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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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Transportation Nation

Olympics Have London Rethinking Iconic Underground Signage

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

(Joe Peach -- This Big City) The map of London’s underground network is truly iconic. Designed in 1931 by London Underground employee Harry Beck, it sacrifices geographical accuracy for a diagrammatic approach, with strict design rules that are flexible with the geographical truth transforming a potentially sprawling and confusing transit map into a logical and almost immediately understandable urban utility.

However, as London’s underground network ages and continues to carry millions of passengers every day, the true cost of sacrificing geographical accuracy is becoming more obvious. Beck used straight lines in place of the city’s snaking routes, and almost equidistant spacing between stations when some are strangely close to one another. The end result is that many London Underground users change lines to reach their destination when walking would be much quicker, or take routes that appear shortest on the map, but in fact aren’t the most speedy option.

Until recently, Transport for London (TfL) – the government body responsible for the underground network – has not considered this much of an issue. Sure, they encouraged app development by releasing data from the network to developers at no cost, but the underground map and all related signage have remained largely the same. Until now.

With millions of visitors in London for the 2012 Summer Olympics, the city’s transport network is under more pressure than ever before. If you want to head to the Olympics, chances are you’ll get the next tube to Stratford, even though there are countless other stations that link to Olympic sites. Aware of the challenges of dealing with millions of extra riders, most of whom won’t be local and will be relying on geographically flawed signage for directions, TfL have made some temporary updates.

(Photo courtesy of This Big City)

Route maps on underground carriages, like the one pictured above, are now littered with pink boxes pointing out which stations can be used to access Olympic events. This photo shows what you’ll find if you take the Jubilee Line, and London’s 12 other lines are all looking pretty similar. Though relatively minor additions, they represent a pretty radical development for a map that has barely changed its visual approach in eight decades.

(Photo courtesy of This Big City)

If pink isn’t your favorite color, probably best to find another transport option for the next few weeks as the new signage doesn’t stop there. (See TN's previous coverage with pic of pink clad transport workers here). Previously, on your way out from an underground station you could be greeted by multiple possible exits. These exists are either numbered or differentiated by the road they exit onto, but for a visitor to the city with one thing on their mind, this information is not enough. So the pink boxes are put to use once again, plastering walls with their straightforward directions to those key places TfL knows you are heading.

(Photo courtesy of This Big City)

If, like many of the locals, you are refraining from looking up to avoid making eye contact with your fellow travellers (awkward), the floor is also your friend for the next few weeks. Pink circles clearly pointing out which direction you need to go in have become a common site on the ground at some of the city’s larger stations.

London’s underground network is the oldest in the world, and as a result many stations are named after once-significant local features (in fact, much of London is named after once-significant local features). The effect of this is the present-day destinations they largely exist to serve rarely get prominent placement on signage, with obvious potential for confusion among travellers. Though investment in technology and improved infrastructure is critical for the London Underground to remain efficient (and TfL is doing both of these things), improving the design of the network’s wayfinding tools also plays a key role. A functional city needs citizens and visitors that are well-informed, and with TfL rethinking its underground map and signage, London has become that little bit easier to get around, for locals and visitors alike.

This post originally appeared in Olympic Cities a collaboration between This Big City and Future Cape Town.

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Transportation Nation

MAP/VIDEO: How To Survive, And Occasionally Thrive, In New York Penn Station, The Continent's Busiest Train Hub

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Passengers moving through the Connecting Concourse on Penn Station's lower level.

(New York, NY - WNYC) New York's Penn Station is rail hub as ant colony: tight-cornered, winding and grimly subterranean. Like ants, 600,000 passengers per weekday course through it, pausing only to stare at an overhead information board until their departure track is revealed and then, toward that specified bowel, they descend.

Even the transit executives who run the place understand that it needs a makeover: they've hired Los Angeles construction firm Aecom to draft a renovation plan, expected by the end of the year, called "Penn Station Vision." There's talk of moving back walls, upgrading signs and improving the lighting. But that won't happen until Amtrak decamps across Eighth Avenue into a new space at the Farley Post Office, which is at least four years away.

In the meantime, what can a traveler do to make her time in Penn Station more bearable? [VIDEO BELOW]

Typical fare on the lower level.

That's the question I set out to answer with Nancy Solomon, an editor at WNYC who's been commuting from New Jersey to the West Side of Manhattan through Penn Station for more than ten years. Our tour of the station on a sweltering summer afternoon revealed a bi-level, nine-acre public space that, in some places, barely functions. "The station is doing what it was never, ever designed to do, which is accommodate more than a half-million commuters," says Ben Cornelius, a former Amtrak worker and TN reader who toiled in Penn Station for six years. "It was designed to be a long-haul, long-distance train station, not a commuter barn."

