. But there is a downside to higher rents and that is basic affordability.”

Capitol Riverfront neighborhood Southeast -- near Navy Yard Metro (photo by Martin DiCaro)

The Capitol Riverfront neighborhood in Southeast D.C. may demonstrate the success of the WalkUP model. A blighted industrial landscape of oil storage tankers and trash transfer stations that was scarred by crime, prostitution and poverty, Capitol Riverfront – just five blocks from the U.S. Capitol building with two miles of riverfront real estate – has witnessed a rapid transformation over the past decade. The catalyst for change was the completion of the Navy Yard Metro Station in 1999, according to Michael Stevens, the executive director of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District (BID), a non-profit that performs planning and infrastructure analysis.

“It was only until the Navy Yard Metro station opened in 1999 that I think people started to understand this could be an in-town neighborhood,” said Stevens, who said once the redevelopment of downtown D.C. was accomplished, developers could “jump” into adjacent neighborhood ripe for change.

In the past decade, the Green Line corridor has caught up to -- and exceeded -- the Rosslyn-Ballston Orange Line corridor in attracting the coveted 18-34 demographic, according to data compiled by the BID.  From 2000 to 2010, the Green Line corridor attracted more than 3,400 new households in that age group, slightly more than Rosslyn-Ballston.  In the previous decade such growth was nearly non-existent along the Green Line.

“We survey residents living down here on an annual basis and year in and year out the most important factor for them choosing to live in the neighborhood has been the access to multi-modal transit and the Metro station,” said Ted Skirbunt, the BID’s director of real estate research.

(photo by Martin DiCaro)

The WalkUP model has thrived because there's been an attitude shift among young professionals. Less interested in living in drivable suburbs where the costs of home ownership are incompatible with college debt bills, this cohort has been seeking smaller living spaces where cars -- and the parking spaces they require -- are unnecessary.

“We call it the five-minute neighborhood. Within a five-minute walk you can be at the grocery store, at the park where your kids are going to play or where you’re going to hear a concert. You can walk to your job. You can walk to a restaurant, a bar or entertainment venue,” said Stevens.

During an interview with Transportation Nation, Stevens pointed to an explosion of development taking place in an area covering just a couple square blocks: new loft apartments with ground floor restaurants, an old industrial building being converted into a retail and restaurant cluster, a 50,000-square foot grocery store, and 30,000-square foot health club.  In a suburban setting, such development would require many more acres of space considering the parking lots that would be necessary.

“We are seeing a paradigm shift from an almost entirely suburban model to a generation that doesn’t necessarily want cars. They want multi-modal transportation choices. They want to live close to the urban cores where the action is and the jobs are,” Stevens said.

For more about DC's history with development, check out the TN documentary Back of the Bus: Race, Mass Transit and Inequality

To read more about this issue, check out How Transit Is Shaping the Gentrification of D.C., Part 1

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Transportation Nation

HUD Secretary Highlights Central Florida Commuter Line as Sprawl Fighter -- and Economic Driver

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan

Planners designing around Central Florida’s SunRail future commuter line are working to bring walkable communities around rail stops, said Shaun Donovan, secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

They are making sure zoning changes around the stations will be able to increase nearby construction, which creates jobs, but also brings housing and jobs within a walkable distance, he said in an interview with WMFE just before the Florida Housing Coalition’s annual conference.

“Frankly, families are getting more and more fed up,” Donovan said. “I don’t want to spent two hours commuting...the average family now spends fifty cents of every dollar they earn just on housing and transportation...this can lower the cost of jobs.”

SunRail is expected to cost $1.2 billion to construct. It will begin operations in 2014.

 

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Transportation Nation

Maryland County Debates Joining DC's Bike Share Program

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

(photo by Kevin Kovaleski/DDOTDC via flickr)

(Armando Trull and Matt Bush -- Washington DC, WAMU) Maryland's Montgomery County is considering a $2.1 million plan to expand Capital Bikeshare to more than 48 locations, including Takoma Park, Silver Spring, Bethesda, Friendship Heights and the NIH/Medical Center Metro station. Funding for the 350 bikes and their respective stations will be a combination of money from state grants, the county and the private sector.

Two bills were introduced in the County Council today to encourage bikesharing. One would eliminate a zoning requirement needed to set up a bikesharing station, while another would allow county transportation money to be spent on such stations.

"Twenty-nine stations in Silver Spring, Bethesda, Friendship Heights, Medical Center — all the places where you would most want to provide the kind of biking community integrated with the District of Columbia," said Council President Roger Berliner. He said both moves would encourage bikesharing with businesses and their workers.

While passage of both bills wouldn't necessarily mean that D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare would be coming to Montgomery County, Berliner says whatever bikesharing program there is in Montgomery County would have to be integrated with the city's.

Councilwoman Nancy Floreen warned though that Montgomery County has a long way to go in updating its roads to ensure bikers are safe.

"There are many, many accidents that are occurring on a regular basis," said Floreen. "Whether or not they reported. I'm going to a lot of hospitals to visit folks."

Floreen added the county can take its cues from D.C. on this issue as well, pointing to how the city increased the number of bike lanes and bike markings on major roads by turning some of them into one-way streets for vehicle traffic. Public hearings on both bills will take place late next month before the council.

The county has already received federal money to purchase 200 additional bikeshare bikes in the Rockville and Shady Grove Life Sciences Center. The bike rental program -- the most popular in the country -- already operates in the District and Arlington County and the City of Alexandria in Virginia.

 

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Transportation Nation

Rethinking San Francisco's Main Drag

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Market Street (photo by Benjamin Dumas via flickr)

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on re-thinking Market Street. Check out part 2 and part 3.

Around 250,000 people use Market Street every day— and in every way. They take the bus, ride BART, walk to work, shop... even live.

