Thomas Circle, one of Washington, D.C.’s L’Enfant-designed traffic circles, composed of radial state-named streets bisecting at various angles an otherwise gridded city of north-south numbered streets and east-west lettered ones. (And causing much confusion to the D.C. visitor, not to mention long-time residents.)
[Note that the following post authored by me, Paul Goddin, was written for and published by Mobility Lab on December 4, 2013]
TED Talks is a clearinghouse of informative and inspirational short lectures from the leading thinkers of our age. In case you didn’t know, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design (its creator was himself an architect and graphic designer).
With more than 1,500 TED Talks available online (not including Mobility Lab’s own mini-TED Talks we hosted recently for Young Professionals in Transportation), and a new one added daily, parsing through those to find great talks about transportation and urban development might seem daunting. Thankfully, we’re rolling out four talks in this arena that you shouldn’t pass up.
Here is the second one in our four-part series:
The most effective solution to addressing climate change, Alex Steffen proffers, doesn’t reside in renewable energy sources or individual efforts to conserve resources, but in a more surprising place: our cities.
Cities are much “greener” than the suburbs, Steffen explains, particularly when it comes to transportation, one of the largest sources of climate-changing emissions. City living makes car ownership unnecessary, especially given the increased availability of bike and car sharing in urban areas such as our own Arlington County.
The sharing economy makes being green about efficiency, not deprivation. Packed with insight in a video that’s barely 10 minutes long, Steffen makes a convincing case for increasing the density of our built environment.
Also check out part 1 of our series, How Bad Architecture Wrecked Cities.
Photo by Kit Seeborg
Traffic in Washington, D.C.’s Gallery Place/Chinatown.
[Note: The following blog authored by me, Paul Goddin, was written for and published by Mobility Lab on November 25, 2013]
The 2010 Census shows that the D.C. metropolitan region has the highest median income in the country, at more than $84,000. In fact, a popular Wall Street Journal article recently touted the “New Gilded Age” of the nation’s capital.
So it is perhaps not surprising that no one seems too eager to talk about affordable housing.
Mobility Lab hasn’t been so complacent, discussing the issue recently at one of its Lunch at the Lab series of meetups.
First of all, the topic of affordable housing isn’t code for subsidized or low-income housing. The issue of housing affordability is one that impacts a region’s economic viability and competitiveness. It is also an issue that affects vast swaths of the middle-class, not just the poor.
Traditional measurements define housing as affordable if it accounts for no more than 30 percent of a household’s gross annual income. While that yardstick rule continues to be used, there’s a movement towards a different approach to measuring affordability.
The newer measurement, which was the subject matter of Mobility Lab’s September 19 Lunch at the Lab, looks at housing and transportation costs together. The reason for this is that a household’s two biggest expenses are housing and transportation, yet transportation expenses tend to be discounted in many decisions regarding where to live. Some people call transportation a “hidden cost” of housing.
This new rule, growing in popularity, states that housing and transportation (H+T) should be no more than 45 percent of a household’s income. This H+T measurement favors transit-oriented forms of development versus auto-centric ones.
Eric Timar of Arlington County’s Housing Division discussed how people moving out of the urban core, including Arlington, often do so to save on rent. But such moves typically result in increased transportation costs and often counteract the benefits derived from the lower rents.
Arlington’s award-winning vPoint.
Mobility Lab’s Stephen Crim demonstrated how many areas of Arlington County that are considered unaffordable – according to the 30 percent housing rule – become in fact affordable when applying the H+T 45 percent rule. Crim stated that more people need to take into consideration transportation costs before making their housing decisions.
Mary Rouleau of the Alliance for Housing Solutions talked about creativity and density as two key factors in addressing affordability. Density has taken the form of micro-units (less than 450 square feet generally) recently. They are all the rage in New York City and are popping up in Washington D.C. as well.
Creative development strategies can yield great public benefits, such as affordable housing. Arlington’s vPoint development, built in the airspace over a church and comprising 46 market-rate and 70 affordable units, is a great example of such creativity.
We want to know what you think:
Photo by emma.maria
[Note that the following blog authored by me, Paul Goddin, was written for and published by Mobility Lab on October 24, 2013]
In the next 25 years, America’s highway system will be replaced in large part by a crisscrossing network of passenger rail lines.