Yet, Nancy and I turned up a handful of grace notes: a hidden water fountain, a sanitary restroom, decent sushi. And to our surprise, we stumbled upon a large, and largely overlooked, piece of the original Penn Station.


More than most municipal facilities, Penn Station is haunted by the ghost of its earlier incarnation--a Beaux Arts masterpiece by legendary architects McKim, Mead and White.

Postcard of the original Penn Station.

That station rose in 1910 and fell, against a howl of protest, in 1963. Its dismantled columns, windows and marble walls suffered the same fate as a talkative two-bit mobster: they were dumped in a swamp in New Jersey. On the levelled site rose Madison Square Garden and a nondescript office tower; station operations were shunted to the basement, where they remain. Here's one way to navigate it:

Penn Station users: What do you do to make it more bearable? Where do you eat, rest, go looking for shortcuts? We want to know!

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Straphanger

Friday, August 03, 2012

Taras Grescoe describes public transportation all over the world—from New York to Moscow, Paris, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Bogotá, Phoenix, Portland, Vancouver, and Philadelphia—and looks at how convenient, affordable, and sustainable urban transportation can lead to better city living. Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile makes an impassioned case for the end of car culture and starting a transportation revolution.

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Transportation Nation

Atlanta Tax for Transit Plan Loses by Big Margin

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Atlanta (photo by J.C. Burns via Flickr)

 

A measure that would have hiked Atlanta's sales tax by a penny per dollar to fund $7 billion in roads and transit failed badly Tuesday, by a margin of 63 to 37, WABE in Atlanta is reporting.

From Jonathan Shapiro's  story:

The returns soon showed a big defeat for the one percent sales tax increase, a plan that would have raised more than $7 billion for road and transit projects across the metro region over 10 years.

Mike Lowry, a Roswell resident and volunteer with the Transportation Leadership Coalition, said the margin of defeat exceeded his expectations.

“It’s better than I ever could have hoped for. We’re ecstatic.”

The Sierra Club, the Atlanta Tea Party, and the NAACP are among the groups that came out strongly against the plan, saying it was full of unnecessary projects and didn’t do enough to relieve traffic.

Our Back of the Bus documentary looked, in part, at Atlanta's transit needs.

 

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Transportation Nation

Atlanta's Tax-for-Transportation Vote Is Today

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Atlanta (photo by Matt Lemmon via flickr)

(Jim Burress - Atlanta, WABE for Marketplace) Atlanta traffic stinks. I live just eight miles from work, but it often takes an hour or more to get home. So, let's start the car, start the stopwatch and see how tonight's commute shapes up.

There's an acronym you're about to see a lot -- "T-SPLOST." Like "y'all" and "bless your heart," T-SPLOST is an expression that's inserted itself into our vernacular down here. It stands for "Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax." It's a 1 percent sales tax that over 10 years will generate more than $8 billion for regional transportation projects. It's safe to say everyone in Atlanta hates our traffic. It's just as safe to say that's where the agreement ends.

"If we are successful on Tuesday," says Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, "we'll move the equivalent of 72,000 cars each day from our roads."

Governor Nathan Deal agrees. "We have to do something to address the transportation and transit needs of our state."

It's not every day Atlanta's Democratic mayor the Republican governor agree. But they -- and a lot of other unlikely allies - -are campaigning for the T-SPLOST. They say it will ease congestion and create jobs.

It might even make it easier to get to the ballgame, says Atlanta Braves executive VP Mike Plant. "The No. 1 reason year-in and year-out that people tell us they don't come to more games is because of the traffic."

That's the case for the transit tax. This is the case against. State Senator Vincent Fort, a Democrat, hates the measure. Sweat saturates his white "Vote No on T-SPLOST" T-Shirt as he knocks on Joyce Engram's front door. "This is going [to be a] tax on your groceries and your medicine," he tells her. "So I hope you'll vote against it."

If the T-SPLOST passes, Atlanta's sales tax would jump from 8 to 9 percent. The extra penny would go toward transportation.

Emgram tells Fort: "I'm going to vote against it. I needed to know. But I'm definitely going to vote against it. You can believe that."

As we continue down the street, Fort smiles at the thought of taking on big business, powerful politicians and well-funded interest groups. And possibly winning.

"We've got about $800," he says. "They've got about $8 million and we're beating 'em."

The "we" he's referring to is an unlikely alliance, including pro-transit folks, an environmental group, even the Tea Party.