In 2016, the entire road, between Octavia and the Embarcadero, will be torn up and repaved. So city planners figure it’s the perfect time to reshape and re-imagine San Francisco’s main drag.

San Francisco’s transportation director Ed Reiskin says it’s a good opportunity for the city to do more than pour concrete.

“If we're going to go through the expense and disruption to repair the surface and infrastructure of Market Street, let's not just put it back the way it was, let's really fix it,” Reiskin says.

The Department of Public Works is in charge of the project. They’re working with a variety of city and county agencies to draw up a set of plans that balance the practical needs of the street with the vision of a wide variety of stakeholders.

The public is a part of the process, too -- the most recent public meeting was standing room only.

On the table is everything from a total ban on private cars to dedicated bike lanes; from fewer MUNI stops to more sidewalk cafes and parklets. The city anticipates the redesign to cost around $250 million. Funding for repaving is already in place.

I went out to Market to ask some of the people behind these ideas about their vision for the street.

At the corner of 3rd and Market, map-wielding tourists shiver in shorts and tank tops. A man sits on the sidewalk with his dog. The sign in his lap says ‘Anything helps.’ Throngs of office workers walk right by him, eyes fixed intently on the screens of their smartphones. Bikes squeeze in between buses and the curb, dodging taxis and delivery trucks.

Up ahead I see Mohammed Nuru. He’s the director of Public Works in San Francisco. He’s agreed to meet me here to talk about the street. “It's a pretty busy intersection, as you can see,” says Nuru. “It's busy all the time from about 7 o'clock in the morning until almost 10 o'clock at night.”

Standing next to him is Kris Opbroek. She manages the Better Market Street project.

“I think Market Street is the city's Main Street in a sense. I think it always has been, actually,” she says. “I think its identity is our parade ground, and our real civic space is still here. I think where it falls short a bit is in the day to day use.”

Nuru and Opbroek spend their days watching this street. They’re overseeing Market’s redevelopment. And they’re trying to pin down what is, and isn’t, working here.

Traffic is a big issue. Right now private cars, taxis, delivery trucks, paratransit, and bikes all share the road with streetcars and buses.

Leah Shahum is the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Her office is at 5th and Market. She says another thing on people’s minds is how to make Market safer and more inviting for bicyclists. Bike riding is on the rise, and Market is most used bike corridor in the city.

“I talk to a lot of people who are confident riders. They're people who bike elsewhere in the city,” Shahum says. “They’re adults who really are comfortable bicycling, but they say, ‘Wow, I don't want to bike on Market Street because I'm really scared about it.’”

Right now, most of the bike lanes on Market are painted lines on narrow pieces of pavement shared with buses and trucks and cars. Only about six blocks of the street have a physically separated bike lane.

“What we hear from people is: ‘Wow, for those six blocks, I feel calm, I feel safe, I feel comfortable. This works,’” Shahum says.

She wants that kind of comfort to extend the along the entire length of Market Street.

But the road isn’t just for wheels.

Elizabeth Stampe is the executive director for Walk San Francisco. She says that, ultimately, everyone is a pedestrian. Her office is a block from Shahum’s, at 6th and Market.

“This is the place where the most pedestrians have been hit by cars in the whole city,” she says, as we stand at the busy intersection. “And you can see it's a long crossing for folks with wheelchairs and canes, of whom there are many right here. You don't really get enough time.”

Stampe says that expanding the sidewalks at corners like this would help shorten the time it takes for pedestrians to get across the street and slow down the cars fighting to get through the intersections.

Making it safer to cross the street or ride a bike might seem obvious. But there’s always a trade-off. Solving one problem creates another problem somewhere else, or else pushes it a block farther down the road.

“Market Street is a special street,” says Stampe. “It's the spine of the city. And it's a gathering spot. It’s also a little bit magnetic. Both in the sense that it attracts people, but some parts of it still repel people.”

She says the corner where she works is a good example of Market’s confused identity. “It’s about a block from the mall, but it could be a world away.”

She compares the blocks along Market to islands in a stream. In this case, one island is the upscale shopping and tourist district around Powell Street. The next is lined with abandoned storefronts. Many people are either homeless and living on the street, or live in tiny rooms in nearby SRO hotels.

San Francisco’s transportation director, Ed Reiskin, works a few blocks away at Market and Van Ness. We walked through the Civic Center and talked about the street.

“For a lot of people, this is their living room and it should continue to serve that function,” he says. “If you or I had that space, we would also want to spend more time outside than inside.”

The city estimates that about 6,000 people are without shelter on any given night in San Francisco––many on Market Street.

“There may be some undesirable activity, some criminal activity, or unsafe situations that the city wants to address regardless of what happens design-wise on Market Street,” says Reiskin. “But I don't think we want to lose the character of Market Street or push anyone off of it. We want to make it a nice place for more people to be in.”

During the day the street has different feelings. Some new businesses have moved in, joining art spaces like the Luggage Store. But compared to the bustle just a few blocks away, the street here feels empty.

At Market and Van Ness, traffic hits the city from both major bridges. It’s a gateway to San Francisco – but instead of a grand monument marking the spot, there’s a car wash and a donut shop.

“It's not just infrastructure,” says Reiskin. “It's not just design. It's economic development. It's economic vitality. So I think there's more to it than just how we lay out the streets and how we paint the lines.”

That economic vitality is an important ingredient in a complex process. Money for repaving the street is in place. But coming up with the $250 million this project is expected to cost still has to be worked out. Back at 3rd and Market, Mohammed Nuru says some of that money could come from businesses that stand to benefit from the street’s upgrade.

