[Note that the following article authored by me, Paul Goddin, was written for and published by Mobility Lab on July 11, 2014]
At Mobility Lab’s Lunch At the Lab this week, the 14-year veteran of the Arlington County Board discussed a wide array of transportation issues in Virginia, including the Silver Line, the Columbia Pike Streetcar, Virginia’s transportation bill, and Uber.
Favola began the luncheon with a discussion of how her experience in transit-oriented Arlington County has informed her more recent Richmond experience. Mentioning data suggesting that Arlington’s traffic has declined even as its population has increased, the senator attributed this to the county’s smart-growth policies, particularly its robust transportation demand management program.
Silver Line and Smart Growth
Senator Favola discussed the Washington Metrorail’s new Silver Line, scheduled to open on July 26, commending Fairfax County’s use of the new transit line to transform Tysons into a place in which people can “live close to work.” She described transit-oriented development, density, and multimodal transportation options as ways to “manage growth in a sensible way.”
Regarding resistance in Loudoun County to phase two of the Silver Lane project, Favola expressed compassion for that viewpoint, but said, “You just can’t say no to development. You have to manage it.” These were principles Favola and other county leaders implemented in Arlington during her tenure on the county board.
Howard Jennings, Mobility Lab’s managing director, expressed concerns to Favola that transit and multimodal transportation might become associated with political ideologies. Favola responded that Northern Virginia in particular understands that multimodal transportation is an effective solution to growth. The senator said, “Don’t mess with multimodal transit. We need it.”
When asked about the Columbia Pike streetcar, the senator said, “I like the idea of this additional transit option, and I think the streetcar would be a very valuable asset. There’s a strong economic-engine argument [for it].” Favola expressed concern over the financing of the project, however, stating, “The issue the county board has is cost. I think they need to keep working on coming up with a stronger financing package.”
heighthhhhThe senator pointed out another current problem in Arlington County affecting the streetcar’s development: a divided county board. Favola, who served on the board at a time of political consensus and unity, stated that to accomplish big projects such as the streetcar, “strong leadership and commitment to a vision” are needed.
Virginia’s Transportation Bill
Regarding Virginia’s 2013 transportation funding bill, HB2313, Senator Favola described it as “a more robust package than [former] Governor Bob McDonnell thought it would be.” The bill succeeds in funding transportation for the foreseeable future for the state, something that had vexed legislators for decades. While smart-growth advocates have criticized the bill’s preferential treatment of automobiles and road construction, Favola expressed pride over the bill’s passage, stating, “You have to give McDonnell credit.”
Touching on the Uber debate in Virginia, where the transportation network company was banned, Favola mentioned that the state and Uber are closer to resolving their conflict.
The senator spoke of the need for a regulatory framework that will fit Uber. “The whole issue is insurance,” Favola said. While Favola is sensitive to the pain of taxi agencies (“Red Top has been in our community for over 40 years,” she noted), her message to these companies was similar to her message to Loudon County: fighting the tide of change is more or less futile. “Uber is here to stay,” Favola said.
Photos by M.V. Jantzen
The C&O canal in the gorgeous, historic, pedestrian-friendly Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
[Note that the following article authored by me, Paul Goddin, was written for and published by Mobility Lab on July 9, 2014]
At a recent tour of Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health in Washington, D.C., Dr. Ted Eytan displayed a photograph of Kaiser Permanente’s Colorado Springs, Colorado medical office (see below), and asked: “In this picture, what’s the most toxic structure to humans?”
Arlington’s Parking Plan
Arlington County, Virginia has been progressive in discouraging new surface parking. However, the county, one of the densest in the United States, still possesses an abundance of parking garages. Arlington’s zoning ordinance requires a minimum number of parking spaces for buildings, a law that critics say leads to sprawl.
Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG) told Mobility Lab that “Arlington should evaluate lowering or even eliminating parking minimums in its major transit corridors in conjunction with other parking and demand-management strategies. We look forward to working with the county on such an initiative.”
Until the county’s zoning ordinance is changed, however, Arlington does have one mechanism for the provision of a more accurate number of automobile parking spaces: the county’s site-plan process.
