Posts tagged with "Public Transit":

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Tristate regional plan proposes more equitable, resilient future with better mass transit

Picture New York, 2040: Buses replace the subway at night, but when they’re open, subways are quieter, wheelchair-accessible, and clean. Everyone’s ditched tiny apartments for cozy mother-in-law units, built into single- family suburban homes. Working in the Bronx and living in Brooklyn isn’t a two-hour slog anymore, because there is rail service from Co-op City to Sunset Park. Craving fresh air? The national park in the New Jersey Meadowlands is a one-train ride from Queens, or there’s a long-haul hike from the Catskills to the Pinelands. This is a sliver of the tristate future envisioned by the Regional Plan Association (RPA), a nonpartisan, nonprofit Manhattan-based organization that periodically analyzes the region from exurbs to downtowns to generate recommendations for a thriving future. When all 782 towns and cities in the tri-state area do their own planning and zoning, true regional planning seems daunting. The almost 400-page doorstopper of a plan, the RPA’s fourth since 1922, contains recommendations on a range of issues, from closing health disparities to fairer school redistricting and property tax reform, to making it easier to reverse-commute or travel from suburb to suburb without a car. The New York-New Jersey–Connecticut area is home to 23 million people, and only a third of them live in New York City proper. With that distribution in mind, the RPA identified four top priorities that affect everyone’s life. The group believes that, for the next 25 years, a thriving region depends on fixing the MTA, constructing more affordable housing to prevent displacement, building equity in one of the most unequal regions in the area, and adapting to rising sea levels. “Our plans carry zero weight of law, but they are very influential,” RPA President Tom Wright told reporters at a November briefing. It’s not possible to analyze all of the plan’s 61 prescriptions here, but there are key takeaways for architects, planners, and policymakers who live and practice in the region. The idea that the subway needs a total overhaul is a no-brainer to anyone who has been late due to massive train delays. To improve the system, the group wants to reconsider around-the-clock subway service. Surface transit would replace trains between 12:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. on weeknights, as only 1.5 percent of daily riders use the service during these four and a half hours, almost 20 percent of the day. Ending 24/7 service, the RPA argues, would allow the beleaguered MTA to make needed repairs faster, now that there are more riders than ever. New Yorkers didn’t take kindly to the idea. Commuters took to Twitter to denounce “the worst idea ever,” and even Mayor Bill de Blasio weighed in, calling full service a “birthright.” If current trends continue, the city’s growth rate from 2015– 2040 will be half of its 1990–2015 rate, but NYC officials say the city doesn’t have enough infrastructure to support more than nine million residents, even though the RPA believes the region (including NYC) could accommodate four million more people and add two million jobs. The organization argues that more and better transit options— and more affordable housing— will prevent the region from turning into California’s Bay Area and make it easier to grow inclusively. Packed trains and sky-high rents reflect many people’s desire to live in the New York City area, but unchecked housing costs could put a damper on growth. Adding more units—two million more— would alleviate the real estate crunch over 25 years. To meet demand, the RPA estimates that changing zoning near train stations could allow 250,000 homes to be created just on surface parking near rail lines while maintaining the neighborhood balance of schools and social spaces. Reforming zoning restrictions could also encourage homeowners to create accessory dwellings units (mother-in-law apartments) within the existing building envelope, while NYC’s 12 FAR cap could be lifted to build up density. Value capture from real estate development, especially those that benefit from big-ticket projects, could fund affordable housing near transit. All housing construction will be in vain, however, if the region doesn’t step up to address the immediate and terrifying effects of climate change. The RPA wants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions via a California-style cap-and-trade plan, and convene a regional commission to help local governments adapt to extreme weather and rising seas. But, according to the RPA, the carbon pricing system we have isn’t comprehensive enough; the region should switch to California’s model, which does more to reduce emissions by covering those from buildings, transportation, power production, and industry. One million people from Connecticut to New Jersey live in areas likely to flood, and municipalities