The automobile will be replaced by the Google (driverless) car.
Alternative modes of transportation such as biking and walking will be more prevalent.
And there will be a national chain of Mobility Labs serving key markets.
These were the bold predictions made by former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood at last week’s Mobility Lab event “People First: the Future of Transportation in America.”
“Transportation is always about the future,” LaHood said. And as the Republican appointee of a Democratic U.S. president knows perhaps better than most, transportation is also bipartisan. “There are no Republican roads or Democratic bridges,” he added.
Both LaHood and Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT) President Josh Kavanagh used the Mobility Lab event – hosted at George Mason University’s Arlington campus – to repeatedly call for increased use of “transportation demand management (TDM)” practices in the United States. Kavanagh said the impact of transit-oriented development, Complete Streets, and other implementations of TDM are “profound” in jurisdictions where they are used.
LaHood went further, suggesting that the U.S. needs “more Mobility Labs,” recognizing the organization (currently the only one of its kind in the U.S.) as a democratizing force and “example of extraordinary changes” that are taking place in our country. LaHood said there is a need for at least “four or five” Mobility Labs in key markets in the U.S., and he encouraged the company to seek private equity funding to make that happen.
Tom Fairchild, director of Mobility Lab, said that “we are incredibly proud of the work that we do and are appreciative of LaHood’s understanding and support of our mission. We are always open to investments to expand our programs and reach.”
Democratization of transportation was an overarching theme at the event. Arlington County, whose transportation emphasis has always been on “moving people, not cars,” was cited by both LaHood and Kavanagh as an example of the best in transportation planning in the country.
About his prediction that America’s future transportation needs would be met more by passenger rail than automobile, LaHood referenced a “pent-up demand for passenger rail,” and said, “The people almost always get it right.”
LaHood told the audience that if Eisenhower had signed a “Passenger Rail Bill” rather than the Federal Highway Act, then America would look much different than it does today. LaHood envisioned a future America that looks, transportation-wise, more like Europe. Smart-growth advocates in the audience undoubtedly were pleased, as the Federal Highway Act is widely considered to have played a significant role in urban sprawl.
When asked by an audience member how a major infrastructure project like the rail LaHood envisions would be funded, LaHood was unequivocal in his response. He called for an increase to the national gasoline tax ”not raised since ’93″ of 10 cents, tied to the inflation rate. He also referenced the Highway Trust Fund as a good starting source of funds, but said it should be supplemented by a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) tax, tolling, and public-private partnerships operating to cover the shortfall.
LaHood’s final pronouncement was that while America is no longer number one in transportation, it can be. The countries that are surpassing us, such as China, are investing heavily in rail. If America does that as well, it will create jobs in the short term and ensure our competitiveness in the long term.
Photos by M.V. Jantzen
Walkable Dupont Circle row houses.
[Note: The following blog authored by me, Paul Goddin, was written for and published by Mobility Lab on October 10, 2013]
A parking garage near Crystal City
A new study by Arlington County Commuter Services (ACCS) examines the travel and parking behaviors of residents by looking at a sample of residential site plan buildings.
Site plan buildings are those that require special approval from the County Board in order to be developed because they need some kind of exception to the zoning ordinance (such as more units, more floor area, or fewer parking spaces). Consistent with the concept of “special exception” projects, both staff and community members have opportunities for input before the approval, and each approval raises questions about the impacts of the development into the future.
The new study begins to speak to some of the big picture questions as they relate to transportation, such as “are we still moving more people without more traffic?” and “are we parking these buildings at the right level?”
One of the more intriguing results of the study: Most parking garages neither filled nor emptied over the course of a week. Most fluctuated between 20 and 80 percent full. Several garages never dropped below 40 percent full. The maximum occupancy suggests parking supply may be too high, while the minimum occupancy, particularly in Metrorail corridors, suggests that many cars in these Arlington residential buildings are not used for commuting, and in fact may be rarely used at all.
The fact that garages are not being filled would suggest a tendency to overestimate the number of needed parking-garage spaces in Arlington’s site-planned buildings, both by the County Board granting the building permits, and by developers and consumers who may favor access to parking but then fail to use the spaces. The high minimum occupancies measured, coupled with lower-than anticipated trip-generation rates across all study sites, suggest that even when households own cars, they are not necessarily using them as much as anticipated.