The intersection of 3rd and Market (image via Google Street View)

“We’re bringing the right partners onto Market Street, bringing the Twitters in, bringing the new businesses in, bringing the restaurants in, all that adds to the vitality of a street,” Nuru says. “And they contribute and they partner with us, so together we’ll try to figure out what the bill will look like.”

Ultimately, though, the project isn’t just about the street’s physical condition––it’s about its character. And that’s a big part of what city officials are considering as they re-imagine Market. What does the street mean, and what should it be?

Nuru says it’s a great opportunity to think big. “I think what this process has done is woken everybody up and made them say, ‘Wow if I had an idea, this is the time to get it in because it could happen.’”

Another public meeting is planned for the fall. Get there early—it’s likely to be standing room only.

For more information on the Better Market Street project, click here.

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on re-thinking Market Street. Check out part 2 and part 3.

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Transportation Nation

Special Report: How Transit Is Shaping the Gentrification of D.C., Part 1

Monday, September 10, 2012


This is the first of a two-part series on the relationship between gentrification and access to transit in Washington D.C.'s rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. Part 1 examines the Shaw and Pleasant Plains neighborhoods in the Georgia Avenue corridor in Ward 1. Listen to the WAMU radio version of this story here.

This two-mile stretch of Georgia Avenue NW, sandwiched between two Metro stations, looks like a construction zone. Every few blocks a new apartment building with ground floor retail space is under construction, surrounded by scaffolding or heavy equipment. A neighborhood that has changed dramatically in the past decade is in store for further gentrification.

"There were eight major development projects that were in various stages of planning," says Sylvia Robinson, 51, a community organizer who helped form a neighborhood task force to monitor proposals for new development over the past two years.

According to data compiled by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank, the 20001 zip code -- which includes the Georgia Avenue corridor in Ward 1 -- was the sixth-fastest gentrifying zip code in the entire country last decade, based on the change in the share of the white population. In 2000, whites were only 6 percent of the population; by 2010 the white population had increased to 33 percent in the zip code, according to U.S. Census data. Washington has several of the fastest changing neighborhoods in the country.

Gentrification is an attitude

While gentrification is often simplified to mean the displacement of poorer black residents by wealthier white newcomers, Robinson says the change is more complicated where she lives.

"I consider gentrification an attitude," Robinson says. "It's the idea that you are coming in as a planner, developer, or city agency and looking at a neighborhood as if it's a blank slate. You impose development and different economic models and say that in order for this neighborhood to thrive you need to build this much housing, this much retail."

Robinson does not oppose gentrification; she wants her community to have a voice in the inevitable changes. "We are primarily an African-American, low-income community. Typically, we are not asked about changes that are coming," she says. For instance, in addition to new market-rate condominiums, neighborhood advocates are lobbying for new affordable housing units to prevent the displacement of long-time residents when property values ultimately rise.

Changes here have been dramatic. The Shaw and Pleasant Plains neighborhoods are safer, have seen property values increase and shopping opportunities multiply.

"It's an extraordinary change," says Peter Tatian, a senior researcher at the Urban Institute. "I've been in D.C. over 25 years and I remember when that part of town was considered off limits by many people, that you wouldn't want to even go there. And now it's become one of the priciest areas." The median price of a home is over $500,000 in many parts of Ward 1, Tatian says.

The transportation angle

"The development of our community is really going to hinge on people being able to move up and down that segment of Georgia Avenue freely and easily," Robinson says.

The congested corridor connects two Metro stations in Northwest D.C: Petworth in the north and Shaw/Howard University in the south. Significant new development is being constructed close to the Shaw Metro station, leaving Robinson concerned that hundreds of new apartment units and thousands of square feet of retail space will focus economic activity there at the expense of older neighborhoods further away.

"[Developers] don't have a sense of what the natural boundaries are for the neighborhood," Robinson says. "Neighborhoods were here before the Metro Stations came in, so it's not like you are creating a new neighborhood. You are already in a neighborhood and that neighborhood can really benefit from that Metro station, but not if you are only focused on the station as a center of development."

When a "thriving neighborhood" is measured largely by how much money people are spending or how high rents are climbing, Robinson says gentrification causes damage.

"That is my main issue with all of this: everything is looked through the lens of shopping," she says.

Just a mile or so north of the Shaw Metro on Georgia Avenue, one will find shops and restaurants that are long-time establishments in the neighborhood. To get to them, Robinson says residents and Howard University students will have to rely on the 70 bus line.

"It's just notoriously unreliable and always has a very interesting set of characters on it," she says. "They're supposed to run every ten minutes, but what you'll get is three buses in a row and then nothing for half an hour."

Anika Rich, a Howard University senior who has witnessed the neighborhood's transformation, doubts the current bus service is adequate to connect people to different parts of the Georgia Avenue corridor.

"I don't think that people are going to be connected to it. I know that there are plans that Howard University has to lure us to the other side of the street, and have us patronize a section that doesn't necessarily get much attention from other people," Rich says.

Robinson worries that "isolated" pockets of economic development will be the result. Moreover, as the population of this part of the city continues to grow (14 percent increase in the 20001 zip code between 2000-2010), so will pressure on the existing infrastructure to efficiently move people between work and home, home and shopping.

"We're talking about improving the bus lines. We're talking about the Circulator bus... moving up this corridor. We're talking about possibly working with Howard University to have shuttles circulate further north," she says.

While Ward 1 has the look and feel of a dramatically different neighborhood, other areas of the city have not seen development follow access to transit. In part two of this series, we will visit the Deanwood and Kenilworth neighborhoods in Ward 7 to examine why development has been slow to rise up in an area that has had four Metro stations for many years.

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Transportation Nation

Pink Fire Trucks Stop In Montana

Friday, September 07, 2012

Wildland firefighting trucks out on a fire south of Billings. (Photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

(Billings, MT - YPR) Montana is in the midst of a severe wildfire season. Crews from across the country and their wildland firefighting trucks have become a common sight this summer, as pictured above.