"This coalition, this is unprecedented," says Debby Dooley, one of 22 original founders of the Tea Party. "You know when these coalitions [come] together -- groups that are normally on the opposite end of the spectrum -- come together in solidarity on the same issue, that should send huge red flags that this project list is seriously flawed."

Oh, the project list. Back here in my car, I've gone three miles in 23 minutes. I'm stuck on the "Downtown Connector," where Interstates 75 and 85 merge and run through the heart of the city. Fourteen lanes of stopped traffic. A few years ago the Connector made the list for the top 10 most congested roadways in the nation. But it's not one of the 157 projects the new tax would fund. That's one reason State Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers broke ranks with fellow Republicans to oppose the tax.

"A more reasonable approach," he says, "would be to have traffic engineers sit down, and literally list the most congested traffic problems in metro Atlanta."

Instead, a roundtable of local elected officials came up with the list. So if you're keeping track of who's cuddled up in this unlikely anti-T-SPLOST bed, we've got one of the state's top Republicans, a popular Democratic senator, and a founder of the Tea Party. Even the head of Georgia's Sierra Club is anti-T-SPLOST.

If the T-SPLOST passes, there's a lot of money in it for MARTA. No, that's not the name of another strange bedfellow. It is the name of our mass transit system. Connie Suhr rides MARTA a few days a week from her suburban home into downtown where she works. She admits it's a bit strange for someone who rides the train to oppose a project that expands the system. But she says this whole issue is a bit strange.

"I have aligned myself with people against the T-SPLOST that I would not normally have done," Suhr says. "I can't say particularly why. We all have our different reasons. But I also run into enough people who are in favor of it. I think it will be a very interesting fight."

Home: 49 minutes, 25 seconds. Not too bad, but I'm still a frazzled. Is a commute like that, 8 miles and three-quarters of an hour enough to get the tax passed? Polls suggest maybe not, but it's up to the voters to decide tomorrow.

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Transportation Nation

Central Florida looks South for Ideas on How to Integrate Transit

Monday, July 30, 2012

Orlando International Airport people mover (photo by Matthew Peddie)

(Orlando -- WMFE) Central Florida faces a transit planning challenge in the next few years with the arrival of publicly funded SunRail commuter rail in 2014, and private companies also  lining up rail plans.

Recently Orlando city officials toured the new Miami Intermodal Center, a ground transportation hub linking rail, buses and rental cars to Miami international airport.

Orlando Transportation Policy Advisor Christine Kefauver says after looking at MIC, she thinks Central Florida is heading in the right direction.

“Our intermodal center is further down the road, but I don’t see that there’s anything above and beyond to say that we’ve not planned appropriately," says Kefauver, adding "it’s nice to see this kind of stuff in use.”

Orlando International Airport is making plans for an intermodal station at the site of its yet-to-be-built South terminal. Potential rail connections include SunRail and All Aboard Florida, a privately run central Florida to Miami service which Florida East Coast Industries wants to have operational by 2014.

Kefauver says All Aboard Florida has a good chance of success, based on what was learned from the failed attempt to bring high-speed rail to Central Florida.

“As we went through the conversation of Orlando to Tampa for high-speed rail, what we heard from a lot of folks was ‘I really want to get to Miami,’" she says.

Kefauver says rail will benefit Orlando residents and the 55 million tourists a year who visit the area."Tying all this in at the airport increases their ability to be able to use those other modes.”

The SunRail line does not include an airport stop, but MetroPlan Orlando, the  transportation planning agency for Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties, has begun talks on how to link the commuter rail with the airport.

Metroplan Orlando executive director Harry Barley says one option is to use a rail spur that now brings coal to OUC’s Stanton power plant. “That’s clearly the easiest and fastest to do, because of that spur being in place, and perhaps reframing this as an extension of the existing SunRail project.”

The rail spur branches off the SunRail line between the Sand Lake Road station and Meadow Woods station, and runs past the south of the airport.

Barley says some new rail would have to be laid to connect the freight line with the airport  and to double the track in some places.  He says a "back of the envelope" estimate put the cost of adapting the rail spur for a passenger train at around $104 million.

Meanwhile, Christine Kefauver says she's hopeful demand for SunRail will allow it to increase its frequency from every 30 minutes as currently planned, to every 15 minutes. When that happens she says there will be added impetus to connect the rail line to the airport.

 

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Transportation Nation

Gridlock Sam: Lack of Congestion Pricing Is NYC's Biggest Transpo Problem

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sam Schwartz -- an engineer and former NYC traffic commissioner -- has been shopping a plan he says would make toll pricing more in New York City more rational and equitable. He talks about it on the latest episode of the public television show MetroFocus, starting with a tried and true thought experiment: the alien considering a human custom--in this case, the city's tolling policy--and finding it strange.