Education, therefore, is still needed to help consumers appreciate the transportation options in Arlington before they make a renting or home-buying decision. Decision makers, developers, and community members should also consider the connection between housing and transportation costs, and more specifically the impacts of parking supply on housing affordability, in the context of future development proposals.
The ACCS study results are an opportunity to influence policy makers involved in the county’s site-plan review process to push for a reduction of parking spaces, particularly in buildings located in the county’s Metrorail corridors. Properties developed “by-right” were not included in this sample, but since by-right parking ratios are higher than site plan approved ratios, it may be that those properties provide too much parking as well.
The ACCS research program is now underway with a similar study of commercial properties. Information on occupancy and trip generation of commercial and shared-use parking garages will provide a useful counterpoint to the residential results, informing and supporting the ongoing development of Arlington’s mixed-use urban villages.
Photo by Bossi
[Note that the following blog authored by me, Paul Goddin, was written for and published by Mobility Lab on September 27, 2013.]
Photo: A seminar at 1776, Where Revolutions Happen.
The word “innovative” isn’t usually used in the same sentence as Washington D.C., but that adjective is surprisingly apt today.
The nation’s capital has flown under the radar to become one of the leaders in transportation innovation.
Recently launched services such as Uber, Hailo, Capital Bikeshare, Hitch, and RidePost are changing the way Washingtonians get around. The proliferation of these new apps and services was the topic of the evening at “Transportation in the City,” a panel discussion hosted this week at 1776 by Smart Growth America and Elevation DC.
Why D.C., and why now? These were two of the questions posed at the event, which drew a standing-room-only crowd of hipsters, geeks, and wonks in 1776’s swank industrial meeting space.
First of all, Washington D.C. is a “big but manageable” city, stated Donna Harris, co-founder of 1776. With a population of 600,000 that swells to almost twice that on any given workday, D.C. is also a city with the highest number of commuters, according to Harris.
D.C. is also a city with a transit system that is mature, but taxed to capacity. Harris said the opportunities inherent in our city made the transportation industry “ripe for disruption” by apps she refers to as “regulatory hacks.” Startups seized on opportunities present in an industry many view as too large, cumbersome, inefficient, and overregulated. And the consumer is now benefiting with more transportation choices than ever before.
A demographic shift is also under way in the nation’s capital. Ilana Preuss, vice-president and chief of staff of Smart Growth America, said that D.C. is now the biggest employer of recent college grads. These Millennials – many burdened by school debt and high rents – are making an active decision to forego the automobile as an unnecessary expense.
The decision to forego a car isn’t just a decision being made by Millennials, though. Tom Fairchild, director of Mobility Lab, pointed out that his organization is credited for removing 45,000 cars from the road each day. Martin Di Caro, transportation reporter for WAMU, repeated this idea: “Independence used to mean car keys. Now it’s a smartphone.”
While the past several years have seen enormous changes in D.C. and its suburbs, Harris said D.C.’s transportation system is “an overnight success that didn’t happen overnight.”
Fairchild echoed this sentiment by pointing to the forward-thinking work Arlington County did in the 1970s to locate its metro stations under Wilson Boulevard rather than I-66.
Di Caro, too, spoke of the importance of tying land use with transportation. With even notoriously congested Tysons Corner making the decision to ditch its parking lots, things are changing for the better.
Stewart Schwartz, director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, points to the innovation of transportation-oriented startups as part of a larger trend in D.C. towards increased livability and revitalization that has only accelerated in recent years. The term “walkability” is thrown around so often in D.C. nowadays that it’s almost become a cliche, and the movement is spreading. Transportation apps and platforms are but one symptom of this movement.
Equity remains an issue that still needs to be addressed, however. Transportation startups are dependent in large part on the proliferation of social media, and especially smartphones. Gentrification in D.C. remains an enormous problem, Di Caro acknowledged, and this is a thorny issue a smartphone app can’t ameliorate. Fairchild intimated that the equity issue is more pernicious and pervasive, noting not only that transit benefits are typically made available only to salaried, rather than hourly workers, and also the requirement to tie bikeshare memberships to credit cards.
Harris closed the event by stating that “data is empowering.” Opening up data and making it available to all will show “dark spots on the map. Data drives transparency which drives decision making.” A positive view, to be sure. And hopefully an idea and trend that will spread throughout the region.