Billings residents did a double take recently when a several pink structure firefighting trucks pulled into town. They stopped overnight at the local Holiday Inn.

(Photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

The "Pink Heals Campaign" is currently on a three-month tour of several mid-Western and Western States. Founder Dave Graybill says the tour is to encourage communities to come together to support their women, men and children fighting cancer. The retired firefighter has recruited about a half-dozen firefighters to join him on the tour.

Joel Mains is a firefighter and paramedic from Crystal Lake, IL.  He says what has surprised him on this tour is the kindness of strangers. "We were at a truck stop and one of the belts was making a little bit of noise," Mains says. "And this old truck driver came up and climbed up on the back end of the engine and we popped the hatch and he gave us a hand. That happens frequently."

Pink Heals Founder Dave Graybill. (Photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

 

The "Pink Heals" Tour wraps up in Maricopa, AZ in October. In the meantime, here are a few more photos so you can keep your eye out for them as the roll through your town.

 

Visitors are encouraged to sign the trucks. (Photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

 

Visitors to the Rimrock Mall also included some members of the Billings Fire Department. (Photo by Jackie Yamanaka) 

 

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Transportation Nation

NYC Debates Reining in Rogue Bike Messengers & Food Delivery Cyclists

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A NYC DOT staffer handing out examples of educational material to members of the New York City Council (photo by Kate Hinds)

Businesses should be financially liable if their delivery people disobey cycling rules.

That's a goal of a package of four bills under discussion in the New York City Council. The legislation aims to educate commercial cyclists, as well and put teeth into rules that are already on the books. One of the bills would give the Department of Transportation the authority to issue civil fines to employers who don't post signs in the workplace about traffic laws, or fail to provide lights, helmets, bells and vests to their delivery people.

Jimmy Vacca, who chairs the council's transportation committee, said one of the main goals of the legislation is to take some of the burden off of the NYPD. "The New York City Police Department has been asked to do more with less for long enough," he said, "and commercial cycling enforcement in that agency has not been a priority."

The legislation piggybacks on a campaign currently underway in the DOT. This summer, the agency created a six-person unit tasked with educating businesses about commercial cycling rules. "This unit has already gone door-to-door to over 1,350 businesses," said Kate Slevin, an assistant commissioner for the NYC DOT, at a City Council hearing on Thursday. Its efforts are focused on Manhattan's restaurant-heavy West Side right now; it will expand to the East Side, as well as Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood, by the end of this year.

Enforcement starts in January, when the unit's inspectors will begin issuing $100 tickets to businesses that aren't in compliance.

But whether a six-person unit can ensure that thousands of businesses are obeying the law is a big concern of the council -- not to mention the fact that moving violations are still under the purview of the NYPD.

"The extent of the problem that I see is tremendous," Vacca said, citing complaints about delivery people riding on sidewalks or against traffic. "I want to make sure that this unit has enough people in it to make everyone understand that the days of yesterday are gone."

He said he agreed with an idea that Council Member Peter Koo had floated earlier in the hearing about using the city's traffic agents to help enforce the rules. "What are they trained to do, just give summonses to people? ... It's an extension of their existing responsibility."

Sue Petito, a lawyer for the NYPD, tried to put the kibosh on that line of thinking. "It's a different body of laws and regulations," she said, "completely different from what their current mandate is."

Meanwhile, Robert Bookman of the New York City Hospitality Group said he wanted the council to cut restaurant owners some slack. "I just can't understand the logic of why an employer should get a summons for an employee who is provided with a helmet who chooses not to wear it," he said.

A spokesperson for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said her office was reviewing the legislation and the findings from today's hearing.

(Minutes from the meeting can be found here. Read the legislation on the City Council's website.)

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Arlington Schools Not Backing Down On New Busing Rules

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

(image by Adam Fagen via flickr)

(Patrick Madden - Washington, DC, WAMU) Hundreds of parents in Virginia's Arlington County are appealing a new policy that will likely force more than 1,000 children who used to take the bus to school to walk instead this year.

Arlington schools plan to strictly enforce a walking zone for students, reports the Washington Post. That means elementary students living within a mile of school and secondary students within 1.5 miles of school aren't eligible for busing.

When the school system spelled out plans in August, many parents were angry, and 200 of them filed appeals. But only a few of those appeals have been successful, an ACPS spokeswoman told the Post. Donna Owens, the mother of a sixth grader, told the newspaper that many children will have to cross busy roads to get to school.

School officials argue they're addressing growing enrollment, because the bus system was reaching a crisis. There are an additional 1,000 students enrolled in the county's schools this year, according to Superintendent Patrick Murphy.

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This Woman Created an Underwater Wheelchair to Feel the Freedom of SCUBA

Friday, August 31, 2012

(Ellen Frankman and John Hockenberry, The Takeaway) This week the London Paralympic Games have brought increased attention to people with disabilities, built upon the athletes and the artistic community represented in the Cultural Olympiad celebrations.

Artistic expression is just one part of the larger narrative of the disability culture, in which the voices of the disabled are outlets of both personal expression, and a farther-reaching means of education.

Sue Austin is an artist participating in the Unlimited Festival of the Cultural Olympiad. Sue has designed a self-propelled underwater wheelchair, and has captured on film her gentle underwater movement in the chair. Phyllis Boerner is the Community Relations Director of United Disability Services, and the director of United Disability Service’s arts magazine, Kaleidoscope.

Listen to the interview with Austin and Boerner at The Takeaway.

 

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Last Week to See Our Abandoned Bike Art Exhibit (w/VIDEO)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Passersby view the Transportation Nation abandoned bike art exhibit at WNYC's Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in Manhattan.