"If you were an urban planner from Mars," he said, "and you wanted to go to the center of New York City, you would assume it was Staten Island, because we charge everybody to go into Staten Island. That's crazy."

Instead, Schwartz would raise tolls on approaches to the central business district of Manhattan and lower tolls to geographically peripheral areas like Staten Island and The Rockaways. The plan is generating buzz among urban planners but Schwarz is still seeking a wider audience, knowing such plans in the past have proved a heavy political lift.

The rest of this week's show is devoted to New York City transportation, including the MTA's East Side Access project, bringing real-time bus information to passengers, and a profile of senior citizens in Brooklyn whom are agitating for pedestrian safety.

Bonus: you'll learn the backstory of how Schwartz coined the term 'gridlock,' which he says he can't take sole credit for.

If you're in the New York City area, the episode will air on WNET Thursday night at 8:30. Or watch below!

Watch "Transforming Transportation" Full Episode on PBS. See more from MetroFocus.

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Transportation Nation

Which Grows Faster, Suburbs, Exurbs, or Cities?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Milwaukee suburbs (Photo (cc) by Flickr user rxb)

(Cross posted from Grist.org -- by Greg Hanscom) The story seems to change every five minutes. One recent report found that, for the first time since the advent of the automobile, cities are adding population faster than suburban areas. “Cities grow more than suburbs, first time in 100 years,” trumpeted the Associated Press.

Now comes news that the most suburban of all suburban areas, the exurbs, have been the fastest growing places in the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas  — yes, even after the housing crash. The headline in The Atlantic Cities: “Exurbs, the fastest growing areas in the U.S.”
I’m sorry. Come again?

For starters, the two studies mentioned above are not as contradictory as the headlines make them sound. The study showing that exurbs outpaced the rest of large metro areas, done by researchers at the Census Bureau and the Urban Institute, looked at census data from 2000 to 2010. (You can find a short discussion by the authors here.) They confirmed: Growth in metropolitan areas declined across the board following the collapse of the housing market in 2007. Nonetheless, exurban growth continued to outpace the rest of the metropolitan U.S. Here’s a handy graph:

Click to enlarge

The study showing that cities have surged ahead, done by the Brookings Institution, looked only at 2011, so it’s possible that we saw a shift toward the cities between 2010 and 2011. That might be less remarkable than it sounds: Because there are fewer people living in city centers than there are in suburbs, cities can show faster growth rates even while fewer people are moving in. Still, if there was a shift, it is made more dramatic by this new study, which shows that, in the four years prior, exurbs were still leaving cities in the dust.

It is entirely possible, however, that the 2011 numbers are a bunch of baloney. They’re drawn from the American Community Survey, an annual census count that is much less reliable than the full-blown, once-every-decade, door-to-door version. (We saw this in 2010, when the census dashed predictions, based on Community Survey numbers, of a mass migration back to cities.) Brookings also used counties for its comparison, rather than census tracts, which are much smaller and therefore offer a more fine-grained picture.

“In our opinion, counties are far too large to be used to define exurbia, as they contain many different area types,” Census Bureau researcher Todd Gardner wrote in an email. “Unfortunately, we can’t as yet tabulate the exurban population for 2011 [based on census tracts] because population figures are not available for census tracts for 2011. And even if those figures were available, we wouldn’t be able to tabulate the population using strictly comparable geography because of the substantial changes to tract boundaries that occurred with the 2010 census.”

In other words, it’s hard to tell what’s really happening right now.

There are other signs that the tides are turning in favor of cities, of course. Young people are spurning cars in favor of bikes and mass transit, and they’re putting off getting married and having kids — the traditional kiss of death for urban living. And as the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Kaid Benfield has pointed out, there are some indications that the housing market in cities has come back stronger than in the ’burbs. But the truth is that we don’t know whether cities are making a comeback vis-à-vis the suburbs, and we likely won’t have the numbers to prove or disprove it until the 2020 census data comes out.

So why should we bother trying to read the tea leaves of between-year census numbers? Why the endless brawling among academics over their contradictory analyses of the data?

In a word: money.

The federal and state governments make many of their funding decisions based, to some degree, on population estimates. If the suburbs are where the people are, rest assured that the suburbs are where the dollars will flow. If people are really moving back to the city, we have a stronger argument for pouring more of our tax dollars into public transit, parks, schools, and other services in the urban core.

The more services we provide, the more people are apt to show up. It’s a virtuous (or vicious, depending on your perspective) cycle: Population drives the money, money drives the population.