Providing an appropriate number of parking spaces is important to both the county and developers. Too few spaces decreases the usefulness and marketability of a property, but too many spaces encourages car ownership, excessive driving, and congestion. The cost of constructing each garage parking space is exorbitant as well. Construction of each underground parking space is estimated at around $40,000.
Nevertheless, determining the appropriate amount of parking is difficult. Mobility Lab has been assisting Arlington in determining whether the county’s site-plan commercial parking spaces are being built in correct numbers. Research director Stephen Crim has been heading up a commercial building study, a follow-on to a 2013 residential study that found, in part, that apartment and condominium site-plan buildings might have too much automobile parking.
Bike Parking or Car Parking?
Interestingly, Arlington gives as much attention to bike parking as it does auto parking. As bike ridership numbers rise in D.C. (and nationally), so does the demand for bike parking. The county currently requires developers of site-plan buildings to construct one bike parking space per 2.5 residential units. John Durham, transportation demand management planner for Arlington County Commuter Services (ACCS), believes that number may be too low because 50 percent of all households in the county own at least one bicycle.
Not only are quality bicycle-parking facilities an effective way to encourage and influence bicycle-ridership numbers, but they also are a more efficient use of land and maximize resources. One automobile parking space can accommodate 10 bikes, according to Durham.
Mounting research suggests that bike facilities pay off economically to business owners. In D.C., businesses located near Capital Bikeshare stations appear to benefit economically. Similarly, protected bike lanes in New York City have been shown to increase retail sales by 49 percent. Just as Arlington County is focused on moving people instead of cars, some businesses are recognizing that cars don’t buy things, people do. Particularly in areas of density with scarce parking generally, it can make sense to provide bike parking as a complement to (or replacement for) car parking. The goal is to maximize foot traffic.
Durham and his TDM team give a great deal of attention to bike parking in buildings that go through Arlington’s site-plan process – possibly more attention per square foot than anywhere else in the building. This attention to detail is not just an example of a county agency doing a good job for taxpayers, it may also be a way that Arlington is helping to move the market – or at least precede it.
No Car Parking At All?
In Los Angeles, some buildings are being constructed with more bike parking than automobile parking. And in D.C., one condominium project called Elysium Fourteen will be built entirely without auto parking. Its developer, Madison Investments’ Sia Madani, explained that consumers are demanding far less car parking in the current marketplace, while bike parking is in greater demand.
The location of Madani’s project – a block from D.C.’s U Street corridor and directly across the street from a popular Trader Joe’s grocery store – undoubtedly factors into the ability of this condominium to be constructed without car parking. It makes sense that, in well-connected places with an abundance of transportation options, car ownership might become entirely unnecessary.
Elysium Fourteen may be simply an experiment, but it’s hard to ignore that bike parking is proliferating and auto parking is being removed in many urban areas. A subtle rebalancing is underway, and this trend could have big consequences on how our cities look in the future.
[Note that the following article authored by me, Paul Goddin, was written for and published by Mobility Lab on June 19, 2014]
More people are moving throughout Arlington County, Virginia without additional automobile congestion.
Over the past 15 years, Arlington’s arterial roads have had less traffic, while transit usage during the same period of time has increased 34.5 percent. As transit service has grown, customer satisfaction has increased, especially on the county’s ART buses.
These statistics were highlighted this week by Dennis Leach, Arlington’s director of transportation in the Department of Environmental Services, in a presentation to the county board (see Leach’s slideshow below) of the county manager’s 10-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).
He said investment in transportation has resulted in a sustainable and economically competitive Arlington. The proposed CIP plans for investments of $1.372 billion for transportation projects over a 10-year period.
The FY 2015 – FY 2024 CIP was above the $981 million proposed in a CIP two years ago. The most significant increase was the Columbia Pike/Crystal City Streetcar (a $169.5 million increase since FY 2013). Leach called the revised cost estimates for the streetcar “very conservative,“ incorporating not only a higher contingency percentage, but also a higher inflation rate.