If you are in NYC this week, you can swing by WNYC's Jerome L. Greene Performance Space  in Manhattan to see the final week of our abandoned bike art exhibit.

As we reported earlier this year, New York City has far more abandoned bikes left to decay on city streets than other cities do. That's caused by a mix of NYC's density, the strict wording of city rules, and a clunky 311 reporting process that can take 7 minutes per bike. The effect: bikes are left to rot, and over time, neighbors come to form attachments to the crumpled metal as it lingers, waiting for resolution.

We collected hundreds of photos from readers and radio listeners and put them on a map. Then we compiled the best into a digital slideshow for you. Finally, we  placed some actual abandoned bikes on display side by side for your in-person viewing and pondering pleasure. Bikes generously provided by the NY Dept. of Sanitation and Recycle-a-Bicycle, a youth service organization.

Listen to an audio report of TN negotiating with the City of NY to accept our hundreds of bikes via map and spreadsheet. Full reporting and everything you'd want to know about abandoned bikes here.

And here's a video explaining how the art project came to be:

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Transportation Nation

MTA, NY Pols Fire Off on Court Decision Striking Down Key Transpo Tax

Thursday, August 23, 2012

For the best summary of this issue LISTEN to this short conversation with WNYC's Matthew Schuerman:

(New York, NY - WNYC) When news broke last night that a New York Supreme Court Justice had struck down a crucial transportation tax, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority issued a tart remark that included a promise to “vigorously appeal today’s ruling."

Then the authority's financial officers had overnight to contemplate the prospect of having a $1.8 billion hole blasted into their annual budget if the ruling is upheld.

That could not have produced sweet dreams. Instead, it prompted the authority to send forth a more robust denunciation of Justice R. Bruce Cozzens Jr.'s finding that the tax, collected from 12 counties in and around New York City served by the NY MTA, was levied in a way that violated the state constitution.

MTA head, Joe Lhota said, "the ruling is flawed as well as erroneous." He added the lawsuit also contests four other dedicated taxes, totaling $1.8 billion per year. "The payroll mobility tax drives the entire economy of New York. Without the MTA, New York would choke on traffic," he warned.

At issue is a "mobility tax" that collects 34 cents per hundred dollars of payroll from employers, excluding small businesses. The tax was created in 2009 to save the NY MTA from a budget crisis caused by the recession.

In addition to running the largest subway system in the U.S., the city buses, the MTA also manages regional commuter rail companies and the bridges used by them.

Late last year, Governor Cuomo reversed the tax for certain small businesses, promising to replace "every penny" with money from the state's general revenues.

Below is the MTA's most recent fighting words in full, followed by reactions from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg.

MTA Statement on Payroll Mobility Tax ruling

The MTA strongly believes that yesterday’s ruling from Nassau Supreme Court is erroneous. We will vigorously appeal it and we expect it will be overturned, since four similar Supreme Court cases making the same argument were previously dismissed.

The Payroll Mobility Tax maintains a regional transportation system that moves more than 8.5 million people every day and drives the economy of New York City, Long Island, the northern suburbs and the entire state.

Removing more than $1.2 billion in revenue from the Payroll Mobility Tax, plus hundreds of millions of dollars more from other taxes affected by yesterday’s ruling, would be catastrophic for the MTA and for the economy of New York State.

The MTA is getting its fiscal house in order. We have cut more than $700 million from our annual operating budget and eliminated 3,500 jobs. We are on track for this year’s discretionary spending to actually be lower than last year’s.

Without the Payroll Mobility Tax or another stable and reliable source of funding, the MTA would be forced to implement a combination of extreme service cuts and fare hikes. The Payroll Mobility Tax remains in effect for now, and we expect that it will survive this legal challenge.

Governor Cuomo told reporters this morning that he didn't think there would be a disruption to the NY MTA's budget, adding, "I believe this ruling is wrong and will be reversed."

In a separate event, Mayor Bloomberg told reporters that one way to make up for the NY MTA's potential loss of revenue would be to enact a congestion pricing plan like the one he proposed for part of Manhattan in 2008, which was defeated by a vote in the state legislature. The mayor then continued with a bit of sarcasm, "I betcha the legislature thinks they have a better plan. My suggestion is you address your question to those people who think they have a better plan."

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Nation's First Incorporated African-American Town Gets Streetscape Makeover (PICS)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

New Gateway Welcomes Visitors to Historic Eatonville Near Orlando

(Nicole Creston, WMFE -- Orlando, Fla.) The small town of Eatonville, Fla. just north of Orlando is best known for being the oldest incorporated African-American municipality in the United States. It is also known for being home to historical landmarks like the first Central Florida school for African-Americans, and to notable figures like writer Zora Neale Hurston.

[Listen to this radio report at WMFE.]

This month, the town celebrated its 125th anniversary by cutting the ribbon on the crown jewel of a multi-year beautification project: an archway visible from Interstate 4. The stately structure welcomes visitors to town and gives Eatonville a new sense of identity. It could be the first step in turning the town into a destination for historic tourism.

Maye St. Julien, Chair of the Eatonville Historic Preservation Board, explains the significance of the year 1887 for Eatonville, and why it’s being recognized 125 years later. “What we celebrate is the actual signing of the articles of incorporation making it an official town recognized by the state.”

The town was actually founded in 1881 by a freed slave named Joe Clark, says St. Julien. She says since African-Americans could only buy individual plots of land back then – enough for one house – Clark sought the help of his boss, citrus industry entrepreneur and retired military captain Josiah Eaton.