Which brings me to my final, and most important point: Unless America starts investing more in cities, any real blip we’re seeing in terms of an urban population rebound is sure to be short lived. Just because young Americans seem to prefer urban living now does not mean that we’ll stay forever. Like generations before us, we may opt for the good life in the suburbs when kids arrive on the scene, and we suddenly see the benefits of a big yard, good public schools, and the likes.

Without enhanced urban infrastructure to retain the new city-lovers, America will remain a suburban nation ... and it won't matter which study is accurate about population growth.

Greg Hanscom is a senior editor at Grist. He tweets about cities, bikes, transportation, policy, and sustainability at @ghanscom.
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The Leonard Lopate Show

Writers on NYU's Expansion

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

As the New York City Council prepares to vote on the controversial NYU 2031 expansion plan, a group of writers and artists, many of them longtime residents of Greenwich Village, has banded together to publish a book of essays, photos, and drawings, titled While We Were Sleeping: NYU and the Destruction of New York, to express their opposition to the project. Novelist Peter Carey, poet and playwright Jessica Hagedorn, and playwright John Guare talk about the impact NYU’s proposed expansion plan on Greenwich Village.

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Transportation Nation

How Are Houston's HOT Lanes Working? It Depends.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Houston is one of the bigger test cases for the traffic reduction powers of High Occupancy Toll lanes where drivers can pay for access to an express lane, or carpool for free access.  Nearly five months after opening, Houston's HOT lanes are an "under-utilized asset according to reporting by KUHF.

Gail Delaughter of KUHF reports 450 drivers a day are willing to pay those tolls, that's way under capacity because many drivers don't know they can access what used to be HOV lanes for a fee.

Delaughter speaks with Metro CEO on projections for growth and new road signage to help.

Listen to or read the full story at KUHF.

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Transportation Nation

Will SunRail Change Central Florida's Driving Habits?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

SunRail will run right through the center of Florida Hospital's Health Village campus (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Listen to an audio version of this story here

Developers are building apartments along Florida’s new commuter rail line -- but if SunRail isn't reliable, both the idea of transit-oriented development -- not to mention SunRail -- could flop.

The SunRail tracks run straight through Florida Hospital’s campus on North Orange Ave. When the commuter train starts in 2014 it will be an important part of the hospital’s plans for a health village, which will include a mix of apartments, shops and businesses clustered around the yet-to-be built rail station.

Developer Craig Ustler says the project will transform the surrounding neighborhood.

“It would look like a lot of people walking, a pedestrian friendly environment, and maybe an evolution to a place where the car doesn’t win all the time.”

"It’s not a perfect set up yet," says Craig Ustler, standing at the site of the future Florida Hospital SunRail platform "they’ve got to build an administrative building and some retail to tie it all together, but a lot of pieces in place already to make a quality environment built around the transit.”

Ustler is counting on residents for a 250 apartment, $38 million complex he’s building a few blocks from the hospital.

The idea behind transit-oriented development (TOD) is to create pedestrian- friendly environments with access to transportation alternatives to the car. Local officials, like Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, are excited about its potential.

“Transit-oriented development is popping up all around these stations, giving us new places to work, live and play," said Dyer when SunRail got the final go-ahead a year ago.

"New companies moving in, new jobs being created. People saving money because they don’t have to use their car. People saving time because they’re not stuck on I-4.”

With ten thousand hospital employees and about three thousand  students at the College of Health Sciences, all of them potential rail passengers, shoppers or tenants, Florida Hospital is ripe for TOD.

To make it work, though, the rail has to run often and on time. And right now SunRail won’t run on weekends.

Gregg Logan, managing director of the Orlando real estate advisory services firm RCLCO, says that could be a problem.

“If it’s not convenient, then people won’t use it and that will be a self-fulfilling prophecy of ‘see, we shouldn’t have funded it because people aren’t using it,'" says Logan.

"Well, people will use it if it’s convenient.”

SunRail says it will extend the service if there’s demand.

TOD is still untested in Central Florida, and that’s made it challenging for developers to get financing for big projects around rail. Compared to cities with well-established mass transit system like New York, Central Florida’s urban environment is relatively young, with most of the big growth springing up in the last 50 years. But Gregg Logan says that could be an advantage.

“I guess the good news is we can go to some of these other places and look at what worked," he says, "and borrow some of their best ideas.”

RCLCO's Gregg Logan points to a map of the SunRail commuter train route (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Logan says Central Florida should take inspiration from Portland’s street car and the Washington DC Metro, where TOD has driven up the value of land around rail stations. While Florida Hospital has big plans for development, some of the other stops along the rail line aren’t as far advanced.