are gearing up to fight Hurricane Sandy-like storm surges. There is less emphasis, though, on the everyday flooding that’s likely to result from sea-level rise in the near future; the RPA says areas that can’t be protected should be gradually transitioned to higher ground. A tristate regional coastal commission would help communities plan for sea-level rise, and a small surcharge on property insurance would be used to fund resiliency measures like buyouts and coastal hardening. The retreat from vulnerable areas is painful for people who have built lives there, but there are opportunities in the changes. A national park in the marshy, industrial Meadowlands would provide recreation space and educate visitors on climate change mitigation. Denser Meadowlands towns like Secaucus, New Jersey, would be protected from sea-level rise, while the Teterboro Airport and surrounding communities would retreat, and nature would take over. To illustrate these recommendations more richly, the RPA applies its thinking to nine sites, imagining what they could be in 2040. In that year, Jamaica, Queens, has capitalized on its rich transit connections and proximity to JFK Airport to become a destination in its own right, while retaining its income and ethnic diversity. Further east, Long Island’s central Nassau County is a “model suburb” thanks to regionally integrated schools and a new North Shore–South Shore rail link that’s made it easier to access job centers in Hempstead and Garden City. “Nothing is off the table,” Wright said.
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In fits and starts, Seattle plans for regional-scale urbanism

In recent years, the West Coast’s booming cities have seen significant population growth, resulting in an ongoing and worsening housing-affordability crisis. Though there are many overlapping causes for this crisis, the phenomenon is partially a product of too much success and not enough planning—cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have added tens of thousands of new jobs over the years, but have built comparatively few homes to serve those workers. The result is a dizzying increase in the number of people experiencing burdensome rents and homelessness coupled with an expanded reliance on automobile transit as people are forced to live farther away from their jobs in order to afford housing. This regime is straining urban and civic life as more and more people—including college students, school teachers, and even police officers and firefighters— face increasing difficulties in terms of housing affordability. But just as the overlapping crises of climate change, housing unaffordability, and gridlock threaten to overwhelm these cities, potential solutions may be afoot. Across the region, major cities are beginning to cooperate at the regional level with peripheral municipalities in an effort to rein in carbon emissions, increase affordability and equity, and decrease automobile reliance. By relying on envisioned networks of transit-connected villages to grow up rather than out, entire metropolitan regions have the potential to be remade in the image of multi-nodal urbanism. In the Los Angeles area, the Southern California Association of Governments represents 18 million residents across a six-county region with the aim of helping to reduce sprawl. To the north, the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association aims to unite the region’s 101 municipalities toward measured growth. Of the three major West Coast cities, however, Seattle—nearly 30 years into its own regional planning experiment following the passage of the Washington State Growth Management Act in 1990—is the furthest along in its efforts to articulate a new form of dense regional urbanism centered on regional transit and dispersed density. As it should, the path toward this brave new world begins with high-capacity transit. Though only established in 1993, the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit) is in the midst of a massive, multibillion-dollar expansion plan that will see the transit agency extend a slew of new light rail and bus rapid transit (BRT) lines across the Puget Sound region. Sound Transit has been undergoing vigorous growth since 1996, when the agency published its initial “Sound Move” plan, which has been amended, expanded, and reapproved by regional voters first in 2008 and again in 2016. The most recent version— Sound Transit 3 (ST3)—consists of a 25-year vision aimed at adding an additional 62 new miles of light rail throughout the region with the goal of ultimately creating 116 miles of light rail augmented by expanded commuter rail and new BRT services. Crucially, the expanded system includes increased street bus service, shorter headways between buses and trains, and increased transit capacity via longer train cars and articulated buses. When fully built out, the system will span north to Everett, south to Tacoma, east to Redmond and west to Ballard and serve a projected population of five million. Aside