“The town is named for Mr. Eaton because he was the major contributor and the major supporter of Joe Clark,” says St. Julien. “And he advertised, and you can see on the newspaper back in 1880s, for people of color to come to Eatonville and own your own land, and you could purchase a lot for $35, or $50 if you needed credit. And that’s how this town was made.”

Six years later, in 1887, men from 27 of Eatonville’s 29 families incorporated the town.

“There were 29, but there was a bit of intimidation on the part of the whites when it was learned that the blacks had acquired this much land,” explains St. Julien. “So, two of them became a little concerned and chose not to participate in that, but thank goodness and God bless the 27 who did,” says St. Julien.

Eatonville’s historic main street is East Kennedy Boulevard. From its intersection with I-4, the town’s business district stretches east about five blocks and the whole strip has been completely refurbished. The road has been repaved and repainted, brick pedestrian walkways have been added, and sidewalks are bristling with Florida-friendly flowers and foliage.

Eatonville Mayor Bruce Mount can’t hide his enthusiasm about the changes that district has seen over the past few years. “If you haven’t been down Kennedy Boulevard lately, you will not know Kennedy Boulevard,” says Mount.

City Planners Worked for Two Years to Revive Downtown Eatonville with New Street Pavers, Refurbished Sidewalks, and Shady Trees

Famous African-American institutions including the Hungerford Normal and Industrial School and figures like Hurston shared addresses along the storied piece of pavement.

And now, Eatonville is getting the kind of gateway its leaders say it deserves. A new iron archway mounted on brick columns stretches across Kennedy, facing I-4. A sign at the top extends a welcome to Eatonville and displays information about the historic town and its 125th anniversary. Mount says the whole structure lights up at night.

Writer Zora Neale Hurston Grew Up in Eatonville and Included the Town in Her Novels

“It has a clock on it and it also has some nice plaques on it,” Mount adds. “The Zora Neale Hurston plaque is there, the school [plaque] is there, so that is a very nice theme to the streetscape… The citizens are proud. I’m getting calls all the time.”

The vast majority of those calls about Kennedy’s overhaul are positive, he says.

And so is most of the conversation down the street during a recent lunchtime rush at Vonya’s Southern Cooking Café on Kennedy. The customers were buzzing about Eatonville’s makeover.

“Huge difference already,” says nine-year Eatonville resident Darrius Gallagher. “It should be very beautiful. It’s a very historic town.”

Esther Critton has lived in Eatonville all of her nineteen years. “With them doing the construction, it gives the town a better look and then makes the people feel good, makes the town run smoother,” she says. “So, we’re coming a long way.”

In August 2012, 125 years after the 27 men signed the articles of incorporation for Eatonville, Mayor Mount helped honor those men by cutting the ribbon on the gateway that commemorates the town’s anniversary. The ribbon stretched the full five blocks of the business district, wrapping around the smaller brick columns that now mark the east end of Eatonville on Kennedy.

Those columns, although constructed as part of the same project as the gateway, do not have an arch to support. That seems to be a bit of a problem for one nearby business owner - former Eatonville Mayor Abraham Gordon Junior.

Decorative Columns Mark the East Entrance to Eatonville

Former Mayor Eatonville Abraham Gordon Jr.  Runs Be Back Fish House in Town

Gordon owns the Be Back Fish House, a seafood restaurant and the business closest to those columns. He had a different vision for his end of the street, including a sign identifying the town and, ideally, an archway like the one close to I-4.

“It should’ve been the same height that is down on that end,” says Gordon, “and just had across ‘Welcome to Eatonville’ and that would’ve made it somewhat complete.”Gordon also says the placement of the columns so near his restaurant used up space he was hoping he could dedicate to his customers.

“There’s parking in front of every business in the town of Eatonville,” explains Gordon. “There’s parking in places where there’s no business in the town of Eatonville. And no parking in front of this place, where there is business.”

Instead, he points out, there’s a proliferation of that Florida-friendly foliage, which is mean to enhance the look of the columns but winds up partially obscuring his restaurant from view.

But, he adds, he’s seen the changes Eatonville has undergone since he first arrived in the early 1950s, and he doesn’t want to stand in the way of the town’s evolution. “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, and we don’t need any more problems.”

He says Eatonville has come a very long way from the cluster of houses surrounded by dirt roads and strained wastewater systems he first saw, and overall he says the town’s new look is “very nice.”

Eatonville Public Works Director Abraham Canady says, “the construction is a result of a federal grant that was spearheaded by Congresswoman Corrine Brown." She adds, "the grant went through the Federal Highway Administration to Florida Department of Transportation.”

The Project was Made Possible by Help From State and Federal DOT's

Canady says the current construction value of the project is about $1.4 million, and he thinks it’s worth every penny, especially the west end gateway that draws welcome attention to the town.

And that’s just the beginning, according to Mayor Mount. There are more changes coming, starting with plans for more development near the new gateway.

“We want it to be mixed use – amphitheaters, the eateries, the hotels,” he says. “That’s what we want. We want Eatonville, when we’re talking about the future, to be a tourist destination. And because people say, ‘What do you have to sell, what do people have to sell?’ Our history.”

He says Eatonville could capitalize on “historical tourism” and become a destination for visitors looking for a different type of Orlando vacation than the theme parks offer.

Mount says that idea is still in the early stages. Next step – a visioning meeting with the town council as Eatonville continues to evolve…and celebrate its anniversary throughout the year.

Click here to listen to Nicole Creston's report on Eatonville at WMFE. 

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Investigators Call Chevron Fire a "Near Disaster"

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, California burst into flames earlier this month.  Reportedly, workers discovered that an old pipe, potentially in operation since the 1970s, was leaking. After about two hours, they removed the insulation unit while the pipe was still processing crude, causing the explosion. Five workers were treated for minor injuries, but the Chemical Safety Board has called the accident a “near disaster” for refinery personnel. A "shelter in place" warning was issued for the community because of potential toxins in the air. And more than 11,000 residents went to the emergency room complaining of health problems.

