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Archive for the ‘planning’ Category

You just can’t win. When activists campaign for closing streets to cars, merchants complain that it would cost them business. And then there’s Breckenridge, which has cancelled “Walkable Main” because it was too successful:

“Something that I am really concerned about is … if a restaurant that is in the closure is able to be not just at 100% capacity but then even above 100% capacity, we already have an employment issue in this town,” Owens said. “We know lots and lots of people are trying to hire and are understaffed, and I guess I would just really hate to see some people that are at 120% capacity getting full staff, and then somebody north of town or south of town not able to get full employees because there’s just additional pressure on the employee situation.”

Council member Dennis Kuhn added that residents on neighboring streets like Park Avenue and French Street did not enjoy the increase in traffic that they experienced while Walkable Main was in place last summer. Council member Dick Carleton said he was torn on the issue and said he had concerns about safety.

Obviously the best way to improve safety is to drive lots of multi-ton vehicles down the main drag.

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In 2015, Professors Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti published a landmark paper on the economic costs of zoning over-regulation. The study got a lot of attention because it calculated housing restrictions cost the economy some $1.6 trillion.

However, the paper made some major blunders in the calculations. The actual number is in fact far higher: $3.39 trillion!!:

Critics may rush to accuse HM of motivated reasoning, but the shoe does not fit.  Their reported figures for the effect of housing deregulation on total GDP and the wage bill turn out to be gross understatements.  The reasonable interpretation, rather, is that authors and referees alike focused so intently on the advanced mathematics that they glossed over some elementary yet crucial errors.  And this is roughly what Hsieh told me: The referees requested some changes to the text (not the tables, which look fine), but these were inconsistently implemented.

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The Biden Administration is developing a $3 trillion infrastructure plan, and every city wants in. That perhaps is the explanation for Dallas proceeding on a proposed downtown subway, because it certainly has no value-added for riders.

DART has 4 lines converging on a short segment running through a downtown transit mall. Two of those lines would be shifted a few blocks south to a new $2.7 billion subway. The plan does not provide any increase in service, except for the Red line which would see some additional peak-hour trains. DART concedes the project does not enhance service much. Indeed, the Build Alternative would see a net loss in transit ridership:

The main point of the project, according to DART, is to improve reliability and capacity. DART at one point looked at running trains on the branching lines with 10-minute headways, meaning 24 trains per hour through the downtown segment. That’s not exactly pushing the envelope; there are plenty of streetcar systems which achieve much higher throughputs. It is also curious that a subway is needed to improve capacity when DART runs just 2-car trains.

Computer simulation of subway stations. I lost count of the number of mezzanine and concourse levels at the Commerce station.

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The FRA has indefinitely postponed plans for a major expansion of Washington DC Union Station. The $7 billion project ran into a firestorm of criticism for its single-minded focus on car parking. There was no planning for improved bike/ped access, and only limited accommodation for intercity buses. Congresswoman Eleanor Norton sent a scathing letter which undoubtedly caught FRA’s attention:

Among other problems with the proposal, the Project includes too many parking spaces for cars. NCPC [National Capital Planning Commission], which has approval authority for the Project, has asked FRA to “substantially reduce” the number of parking spaces and to work with all the stakeholders to determine the appropriate amount of parking in light of the “mix of uses, traffic and urban design impacts and the transit-oriented nature of the [P]roject.” In order to truly become a 21st-century multimodal facility, the Project needs to address pedestrian and bike connections, which are increasing modes of transportation here, as well as pick-up and drop-off locations and the bus facility.

Andrew Trueblood, Director of the D.C. Office of Planning, has warned that FRA’s desired number of parking spaces would undermine the key goals for the Project, including prioritizing intermodal efficacy and efficiency and providing continued and enhanced quality of life for people who live, work and visit the District.

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UC Riverside is raising tuition, cutting staff, and faces a reduction of $30 million in state support. Coincidentally, $30 million is how much the campus is spending on this gigantic new parking garage:

UC Riverside’s new four-level parking structure at the east end of campus is nearing completion. The main elements of the project — its concrete levels and frame — are finished though other features still remain to be done, said John Franklin, a project manager with the Office of Planning, Design and Construction. He estimated it will be completed by the end of April.

“It’s quite a substantial structure when you walk by it,” Franklin said.

Work on the 1,079-space parking structure on the east side of Parking Lot 13 on Big Springs Road began in January 2020. When complete, the structure and surrounding space will provide a total of 1,287 spaces — a net increase of 800.