Adoption of the streetcar portion of the CIP, according to Leach, is vital for Arlington to keep pace with population growth that is projected to take place in the county. Columbia Pike’s population is projected to increase at not only a more rapid rate than anywhere else in the county, but is projected to become the most highly populated Arlington corridor by 2040.
The streetcar is projected to create a minimum of $3.2 billion in net real estate value for Arlington and Fairfax counties over 30 years (far above its projected cost), and to produce 6,600 new jobs within 10 years.
The majority of Arlington’s capital projects use more than one funding source (see the below Transportation Funding 101 slideshow), including federal and state funding, tax revenues, general obligation bonds (used for projects with a long life span, such as transit), and developer contributions from the county’s site-plan process (such as those that paid for a portion of the Rosslyn Metro improvements).
A discussion of the risk of seeking federal dollars for the Columbia Pike portion of the streetcar, however, led Board Chairman Jay Fisette to ask Leach for an alternate streetcar funding plan that does not involve federal dollars or general obligation funds. Board Member Mary Hynes also expressed displeasure with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding process. The proposed CIP funds 49 percent of the Columbia Pike streetcar’s cost from federal funds.
A majority of the county board recently stated their opposition to a county referendum on the streetcar. In addition to the ongoing CIP discussions, Arlington recently adopted its 2015 budget, and issued $65 million in new general obligation bonds.
Arlington’s CIP process is taking place throughout the next month. Updated every two years, the CIP captures Arlington’s short-term and long-range capital needs from July 2015 through June 2024. (Arlington’s fiscal year begins each July 1.)
Photo by M.V. Jantzen
[Note that the following article authored by me, Paul Goddin, was written for and published by Mobility Lab on June 19, 2014]
The mainstreaming of bicycling is nothing short of a comeback story in the United States.
Bicycle ridership generally is up, and so is bike commuting, particularly in some key urban markets. In automobile-congested but bicycle-friendly regions such as New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C., the ability of bikes to outmaneuver automobiles and avoid headache-inducing traffic is envied and admired.
Bike commuting is still a small number of trips overall, but has increased in mode share in recent years. The increase in people biking to work nationwide has been “small but steady,” according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking.
This gain has been more dramatic in some influential urban markets. In so-called bicycle-friendly communities, a term coined by the League of American Bicyclists, the number of bicycle commuters has increased at roughly twice the rate as in the country overall.
Commuting via bicycle increased an impressive 445 percent in Washington D.C. between 1990 and 2012, bolstered by the number of bicycle-infrastructure improvements and pro-biking policies (for example, adoption of a Complete Streets policy) that were created in the city in recent years. Equally important has been the implementation of arguably the most successful bikeshare system in the United States, Capital Bikeshare, and engagement of the public at a grass-roots level through the programs of BikeArlington.
For localities wishing to encourage biking, the League has enumerated the following qualities that create a bicycle-friendly community. Called the 5 E’s, these are good places to start for communities that want to encourage more bicycling:
One additional way cities can encourage biking, as mentioned previously, is by implementation of a bicycle sharing program. The growth of bikeshare systems has been explosive in recent years. Today, more than 600 cities around the globe have bikeshares. The systems were virtually nonexistent in the U.S. five years ago. Of the 25 top American cities for bicycle commuting identified by the League, Mobility Lab found that 40 percent of them have a bikeshare system in place, and an additional 28 percent have systems in the planning stages.
Bikeshare systems, which tend to focus on bicycle transit over bicycle recreation, don’t just encourage bike commuting itself, but encourage other modes such as rail and bus. Bikeshare systems are fulfilling their promise of providing an effective connection between home and work and other modes of transit (the “last-mile/first-mile problem”). Also important to note is that bikeshare makes one-way trips possible. As Chris Eatough, program manager for BikeArlington and Capital Bikeshare states, “Bikeshare fits with a dynamic lifestyle and a daily schedule that is more varied that just going from home to work and back again using the same mode.”
Furthermore, these systems encourage “the rest of us” to bike, not just avid bicyclists. Eatough has spoken of the ability of bikeshares to mainstream or normalize cycling: “Capital Bikeshare is very visible, and the essence of that visual is that biking is normal. This helps more people realize that getting around by bike for short trips is something they themselves can do.”