Investigations into the cause of the fire are ongoing. But, inspectors need access to the site of the explosion, which is still considered too dangerous.  Robert Rogers, the Richmond reporter for the Bay Area News Group, has been following the story. He spoke with KALW’s Holly Kernan about the fallout of the fire.

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In Age of Streetcar, Transit (not Cars) Fueled DC Suburbs

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Undated. Streetcars running on 14th Street, NW near the District Building, now known as the John A. Wilson Building. (Courtesy of DDOT)

(Rebecca Sheir, WAMU -- Washington, D.C.) Mount Pleasant, Anacostia, LeDroit Park...all three a part of our nation's capital, are probably not the first names that come to mind when one thinks of the D.C. suburbs. But these three neighborhoods actually comprised the District's earliest 'burbs. They were called "streetcar suburbs," since their development stemmed from streetcar lines.

In the case of Mount Pleasant, the streetcar transformed the community from a sleepy village to a bustling neighborhood. Local historian and writer Mara Cherkasky says the electric streetcar came up 14th Street NW around 1893, but everything changed when D.C. extended 16th Street past Boundary Street, which is today's Florida Avenue.

"Starting in 1905 stores started popping up, and apartment buildings and row houses," she says. "So that streetcar coming up Mount Pleasant Street in 1903 turned this neighborhood into what it is."

Cultural Tourism DC's Chief Historian Jane Freundel Levey compares the impact of the streetcar to the impact of modern-day Metro.

"Every place where we've had a new Metro station we've had a tremendous amount of the most modern style of building," she says. "And that's what happened here in Mount Pleasant, too."

The electric streetcar had its last run in 1962. Levey says its demise was connected to the advent of the highway lobby in the 1950s.

"The government was giving huge amounts of money to build roads and the number of cars just burgeoned," Levey says. "And cars and streetcars were not very compatible. Streetcars were not maneuverable; they had to be on the tracks. Cars were zipping in and out; it got dangerous, it got very dense."

In terms of when a suburb like Mount Pleasant stopped being known as a suburb and started being known as a part of the city proper, Levey says it's hard to pick a date.

"We have generational changes in how we define a suburb," she says. "So, what was a suburb, as in Mount Pleasant, that lasted really only a short amount of time until other suburbs developed. This was a suburb that pretty quickly took on urban forms, so the next rank of suburb is a little bit farther out from Mount Pleasant, especially going up Connecticut Avenue."

Levey says suburbs were attractive in D.C.'s early days because the city was "chock-a-block with industry and commerce, and you didn't want to mix that kind of activity with where you lived."

She says that same idea is still attractive to many people today.

"There are still a lot of people who just want to have their house, their castle," she says. "They want to have land around them that belongs to them, and they don't want to have to look out the kitchen window and be able to read the newspaper of the guy sitting in the kitchen next store. There will always be people who look at it that way."

Washington D.C. is looking to revive a streetcar line by the summer of 2013, though not for the suburbs.

The audio version of this story at WAMU has additional information, gripping voices, and sounds like a trip back in time for a streetcar ride. Listen

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Transportation Nation

(UPDATED) Greyhound to Move into Chinatown Bus Market after Law Change

Friday, August 17, 2012

View through the window of a Chinatown bus. (photo by brotherM / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) UPDATE: A source in the NY State Senate says this bill is now a state law. Here's a few of the law's main points: 

Bus permit applications must include identification of the intercity bus company, buses to be used, and bus stop location(s) being requested; total number of buses and passengers expected to use each location; bus schedules; places where buses would park when not in use.

The city, prior to assigning an intercity bus stop, must consult with the local community board, including a 45 day notice and comment period.

Intercity bus permits would be for terms of up to three years; permits will cost up to $275 per vehicle annually; permits must be displayed on buses.

Intercity buses that load or unload passengers on city streets either without a permit or in violation of permit requirements or restrictions will face a fine of up to $1,000 for a first violation, up to $2,500 for repeat violations, and suspension or revocation of permit.

 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign a bill into law on Friday that would restrict where long distance bus companies can pick up and drop off passengers in New York City.

The bill becomes law if Governor Cuomo doesn't veto it by Friday at midnight, and would take effect after 90 days.

Greyhound and Peter Pan, two of the large carriers, are betting Cuomo will sign the bill: they're already vying for prime spots in Chinatown. Both have scheduled meetings next month with the transportation committee of Community Board 3 in Manhattan, which includes Chinatown.

The new law would require input from community boards before the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority could grant bus parking permits to a company. The permits would cost $275 per bus and be good for up to three years. Companies that operate curbside without a permit would risk a fine of $1,000 for a first violation and $2,500 for repeat violations.

As of now, bus companies can load and unload passengers at most legal parking spots in the city. Residents and officials in Chinatown, where many long distance bus companies do business, say that's causing crowding and pollution.

Greyhound operates discount carrier Bolt Bus. However, Greyhound spokesman Jen Biddinger said that if the company gets the new permits, they'd go not to Bolt Bus but "a totally new service operated by Greyhound." She declined to say how many spots the company is angling for. Greyhound currently offers curbside service at 34th & 8th at Penn Station.

Two accidents last year involving low cost bus lines killed 17 people. In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation shut down 26 "Chinatown" bus lines for safety violations.

State Senator Daniel Squadron alluded to those events when endorsing the current bill, "This first-ever permit system will bring oversight to the growing and important low-cost bus industry, helping to end the wild west atmosphere while allowing us to identify problems before they become tragedies," he said.