from being a transit plan, ST3 is also part of a dogged, municipally led vision aimed at supplementing Seattle’s downtown core by investing in and redeveloping existing cities and towns across the Puget Sound. The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), a cooperative agency tasked with envisioning equitable growth strategies for the region, leads the effort on the planning side. The organization helps to study and deploy land-use reforms like up-zoning, works to preserve the location and size of existing industrial lands, and pursues transportation and urbanization planning initiatives with the aim of keeping the rural areas, farmland, and forests around metropolitan regions “healthy and thriving,” according to the organization’s website. The council’s Vision 2040 plan—a growth management– focused environmental, economic, and transportation vision for Puget Sound crafted in 2007—aims to provide a blueprint for this transformation. PSRC’s vision seeks to direct urban growth so that it coincides with Sound Transit’s projected transit map for the future, overlaying progressive planning principles atop new transit corridors before the new lines are ever built. The effect is that land can be bought sooner and at cheaper prices, allowing, for example, nonprofit housing providers to maximize their investments long before surrounding real estate appreciates. Vision 2040 aims to create a set of interconnected “regional centers” that concentrate a density of housing, jobs, and civic and entertainment uses along these new transit corridors. According to PSRC, Washington state’s job growth will be three times higher than the national average over the next five years, a phenomenon the group hopes will reshape the Puget Sound region as a whole. The council is currently working to update its regional-centers plan, and it seeks to cluster groups of complementary industries across the region synergistically with housing and other services. Producing this “housing-jobs balance,” Josh Brown, executive director of PSRC said, is a central mission of the organization. Brown explained, “Our plan calls for larger existing cities to accommodate growth so we can achieve a better housing-jobs balance across the region.” Using this so-called Centers Framework, the organization has been able to create a plan for concentrating urban growth in existing urban centers and projects that, by 2040, the region will be served by over one hundred high-capacity transit stations surrounded by a density of mixed uses. PSRC administers and supports various programs to fulfill these goals, including helping to launch the so-called Regional Equitable Development Initiative (REDI) Fund, which helps to capture low land prices in future-growth areas with the intention of developing mixed-use projects that contain full-throated affordable housing components. The REDI Fund was launched by Enterprise Community Partners and regional partners like PSRC in December 2016 and recently closed on its first deal, a project developed with the Tacoma Housing Authority to create 300 to 500 new homes in the city’s West End neighborhood. For the project, at least 150 of the units will be priced for low- and moderate-income households in a bid to provide affordable housing for community college students in danger of falling into homelessness. The project is planned for a site across the street from Tacoma Community College and will eventually sit at the southern terminus of a forthcoming light rail line. The development will help PSRC achieve its interlocking goals of promoting density in existing corridors while also supporting the region’s burgeoning cohort of future workers. James Madden, senior program director with Enterprise Community Partners, said, “Our goal is to get private land into the hands of mission-oriented nonprofits in order to create mixed-income, multifamily housing.” The initiative comes as the region begins to embrace the coming changes. In the city of Lynwood, north of Seattle, for example, a 250-acre site surrounding a forthcoming light rail station is being redeveloped into a district called City Center that will contain mixed-use development and include a convention center and pedestrian- oriented street design. The plan will help Lynnwood grow in population by over 50 percent in coming decades. The eastern city of Redmond—where Microsoft’s headquarters are located—is also pushing forward on new transit-oriented projects, including the city’s Overlake Village, a 170-acre district that will contain 40,000 residents in the future. The first phase of the redevelopment is a 1,400-unit complex called Esterra Park that will also contain 1.2 million square feet of offices, 25,000 square feet of retail uses, a hotel, and a conference center. Taken together, the multifaceted growth plans in place across the Puget Sound region can serve as an example of a potential future for West Coast cities, a vision that is particularly focused on equity, pedestrianism, and dense urban redevelopment.