Regarding America’s rates of biking and bike commuting, there is still a long way to go. Portland, Oregon, with the highest bike commuting levels of U.S. large cities (at 6.1 percent in 2012), lags far behind Copenhagen (50 percent currently, according to the official website of Denmark).
If current trends persist, however – and they should, especially in communities that include biking as part of a multimodal transportation strategy – then perhaps some American cities will be competing on Copenhagen’s level in the coming years.
[Note that the following article authored by me, Paul Goddin, was written for and published by Mobility Lab on June 17, 2014]
What’s the current state of the rider experience? Are transportation systems meeting the demands and expectations of the general public?
These questions were posed to a panel of speakers at a plenary session of the Mobility Lab-sponsored Innovation in Public Policy Summit. Technology – in particular the power of information – was shown to be a good start to positively impact the rider experience.
Kari Edison Watkins, assistant professor of engineering at Georgia Tech University, began by acknowledging that riders avoid certain transportation modes due to perceptions regarding comfort and safety.
Watkins’ research at Georgia Tech demonstrated how providing real-time information about transit arrival times can positively affect both riders’ perceived and actual wait times, and increase rider satisfaction levels. Systems such as the open-source OneBusAway, which operators can implement on the back end, have the potential to get more people to use transit.
But technology, contends Watkins, is not enough. At its most basic level, getting consumers to choose one form of transportation over another involves making that option more attractive than the others. If a ride is uncomfortable, or the infrastructure poor, then riders probably won’t choose it no matter how much real-time information they are given. Transportation policies need to ensure that these vital systems are properly funded and maintained.
Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst and program director of U.S. Public Interest Research Group, discussed how generational differences affect rider expectations.
USPIRG has performed a number of studies regarding transit ridership, particularly with respect to Millennials. Those studies portray this population, born roughly between 1982 and 2001, as making a conscious decision to reduce driving. The generation’s student-loan debt exacerbates the trend. Millennials prefer walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods more than their older cohorts.
Most important, according to Baxandall, is the fact that the car no longer represents freedom for this population cohort. To Millennials, “freedom is spontaneity, he said. The concept of spontaneously taking a trip is no longer contingent on owning an automobile. In fact, Baxandall contends that shared-use mobility increases the ability to act spontaneously, in the way that bikeshares and carshares avoid both the responsibilities (automobile maintenance) and fixed costs associated with owned vehicles.
Millennials, in other words, are inherently biased in favor of transit, biking, and walking. It may follow, then, that their expectations regarding these transportation choices are lower, or at least different.
Darren Buck, bicycle program specialist with the Washington, D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT), discussed Capital Bikeshare (CaBi) use in the District, focusing on how CaBi responds to rider demand.
As background, Buck described how CaBi users in D.C. are demographically similar to bikeshare users nationwide: they are generally cash poor but education rich, largely Millennials, and mostly males.
Capital Bikeshare, said Buck, “does exactly what it’s intended to do.” It increases capacity on rail in the urban core, and acts as a connection between the suburbs and urban employment centers. It is a complementary mode that works holistically with the rest of the D.C. transit system.
D.C.’s successful bikesharing system isn’t without its challenges, however. The system is in need of near-constant “rebalancing.” This is the cost-heavy practice of moving bikes from full stations to empty ones, based on real-time usage data.
Buck proffered the intriguing idea of the use of gamification (“the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems,” according to Wikipedia) to incentivize users in assisting with the expensive but important task of CaBi bike rebalancing. By awarding virtual points or statuses via an app, users can be engaged to move bikes from full to empty stations. Gamification is an intriguing idea that’s been used successfully by Waze and Foursquare, for example, to enhance customer loyalty.
Gamification is also a way to innovatively deal with a supply-and-demand disparity that’s more efficient than simply adding to the supply of bikes at every station. Like transportation demand management, it is more effective, inexpensive, and sustainable than the supply-based approach.
Photo of Shanghai Metro by Eduardo M.C.