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Calif. Residents File Health Claims Against Chevron (AUDIO)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Richmond, CA residents wait to file claims at an accident and injury attorney's office the night after a fire at a Chevron refinery. The line stretched out the door and down the sidewalk. Photo by Julie Caine

The night after an explosion and fire at a Chevron refinery sent plumes of thick black smoke out across one of the Bay Area's poorest communities, local residents were already scrambling to ensure they will get compensated for potential impacts to their health.

Chevron has an official claims process, but many local Richmond residents filed into the office of a local attorney instead. KALW's Julie Caine stopped by to talk to the people in line.

Listen to them here:

A sample:

NICHOLAS HANEY: We are having a lot of people come in, we haven't sorted it all out yet. I'm having people fill out forms... We need to figure out where people were, where they live, where they were at the time of the fire, and, so we don't have all the answers yet. Chevron, I hope they step up to the plate and do the right thing. They have a lot of people in this town that got sick due to their negligence.

NOTE: Chevron Corporation issued the following information for people seeking to file medical claims:

"Chevron will open a help center in Richmond on Friday, August 10, to assist residents who want to file claims related to the incident that occurred at the refinery this week."

Help Center:
Nevin Community Center
598 Nevin Ave.
Richmond, CA

Hours of operation:
9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday - Friday
8 a.m. to 12 p.m., Saturday

Those wishing to file a claim by phone should call 866-260-7881. Live operators are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Residents who have already filed a claim by phone do not need to visit the help center.

We have reports that individuals may be calling members of the community about making claims. These are not Chevron representatives. There are only two ways a claim can be filed: by calling 866-260-7881 or or by visiting the help center at 598 Nevin Ave.

The claims process has been set up through Crawford and Company. We intend to compensate our neighbors for medical and property expenses incurred as a result of the incident.

Those who call the claim line will be asked a series of questions about their claim, which will then be routed to adjusters. Adjusters are attempting to respond to all claims within three days. Chevron will strive to pay appropriate and reasonable claims, including out-of-pocket medical and property-damage expenses.

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Tappan Zee Tolls: The Backlash to the Backlash

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Tappan Zee Bridge (photo by waywuwei via flickr)

Following last week’s news that tolls on the new Tappan Zee Bridge could nearly triple by the time it opens in five years, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office has mounted a PR campaign trumpeting support for the $5 billion project.

The governor's team has been sending out near-daily emails listing numerous backers of a new bridge--including an endorsement from former New York Governor George Pataki, who had defeated Andrew Cuomo's father, Mario, in 1994. Notably absent from the list of supporters: Rockland County executive Scott Vanderhoef and Westchester County executive Rob Astorino, two elected officials who have yet to sign off on the project in order for it to receive federal funding.

The Cuomo plan would set the new bridge's cash toll at $14, a hefty jump from the current $5 charge. The governor says the increase is needed to pay for the $5.2 billion span, whose "basic source of financing will be the tolls."

Administration officials point out that at the new toll would bring the TZB in line with other Hudson River crossings, like the George Washington Bridge, due to rise to $14 in 2014, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which costs $13.

The projected toll was laid bare at a community meeting in Ramapo last Thursday -- and Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor, was careful to back into it.

Schwartz began by repeating the governor's assertion that a comprehensive bus rapid transit system would double the cost of the new bridge. "A full build-out of bus rapid transit on the bridge is $10 billion [leading to] a $28 toll in 2017," said Schwartz. He tried to use that number to make $14 look like a bargain.

It didn't work: the collective chagrin was immediate.

Media outlets ran headlines the next day using words like "tripling," and "steep." Opinion columns fumed that "the logic must be that if commuters already are soaked, they won't notice another wave of cold water." One local official said the toll hike would make the Tappan Zee a "bridge for only the rich" and announced plans for a town meeting on the topic. And Hudson Valley advocates who have been hoping -- so far in vain -- for a robust mass transit system said area commuters "could have few options in the face of higher tolls."

That same day, Cuomo's office sent out a statement implying that the $14 toll was a no-brainer. "On the cost the choice is clear," said Cuomo. "A new better bridge will require about the same tolls as just fixing the old bridge and about half the toll of a new bridge plus a new bus system."

But still: $14 tolls?

"I guess I was pleasantly surprised that the tolls weren't going to be higher," said Bob Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association.

Yaro said that even if the current bridge was not replaced, tolls would go up because the cost of maintaining the 50-year old structure is skyrocketing. "People are not happy that they have to pay increased tolls but this strikes me as a reasonable amount," he said.

The RPA has long advocated for better bus service across the Tappan Zee Bridge. But Yaro says the corridor doesn't need a 30-mile bus rapid transit system, at least right now, because the I-287 corridor has seen a significant drop in traffic over the past ten years. "It is a place where we don't have growing traffic congestion," he said.

Instead, Yaro recommended easing bus traffic across the bridge on either side, and creating a better connection to the Tarrytown Metro-North station. Caveat: building a ramp from the bridge to the station, as some have proposed, would cost too much. "But we've gotten assurances from the governor's office that they'll will work with us and other advocates to look at options to make those connections work, both in the immediate future and as the new bridge comes on line," Yaro said.

David King, an assistant professor of urban planning at Columbia University's graduate school of architecture, was similarly sanguine about a future with $14 tolls  -- even in the face of few mass transit options. "I think if the tolls are $14, that will substantially cut down traffic -- so it doesn’t matter that there's not going to be a dedicated transit lane [on either side of the bridge]," he said. Then he slammed the project's price tag. "We should be outraged just because it’s costing so much, whether it has transit or not."

Meanwhile, as this story was being written, yet another email came in from the Governor's office. “The elected officials of the Hudson Valley know best what their region needs, and on behalf of their constituents, they are calling for a new bridge to replace the obsolete Tappan Zee,” Cuomo said.

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