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First look at a leaked draft of Trump administration's infrastructure plan

Axios has obtained a leaked draft copy of the Trump administration’s much-vaunted infrastructure plan. An initial look at the preliminary plan hints that it would drastically change how public projects are funded. While no concrete figures have been provided, Trump has consistently cited a “$1 trillion” spending figure, with $200 billion coming over 10 years from the plan’s implementation and the remaining $800 billion coming from states and private industry. To meet those goals, the draft plan leans heavily on raising money through user fees, such as tolls, and drastically capping the federal government’s investment in infrastructure projects. While 50 percent of the available funds have been set aside to incentivizing states and cities to invest in infrastructure, the plan favors new projects and diminishes how much funding a project is eligible for based on its age. A requirement that the federal government cap its grant contribution to a project to 20 percent of a project's total cost, no matter how large it is, might spell disaster for the New York-New Jersey Gateway Project if the bridge-and-tunnel plan falls under the bill’s jurisdiction. In general, mass transit projects would find it much harder to win funding from the federal government, as Trump’s plan would give priority to developments that can demonstrate a material return on investment. Other changes proposed in the draft plan include allowing tolls on interstate highways, a practice which is currently heavily restricted, consolidating project approval power across the country to a single federal agency yet to be named, ease environmental restrictions on highway construction, and permitting a greater involvement from private investors. Several changes to the Environmental Protection Agency have also been included in the plan, many of which involve both streamlining the agency as well as potentially expanding its authority to supersede state-level decisions. It’s important to note that this only a draft of the infrastructure plan and the final version may differ significantly. The full draft outline can be read here.
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MTA reveals comprehensive L train shutdown plan

Today the city and the MTA released a long-awaited plan to get riders to Manhattan during the L train shutdown. Among the many proposed transit tweaks, Manhattan's 14th Street will be transformed into a bus-only thoroughfare to keep rush hour running smoothy. In both boroughs, new bus routes and bike lanes will help ferry 225,000 daily would-be L train commuters to their destinations. The MTA is also beefing up service on L-adjacent lines, in part by opening up disused subway entrances in Brooklyn and running longer trains on the G line. There will also be new high-occupancy vehicle rules for those driving over the Williamsburg Bride, AMNY reported. The L train's Canarsie tunnel was badly damaged by flooding during Hurricane Sandy and has to be closed for 15 months so the MTA can perform extensive repairs. The closure, which will suspend Manhattan-to-Brooklyn service, is expected to commence in April 2019 and last through June 2020. During the shutdown, the L will run mostly normally though Brooklyn until it reaches Bedford Avenue, the final station before the tunnel. The MTA will increase service on the J, M and Z lines, and bus service along new routes will pick up riders at subway stations to carry them over the Williamsburg Bridge and through lower Manhattan. To carry an estimated 3,800 bus riders per peak hour, the lanes will be restricted to trucks and vehicles with three-plus passengers. The plan should alleviate residents' and business owners' fears over the effects of the shutdown. In Manhattan, a multilane crosstown busway on 14th Street between Third and Ninth avenues will supersede all regular traffic except local deliveries, while 13th Street will get a dedicated two-way cycling lane.
