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Archive for the ‘planning’ Category

The Camden, NJ has a huge parking crater extending from the waterfront to downtown. Now the city’s Parking Authority wants to hollow out downtown even more:

When the Parking Authority of the City of Camden decided it wanted to tear down the decades-old Commerce Building in the heart of downtown to put up a parking garage, it made an offer far below the property owner’s expectations.

The Estate of Milton Rubin, a real estate investor in the city, had been paying property taxes on an assessment of $1.66 million, and in 2007 had prepared to sell it for $4.5 million.

The Parking Authority’s offer came in considerably lower.

In a letter in June, the agency raised the specter of eminent domain as it offered minus $200,000 – essentially asking the estate to part with the building and pay on top of it.

“There’s just a level of some inexplicable absurdity here,” Robert S. Baranowski, attorney for the estate, said last week. “I’d love to go around taking people’s property and telling them they have to pay me to do it.”

“Absurd” doesn’t even begin to describe it. The property sits one block from a PATCO subway station, and is across the street from the Walter Rand Transportation Center (an intermodal station with rail and bus service). It is the last place where a city should be replacing buildings with parking.

camden

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Parking is one of those things everyone in Berkeley complains about (ironic for a city that is supposedly environmental). Merchants especially have complained about parking “deficits” in downtown and southside areas. And yet whenever city planners measured parking occupancy, they found empty spaces even during peak hours.

What was going on here — was there or was there not a parking crunch? As it turns out, both sides were right. Due to inefficient pricing, the prime on-street spaces were monopolized while garages and other areas went under-utilized. Drivers would typically drive in circles hunting for the cheap on-street parking, avoiding more expensive garages.

Could market-pricing strategies correct the parking imbalance, and result in more efficient utilization? The city received a 3-year Federal grant to test that hypothesis. The transportation department analyzed parking occupancy rates in three neighborhoods, continually adjusting parking hours and pricing based on demand. Price and time limits were set with a goal of always having 65-85% occupancy on each block. Where parking exceeded the 85% threshold, prices went up and time limits went down. Where parking occupancy dropped below the 65%, prices were reduced and time limits increased. Clear signage was installed to inform drivers their pricing options.

The results of the program are quite impressive:

go_berkeley2

Here is another survey result:

go_berkeley

But the most surprising result is the large number of blocks where price and time limits were relaxed due to minimal parking demand (remember: price and time limits can go up or down depending on parking demand). On the map shown below, these are are indicated in green; i.e. the Max Parking Zones. It is interesting that areas that were thought to have very high demand, such as 2 blocks from campus, actually don’t have very high demand at all.

go_berkeley3

The program is on-going. One of the next challenges will be automating the collection of real-time data. It is currently done manually, which doesn’t scale well. The city is exploring technological solutions to automate the process, such as the use of parking sensors or license plate readers.

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You Reap What You Sow

With vacant storefronts and burned-out lots, Telegraph Ave in Berkeley has been on a long downward spiral. To revitalize the corridor (and boost tax revenues), city planners once envisioned converting the auto-centric arterial into something more pedestrian friendly. The street would get a road-diet to calm speeding. The excess road space would be converted to bike lanes and a new Bus-Rapid Transit (BRT) service. Wider sidewalks were also proposed, with streetscape enhancements and outdoor cafe seating.

But merchants balked at loosing automobile capacity. Arlene Giordano, owner of the Le Bateau Ivre restaurant, vehemently opposed the plan. She put forth a ballot initiative with the intent of killing the project, and wrote some scathing editorials.

City Council relented, leaving Telegraph as a high-speed arterial. And this is the predictable result:

After the recession, its co-founder’s death and dwindling foot traffic, the fabled Berkeley hangout is losing money and struggling to survive in a changing landscape. Owner Arlene Giordano, who founded the restaurant 43 years ago with her late husband, Thomas Cooper, launched an Indiegogo campaign in September, hoping to crowd fund $60,000 to pay bills, replace kitchen appliances and get the business back on its feet.

She is now applying for a small-business loan from the city to stay afloat. Part of the loan would be used to install lights “which she hopes will help make it more obvious that the restaurant is open for dinner.” I guess she is finally discovering that drivers zooming by at high-speed won’t notice your restaurant.