One landowner trying to attract business for a potential development is Tupperware. Spokesperson Thomas Roehlk says the company has 100 acres for mixed use set aside at its headquarters near the Osceola Parkway station.

“We haven’t had the interest yet from businesses, partially as a consequence of the fact that we are in phase two, so we’re four years out from having a station, and secondly just because of the slow uptick to the economy," He says.

However, Roehlk believes Tupperware’s plan will succeed in the long run because of the location’s proximity to another major transport hub -- Orlando International Airport.

Meanwhile, developer Craig Ustler says once the train starts running past his building at Florida Hospital, Orlando residents will begin to see the potential for a well-planned urban environment.

“I think the vast majority of people have woken up to the fact that living 30 miles away from where they work, and driving, and the price of gas and all that is probably not the most efficient thing in the world," says Ustler.

"We still need some time to work through exactly how to fix that and how to give people the tools to make a move.”

Ustler's apartment complex breaks ground next month.

 

 

 

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Professors Weigh in on NYU's Expansion Plan

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

As the City Council prepares to vote on NYU's controversial expansion plan, 34 of the University's academic departments and divisions have passed resolutions against the plan, including the Stern School of Business and the Economics Department. Three faculty members: Jeff Goodwin, Professor of Sociology, Andrew Ross, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, and Ann Pellegrini, Professor of Performance Studies and Religious Studies, explain their concerns, and look at how corporate influence is affecting higher education in general.

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Transportation Nation

As in the 1800s, Bikes and Trains Could Boom Together in Florida

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

DeLand, Florida (Photo by Matthew Peddie)

In central Florida the car rules. A network of wide highways link sprawling cities.

But now two machines which saw their heyday in Florida more than a century ago  are making a comeback: the train and the bike.

With the arrival of the SunRail commuter train in 2014 some cities are looking to bicycles as a way to get passengers to their final destination.

In Winter Park -- built in the late 1800s -- the city's sustainability coordinator Tim Maslow is thinking about how to incorporate cycling into the transportation mix. Maslow says the new SunRail and Amtrak train station could be a starting point for bike sharing.

Winter Park's train station will be demolished and rebuilt (photo by Matthew Peddie)

“We see having a station here with maybe ten bikes at first to see how it goes," says Maslow. "You could go up to 20 bikes per station with some of the companies we’ve been looking at.”

One company talking with Winter Park is the Wisconsin based B-cycle, which is backed by the bike manufacturer Trek. In Denver, the company has some 50 bike share stations where users can rent their bikes, and B-cycle says the system works well with the city's light rail line. Train passengers use the bikes to go the last leg of their journey after getting off the train.

Bike sharing already has a foothold in South Florida, where Broward County has started a system. Sales manager Lee Jones went for a ride around Orlando on a recent visit. He says bike share stations around SunRail may have to be positioned to avoid the busiest roads.

“I did find some of the very wide streets, basically three lanes across, it was almost like being on the interstate," he says.

Early map of Winter Park

Some cities along the rail line are ideally situated for this back to the future approach to getting around.

Tim Maslow, from Winter Park, points out his city was designed so passengers could easily walk to and from the train station.

“That was before the automobile was so prevalent in everyone’s lives, so when they came down to the train station they actually had to go to different locations that were no longer than a 15-20 minute walk, because in Florida no one would walk that far,” says Maslow.

A return to cycling as a primary means of transportation may seem a bit old fashioned. But when the bicycle first appeared in America, it was high tech. In the 1969 Western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Paul Newman's Cassidy shows off a bicycle with the words: "meet the future."

The movie was set in the late 1800s, when the real-life Cassidy and the Kid were robbing trains in the American West.

In Florida at that time, rail barons were laying a network of tracks across the state, and the whole country was gripped by a cycling craze.

"It was huge in this country, huge," says Tim Bustos, the executive director of the Florida Bicycle Association.

"Next to the railroad, bicycling was like the most powerful transportation lobby out there. [Bicycles] were expensive, so it was mostly well to do and influential people that could afford them.”

And in the late 1800s, well-to-do people were taking the train to cities like Winter Park to spend their winter vacations.

Winter Park’s not the only place where rail and cycling could make a comeback.

Tim Bustos, Florida Bicycle Association

The Florida Bicycle association’s headquartered in Deland, and Tim Bustos dreams of making the city a hub for cycling in the state.

He says SunRail’s completion in 2016 could help, by giving riders better access to a network of cycling trails. Bike share could also be part of the mix.

“People that would have rented a car five years ago, are now using bike shares," he says.

"It’s cheaper, it’s easier, it’s more enjoyable.”

