Planning Projections

Parking lot

Is this sustainable? (Photo credit: add1sun)

We use projections in transportation planning all the time. I am not convinced they are sound. Dealing with the provision of commuter parking for a commuter railroad, for example, we rely on population/household forecasts from the metropolitan planning organization along with some in-house variables that assume that most people will drive to access transit. But if we build the transit station so that the only way to access it is by driving, than we are fulfilling our own prophecy. With energy costs dramatically increasing,  is it rational to be planning for the continuing use of the car as the predominant mode of transportation in our community? This is not an example of Strong Towns planning.

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The Third Rail of Planning Politics

Nothing fires up a local Village Board like eminent domain.

Eminent Domain Gate And Wall

Eminent Domain Gate And Wall (Photo credit: Steve Soblick)

One of my duties as a transportation planner for Metra is to participate in transit-oriented development studies in communities that apply for the grants to fund these studies through the RTA. Tonight we presented a TOD plan in front of the Village Board of a wealthy suburb for discussion. We hoped this discussion would lead to a recommendation for the Board to adopt the study. Alas, we were wrong.

It seems that the third rail of local politics was mentioned, not in the plan, but in discussions of possible tools that the Village could use to implement their plan, should it be adopted. It was noted and explored in the steering committee driving the plan that one possible tool was the use of eminent domain. Eminent domain refers to the action of the state in expropriating property or the rights thereof from a private citizen with monetary compensation but without consent of the owner. This property is taken for public use and in some cases, economic development, as granted by right in Kelo v. City of New London (2005). Because of the Kelo decision and general anti-government sentiment there has been a backlash against government taking private property in general and specifically for use in economic development across the country. This is no different in the Chicago region.

The problem with eminent domain in the planning context is that it politicizes the planning process with issues that have little to do with the actual plan. I have never seen a plan that has actually recommended using eminent domain as an implementation tool in a plan because the political, legal and procedural hurdles are usually so great that it is not worth pursuing. The vast, vast majority of plans are not trying to develop 3,1oo jobs and $1.2m in annual revenues like the New London, CT was. Because of this politicization (“take your government hands off my property!”), the Village Board was unable to weigh the merits of what was actually in the plan.

A good plan is a set of guidelines for decision makers to use in implementing a vision for their community. It is a tool.  It says, if we build a parking structure, how much would it cost the government? It identifies how a Village could update their zoning code to fit with today’s market realities. It identifies short range and long range opportunities for implementation. A good plan does NOT tell developers what to build. A good plan does NOT advocate eminent domain. A good plan does NOT ignore property owners which are impacted by the plan.

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Access to Transit

Metra and TOD in Morton Grove. Source: katherine of chicago @Flickr

I would like to take the opportunity to give a little shout out to the RTA to promote a new document they put together called Access & Parking Strategies for Transit-Oriented Development.

This is a much-needed guide for municipalities in the Chicago area on the “how” of TOD. Sure, all urban planners are familiar with TOD but in practice, how many know how to really make it work? A big reason why TOD fails is parking. As in, too much parking. Many municipalities will build TOD but still keep parking minimums that are more appropriate for suburban style development patterns. The great thing about the RTA guide is that it rightly reminds people that one of the biggest ways to support TOD is to make it more difficult to use a car. Because, as any driver knows, people who are already in cars tend to stay in cars. Adding density and mixed land uses within close proximity and easy access to transit makes transit successful. It makes TOD successful. The RTA points out the need to reduce parking demand is the key to a successful TOD.

So, how do we reduce parking demand, particularly in suburban areas that are designed around the automobile? In creating a TOD area, we do the following:

  • Provide as much on-street parking as necessary at a variable market rate.
  • Unbundle parking from private development, particularly in TOD areas
  • Set parking maximums rather than minimums.
  • Implement shared parking
  • Create alternatives to access transit. This includes bike and pedestrian trails, shuttle buses, and remote parking facilities.

When we do these things, we create a way for transit to be successful. When transit is successful, frequency can rise, resulting in a positive feedback loop that generates more transit customers.

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Filed under Parking, Transit-Oriented Development, Urban Design

Can Big Box Stores in Cities Work?

English: Exterior of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in...

Image via Wikipedia

This morning’s Atlantic Cities article on whether big box stores can reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) because it “brings shopping closer to where people live” fundamentally misunderstands the problems that big box stores cause in urban communities and why many urbanites do not want them in their communities even though they may patronize these stores. Nothing about these stores’ design is urban. It is not walkable, there are no accommodations for transit or bike/pedestrians. The only way to access these stores comfortably is with a car. This development pattern drives up traffic locally on urban streets that may not have been designed for these traffic volumes. It impacts neigboring land uses through light pollution from its vast parking lots, through water runoff,  and through large deliveries at night in the back of the store (sometimes facing residential neighbors).

Whole Foods in Chicago Source: Beer Advocate

That’s not to say that big box stores can’t work in urban areas. They can and do. When you reorient them to face the street, making it easier to access via transit, bicycle and pedestrian modes, reduce parking ratios (per square foot) and build big box stores in a more mixed use environment, they can work in a much more urban-friendly way.


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Filed under Transit-Oriented Development, Urban Design

Time to Fight

Yonah Freemark over at The Transport Politic says it’s Time to Fight. House Republicans want to turn transportation into an all out ideological battle.

Looking south above Interstate 80, the Eastsho...

Without a balanced federal transportation policy, more of the same traffic congestion is in our future.

This, of course, is bad news for cities and metropolitan areas. As gas prices rise higher due to peak oil, supply and demand and geopolitical issues, it is even more urgent that the U.S. plan for a multi-modal approach to federal transportation policy. The automobile as the dominant form of mobility option is not sustainable or feasible. In the Chicago region, the Regional Transportation Authority estimates that the CTA, Metra and Pace could lose up to $450 million in capital each year. In a region with a system with a $10 billion backlog of capital projects, we simply cannot afford to lose this kind of money.

As Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said once, “Elections have consequences.”

One of the most important lessons in all of this is that elections have consequences. Many people now are beginning to catch on to that. It is no secret that our right-wing Republican colleagues did very well in November 2010. They captured the House of Representatives.

If you care about transportation and urban affairs, please remember this. And most importantly, fight now and call your Representative.

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House Plan Would End Dedicated Transit Funding, Overturn 30 Years of Transportation Policy

Sorry to have to start this blog on a bad note, but our friends in the U.S. House of Representatives believe that transportation policy should go back to the 1970s.

You know, that era of gas shortages and rampant urban sprawl. Look, there is a reason why the Highway Trust Fund is used to fund transit. It has long been recognized that “if you build it they will come” when it comes to highway building. We’ll never build our way out of congestion and therefore, transit is a vital component of an urban area’s mobility. Forcing everyone to rely on the private automobile is unsustainable, not practical in most of our oldest cities and deeply un-conservative.

 

 

 

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Welcome

Welcome to my professional blog, Transport Nexus. Before I explain what I am going to write about on this blog it is helpful if I unpack this name a bit. “Transport” describes public transportation and is particular to Europe and the English-speaking countries outside of North America. I chose “Transport” rather than “public transportation” or “transit” because I like the way that “transport” can be mode neutral in a way that public transportation and transit is not.

English: (How Marlborough Road might have appe...

Here, there or anywhere.

A nexus is a connection or series of connections. Which aptly describes transportation – a way of connecting from one place to another. I am particularly interested in how land use affect how people use transportation as well as how public transportation can be used more efficiently.

I welcome you to my blog and look forward to carrying on this conversation.

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