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ARTIC Platform Fail

$188 million was just spent building a new train station for Anaheim — including new platforms.

Those new platforms will allow for level-platform boarding right?

No, of course not. But the planners did publish a helpful Powerpoint presentation explaining why the new station doesn’t have level-platform boarding. It reads like a confession from the planners, describing all the reasons why they suck.

artic_platform

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wordThey keep calling it “Transit-Oriented Development” — but I don’t think they know what it means:

Could the purchase of a 2.2-acre strip transform the city’s downtown into a more commuter- and shopper-friendly place? Mayor Benjamin Blake thinks so, which is why he’s excited about the expected approval soon by the State Bond Commission of nearly $5 million to pay for the first phase of a parking plan that would allow the city to buy the the former A&P Supermarket site, plus two other parcels along the north side of the Metro-North Railroad station.

Although still in its formative stages, the purchase would lead to the creation of about 350 parking spaces, much of which would be in two-level parking structures. City officials said that there are about 750 people on the waiting list for a parking spot near the Metro-North station, with some having been on the list for more than two years. “Fifty spaces will be added immediately, while we wait for funding sources for Phase II,” Blake said.

“Over the last four years, we have worked with municipal partners to advance transit-oriented development projects in order to lay the foundation for long-term sustainable economic growth in towns across the state and ensure these are livable, walkable communities for employees and employers alike,” said Malloy in his news release

They are going to spend $5 million to purchase the land, plus interest costs (because it is a bond), plus the cost of a 2-level parking garage — all for the benefit of a few hundred train commuters!

If they really wanted to “transform” downtown, the city could have put in downtown housing, providing customers for the defunct supermarket. Instead, they will hollow out downtown for a parking lot.

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Leaderless

There are now 5 transportation agencies within the Federal government that are being run by acting administrators:

  • The FTA: Therese McMillan’s is acting administrator while her nomination is pending in the Senate.
  • NHTSA, where David Friedman has been acting administrator since the resignation of David Strickland (over the GM ignition switch scandal).
  • The FRA, which is losing Joe Szabo (thank God!).
  • NTSB: Deborah Hersman resigned as Chair earlier this year. Christopher Hart has been Acting Chair.
  • FHWA: Gregory Nadeau is acting Administrator.

Other than McMillan, the Obama Administration has yet to make a nomination for these agencies. It is one of those rare opportunities where the Obama Administration could dramatically support transit, bikes, and livability goals. Well, that is if the Administration were really interested in doing that.

Just imagine: an NTSB that focuses on road safety, instead of hot-air balloons and rocketships. An NHTSA that implements regulations for truck sideguards. An FRA that doesn’t regulate passenger trains out of existence. An FHWA that isn’t blindly promoting highway expansion.

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Transportation planning is heavily biased in favor of cars, at the expense of other road users. That is the not-very-shocking conclusion of a new UC Denver study:

America’s streets are designed and evaluated with a an inherent bias toward the needs of motor vehicles, ignoring those of bicyclists, pedestrians, and public transit users, according to a new study co-authored by Wesley Marshall of the University of Colorado Denver.

“The most common way to measure transportation performance is with the level-of-service standard,” said Marshall, PhD, PE, assistant professor of civil engineering at the CU Denver College of Engineering and Applied Science, the premier public research university in Denver. “But that measure only tells us about the convenience of driving a car.”

Marshall co-wrote the study with Eric Dumbaugh, PhD, associate professor at Florida Atlantic University and director of Transportation and Livability for the Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions and Jeffrey Tumlin, owner and director of strategy at Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates in San Francisco.

According to Dumbaugh, many people assume roads are designed with all users in mind when in fact they are dedicated almost entirely to the needs of motor vehicles.

“Transit, bikes, and pedestrians are seen as worthwhile only by how much they reduce delays or increase speeds for motor vehicles,” he said. “Regardless of how efficient they may be in moving people.”

Planners try to eliminate automobile congestion to increase economic competitiveness. But as Dumbaugh points out, that may be counter-productive:

In fact, a previous study by Dumbaugh revealed that as per capita traffic delay went up, so did per capita Gross Domestic Product. Every 10 percent increase in traffic delay per person was associated with a 3.4 percent increase in per capita GDP. That’s because traffic congestion is usually a byproduct of a vibrant, economically productive city, the study said.

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