Some DeLand cyclists have reservations- they say a safe route first has to be found from the train station to the city’s downtown, five miles away.

“We’re researching routes that could be bike friendly," says Ted Beyler, who owns the Deland Cyclery, one of two bicycle shops in Deland.  Beyler’s on a chamber of commerce committee looking into the problem, and he says if that can be worked out, bike sharing could take off.

"That’s the major hindrance that I see is the proximity of the station to downtown Deland," says Beyler.

However, central Florida bicycle advocates agree that SunRail’s arrival brings with it a chance to begin a new chapter in the shared history of cycling and rail.

DeLand Cyclery (photo by Matthew Peddie)

 

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Transportation Nation

Report: New York City Rejects Highway Teardown

Friday, June 08, 2012

Sheridan Expressway (photo: Dougtone via flickr)

Transportation Nation has reported in the past how cities around the country are looking to tear down urban highways as a way to reconnect neighborhoods and stimulate economic development.  Now comes word, via Streetsblog, that New York has rejected a years-long community-led effort to tear down the Sheridan Expressway, which runs through the South Bronx.  From the article:

"The Bloomberg administration has abruptly ruled out the possibility of tearing down the lightly-trafficked Sheridan Expressway and replacing it with mixed-use development, jobs, and parks. Neighborhood advocates and electeds are vowing to fight the decision, which they say fails to follow through on the comprehensive analysis the city promised to conduct as part of a $1.5 million federal grant."

"After receiving a $1.5 million federal grant to comprehensively study the potential to replace the Sheridan Expressway with development and parks, New York City suddenly rejected the teardown option based solely on a traffic analysis. "

At a meeting with South Bronx community groups on May 10, city officials unexpectedly announced that they would no longer consider the teardown option, according to advocates who attended. Led by the Department of City Planning, the Sheridan study promised to produce a comprehensive analysis of how replacing the Sheridan with development, jobs, and parks stacks up against rehabbing the aging highway and letting it stay in place. Instead, say advocates, officials simply showed community members a cursory traffic analysis to justify the rejection of the teardown option.

We asked the City Planning Commission for a response; we were referred to City Hall press office. Spokeswoman Julie Wood send this reponse:
"Analysis for the study showed that complete removal of the Sheridan would result in significant impacts. Namely:

· Trucks would be re-routed onto local streets, where schools and many other activities are occurring, throughout the day;

· New routes for trucks, such as East Tremont, already have significant traffic congestion during the morning rush hour;

· Trucks would need additional time for trips to the Hunts Point Markets; and

· Cars being re-routed to the Bronx River Parkway and other parallel routes, and causing significant backup where the Parkway meets the Bruckner Boulevard, particularly during the morning rush hour.

Taken together, these impacts amount to a fatal flaw for the removal scenario, and it has been removed for further consideration. The two remaining scenarios,to retain and to modify the Expressway, will continue to undergo further analysis.The study will be completed in early 2013."

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Transportation Nation

Big Decisions Approach for Big Dulles Rail Project

Friday, June 01, 2012

A month before Loudoun County, Va. officials must decide whether they will withdraw from one of the the largest public transportation projects currently under construction in the country, they have big decisions to weigh about how they might fund the county’s $200 million dollar commitment to the $2.7 billion Phase 2 of the Dulles Metro Rail project, if they fund it at all.

All nine members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors are Republicans, but the board is divided over funding options.  Supervisors who represent eastern districts are opposed by lawmakers in other parts of the county.

“Those of us who represent districts in the east, we understand the clear transportation benefit to having Metro or to having some other path out of the county.  My constituents are sitting in traffic.  I sit in traffic every day,” says Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles).

On Monday the board will hold a public hearing where taxpayers can speak out about the funding options under consideration, among other issues: creating a countywide commercial and industrial transportation tax, or creating special tax districts near the future Metro stops.

Letourneau says it is possible to fund the project without raising taxes, but it is possible the average homeowner in Loudoun County could see an annual property tax increase of $98 per year.

On Wednesday supervisors will meet to discuss their options.  No final decision is expected before July 4, the deadline for the county to decide whether it will pull out of the project altogether.  Letourneau, who is serving his first term on the board, says the changes are 50/50 for Loudoun to contribute to Phase 2, which would complete the 23-mile rail link to Dulles International Airport and beyond into the county.

Also on Wednesday the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is expected to decide whether it will drop a controversial pro-labor provision – a project labor agreement or PLA – that would provide bidding contractors a ten percent bonus on their technical evaluation scores if they choose a union workforce to build Phase 2.  Even if the PLA is dropped, Letourneau says the county’s commitment to the project will still be a 50/50 proposition because of other outstanding issues.