Parking Lot 13

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There is way too much parking at Denver RTD “transit” oriented developments. That is the conclusion of a new report:

In late 2019 and early 2020, the Regional Transportation District (RTD) of Metro Denver, Colorado, surveyed property managers, counted parking supply and demand, and analyzed findings from 86 station-area developments. Per RTD’s analysis of peak parking demand, market-rate properties provide 40 percent more parking than residents use, and income-restricted properties provide 50 percent more parking than residents use.

Providing an excessive amount of parking at station-area properties across Metro Denver affects residents’ welfare and the economic vitality of the region, which the State of Colorado enabled RTD to promote. As parking increases development costs, developers pass on costs to residents – particularly low-income residents – in the forms of higher rent, fewer units, and reduced services. In aggregate, increased costs for unnecessary parking contribute to a higher cost of living across Metro Denver, which recently experienced the second greatest rate of gentrification in the country. From the perspective of the transit agency, which particularly benefits from the patronage of low-income passengers, fewer income-restricted units near existing service threatens the agency’s fiscal solvency and satisfaction of its mandate.

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There have been a number of such positive reactions to Buttegieg’s nomination to head DOT. People making such comments have probably not looked at his actual performance as Mayor….which is not good.

As Mayor, Buttegieg had a traffic signal removed from a busy arterial, directly in front of a bus transportation center. It was there that an 11 year-old was killed while trying to cross the street trying to get to his school bus. Four other intersections near schools also had traffic lights removed:

City officials had planned since May 2016 to install traffic signals at the downtown intersection where an 11-year-old boy was struck and killed Monday, and activation was expected next week, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said Tuesday. Following a consultant’s 2015 study finding that vehicular and pedestrian traffic at the corner of South and Michigan streets didn’t warrant a traffic light, the city placed a bag over the light Feb. 1, 2016, as it did at a handful of downtown intersections.

Following the study by American Structurepoint Inc., the city bagged and evaluated lights at four other intersections: Calvert and Michigan, and Calvert and Main. Those signals were put back in last fall because schools were located nearby. Broadway’s signal was removed permanently. One near the fire station on South Michigan Street was reactivated.

Buttigieg was asked whether he thinks the boy’s death was attributable to any mistakes made by his staff. “Any time anything bad happens in the city, finger-pointing happens,” he said. “I get it. I’m in charge. But I also think what you had here was professional engineers acting on recommendations based on expertise, and based on everything we knew, making the best decision that we could. 

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Congratulations, you played yourself

The “zoning” doesn’t exist in nature. Its rules come from city councils and landmark preservation commissions. Those with most influence over making the rules have been white homeowners and NIMBY’s – which is why for 40 years most economic gains have gone to the top.

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The timing would have been fortuitous. Had the VTA simply stuck with its original cut-cover tunnel plans for BART phase-2, then some of the most disruptive construction might have occurred during the COVID shutdown.

As most know, the BART phase-2 tunnel was originally planned as conventional cut-cover, and considerable engineering work had been done on that design. But the cut-cover plan was derailed when San Jose demanded a more complicated deep-bore design. This led to years of delays (not to mention billions in cost overruns).

The reason for the unusual demand was to reduce disruption of local business. Those businesses have now been destroyed anyway by COVID — so all the extra tunnel expense was for nothing. Downtown San Jose will now get a double whammy: COVID followed by BART construction. This was probably not the outcome they were expecting.

One can imagine in some alternate universe that the VTA took advantage of the COVID shutdown to expedite construction. While the pandemic was not predictable, any major delay in the planning pipeline reduces flexibility in construction scheduling. Compare to the controversy over the LACMTA Purple line extension through Beverly Hills. Rather than give in to irrational demands, the LACMTA stuck with original plans, and then expedited that plan when COVID hit.

Project schedule as of July 2016

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All the national environmental organizations have a major blind spot for urban design. I guess it is easier to slam Exxon and Trump rather than local city councils for their car-centric zoning. Which brings us to a bizarre candidate endorsement from Annie Leonard, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA.

Leonard has endorsed Sophie Hahn for Berkeley City Council District 5. Unless you live in Berkeley then you probably would not recognize the name, but most local advocates know Hahn all too well. During her time on the Zoning Board she fought against infill development, especially around the downtown BART station. In her first run for City Council, she was not only opposed to an AC Transit BRT project — but was in favor of voter Measure KK. That measure would have prohibited any reduction in road capacity for cars or parking unless first approved by voters in a general election. The measure would have severely curtailed work on the city’s bike and pedestrian plans.

Annie Leonard lives in Berkeley, has a Masters Degree in City Planning, and tweets non-stop about climate change — so she cannot use the excuse that she was not aware of Hahn’s problems. That makes the endorsement all the more embarrassing for her and for Greenpeace.

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