“For instance, the Dulles Airport stop has an operating subsidy associated with it that Loudoun County is going to have to pay every year.  I don’t think that’s especially logical.  Our residents aren’t going to be using that stop, but it’s going to cost us between $5 million and $7 million per year to pay for that stop,” he says.

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Transportation Nation

Big Plans for Public Transportation in Virginia. It's called Super NoVa.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bus rapid transit, light rail, car and van pooling, and bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure are all in the works for Northern Virginia, under the so-called "Super NoVa" transportation plan for the next three decades, to be released in September.

Planners envision the construction of cross-jurisdictional networks to connect people to their jobs in the metropolitan Washington area, and to employment and tourist locations within northern Virginia and neighboring states. The goal is to help commuters avoid the region's notorious traffic congestion.

"It's really looking at the major travel patterns of people throughout this region and trying to understand where they are and where they want to go," says Amy Inman, the manager of public transportation planning at the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, a post she has held for four years. Inman is the head planner for Super NoVa.

With the growing realization that only paving more highways would not satisfy the demands of region's population and job growth projections, Inman says localities 50 or 75 miles away from Washington need more public transportation options. The study will evaluate the needs of future population and employment centers.

The unofficial border of northern Virginia as outlined on a map today contains several counties including Fairfax, Alexandria, Arlington, and Loudoun, among others. Under Super NoVa, northern Virginia would extend as far south as Caroline County and as far west as Culpeper and Frederick counties.

"We are envisioning mobility beyond boundaries," Inman  says. "As we all know, there isn't just one mode of transportation that's going to be the solution, but we want to be able to provide people with travel options."

Inman says planners are focusing on maximizing the capacity of existing infrastructure in current corridors; for instance, transforming part of a major roadway into a bus rapid transit corridor instead of building a new road.

Super NoVa is gathering information from people traveling to Virginia from Maryland, West Virginia and Washington. A second round of public hearings has been held this month; officials held their first round of hearings in February. The public will get another chance to weigh in after September when the first recommendations are released. The study is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Inman says the public feedback has been useful.

"We have learned that the growth of this region is very great," she says. "In the future, the areas of Fauquier, Culpeper, and Winchester will have a developing demand for different types of public transportation, so we're learning from the localities what kinds of solutions will be necessary to address their particular transportation issues."

In some places, bus rapid transit may work. In others, light rail or increased car-pooling may be the answer. Super NoVa is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Planners are trying to ascertain which modes of transport are supportable in a given location.

"Even beyond Culpeper County there are folks who are traveling 100 miles or greater into D.C.," she says. "It's phenomenal the distance people will travel to get to their employment. We also know that we're reaching or exceeding the capacity of many of our transportation transit systems today."

Inman says Virginia's political leaders, including Gov. Bob McDonnell, have been supportive of the plan.

"Everyone understands we have to think of multiple solutions to address the transportation issues, especially in the Super Nova region, an economic engine for the commonwealth and neighboring states," she says.

Although Super NoVa is not planning new highways, Inman says the group's recommendations will square with the plans of the Virginia Department of Transportation for new roadways.

"VDOT has plans in place that we are building upon," she says, referring to VDOT's proposal to increase roadway capacity along the I-95 corridor.


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Transportation Nation

Washington-DC Area Planning Board Approves Complete Streets Policy

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, representing the nation's capital and 22 counties in Maryland and Virginia has voted to approve a complete streets policy.

Though it does not contain the force of law, the vote pushes local governments to:

"create or adapt transportation facilities that safely and appropriately accommodate motorized and non-motorized users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, freight vehicles, emergency vehicles, and transit riders of all ages and abilities."

Only one member of the 35-member board voted against the recommendation.

Lewis Miller, a board spokesman, says some initial opposition fell away after board members, who are appointed by the local governments, realized the proposal was a best practices recommendation, not a mandate.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Will Allen's Good Food Revolution

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Will Allen discusses cashing in his retirement fund to buy a two-acre plot near Milwaukee’s largest public housing project to build the country’s preeminent urban farm—a food and educational center that now produces enough vegetables and fish year-round to feed thousands of people. In The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities he describes founding Growing Power to prove that local food systems can help troubled youths, dismantle racism, create jobs, bring urban and rural communities closer together, and improve public health.

Comments [28]

The Takeaway

The Obese American Future

Monday, May 14, 2012

A new study predicts that 42 percent of American adults will be obese — a category beyond overweight — by the year 2030. We talk to Keith Davis, owner of Goliath Coffins, who is working to accomodate America's bigger, more obese future by making caskets for the morbidly obese.

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