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Nashville mayor unveils details of $5.2 billion transit plan

Nashville’s Mayor Megan Barry has announced the ballot language for the city's much-anticipated transit referendum. The referendum, which will be voted on in a May 1, 2018 election, would bring a completely new expansive light-rail system to the city. At a cost of $5.2 billion, it would be one of the most ambitious transit plans in the United States, and the largest single project Nashville has ever taken on. The announcement included the full 205-word ballot measure, a broad overview of the proposed referendum. Those projects would “improve and expand its transit services to include: expanded bus service countywide; new transit lines; new light rail and/or rapid bus service along Nashville’s major corridors, including the Northwest Corridor and a connection through downtown Nashville; new neighborhood transit centers; improvements to the Music City Star train service; safety improvements, including sidewalks and pedestrian connections; and system modernization.” The wording also outlines the city’s plan to raise four taxes, in the form of surcharges, to fund the projects. These include, “a sales tax surcharge of 0.5 percent for the first five years, increasing to 1 percent in 2023; a hotel/motel tax surcharge of 0.25 percent for the first five years, increasing to 0.375 in 2023; a 20 percent surcharge on the business/excise tax; and a 20 percent surcharge on the rental car tax.” The next step for the referendum will be gaining the approval from the Metro Council for the ballot language. The plan includes 26 miles of new light rail, additional bus services, and most dramatically, a rail tunnel that will stretch under the downtown 40 to 50 feet below the street level. The 1.8-mile-long, 60-foot-wide tunnel would contain two tracks, and would cost an estimated $900 million. Above ground, five light rail corridors will run to the downtown from all directions in the city. While the rail portion of the project would take until 2032 to complete, the improvements to other parts of the system could be implemented much quicker. In particular, 25 miles of rapid bus transit and “neighborhood transit centers” would connect the bus system to the future rail network. Another aspect of the proposal is reduced or free transit fares for residents living below the federal poverty line. This consideration would help offset the increased sales tax burden on the poor, who are often disproportionately affected by such taxes. If Nashville residents approve the referendum, the city will join the likes of Seattle, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, who have all recently passed extensive transit plans. Critics of these types of plans question the return on investment of the billions of dollars, while proponents argue that they are needed to attract the types of companies and workers 21st-century cities need. An example often cited is the call from proposals for the Amazon HQ2. Amazon specifically requested a robust mass transit system for its workers, a requirement that many midsize cities are unable to meet.
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L.A. mayor to announce 28 transit projects for completion before 2028 Olympics

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is preparing to announce a final slate of projects for his "28 by 28" initiative before the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (Metro) board of directors this week. Garcetti’s effort aims to complete 28 regional transit projects before Los Angeles hosts the summer Olympics in 2028. The proposal includes a collection of projects already planned under a recently passed transportation funding ballot initiative called Measure M, urbanize.LA reports. Measure M is slated to bring $860 million per year to regional transit projects that Metro will utilize to diversify regional transportation options. According to a plan posted to the Metro website, Garcetti’s initiative includes 16 projects planned under Measure M and a previous transit measure. These projects include light rail and bus rapid transit (BRT) expansions across the region, as well as several highway improvement and widening efforts. The plan calls for expanding six light rail lines, which includes the completion of new light rail lines to Crenshaw in South Los Angeles, Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley, and Santa Ana in the southeast. Also included are a slew of regional BRT projects in the northern San Fernando Valley along Vermont Avenue and through Glendale. The collected projects have the potential to reshape the region’s urban geography, as evidenced by the explosion of transit-oriented development proposed along the recently extended Expo light rail line in West Los Angeles. The areas around the first phase of the Purple Line subway extension are already booming with high-density, mixed-use developments. Further information on the 28 by 28 plan is forthcoming. See the Metro website for the official Measure M transit expansion roll-out schedule. 
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L.A. Metro takes multi-pronged approach to improving aging Blue Line

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LAMTA) is working toward making a series of modest but necessary improvements on the 27-year-old Blue Line light rail line connecting Downtown Los Angeles with downtown Long Beach. The 22-mile-long transit link was the first modern transit line built in the region and with 83,612 boardings per day, is considered one of the transit system’s workhorse lines. The LAMTA recently approved a $81.5 million contract to move forward on several practical improvements to the line that would boost efficiency, shorten disruptions caused by maintenance work, and speed up overall travel. The biggest item on the list of improvements for the line consists of the addition of four new interlocking segments to the route. Interlockings provide opportunities for trains to bypass certain segments of track in the event of a stalled train or while maintenance work is being performed on a certain section of track, for example. The transit line currently features only six such interlockings, a situation that can create waits of up to 40 minutes when track maintenance is being performed. These delays typically disrupt service for several hours after the fact, when they do occur, snarling the transit system’s already spotty on-time performance throughout the day. The new interlockings are expected to reduce these types of delays substantially, allowing trains to run every 15 to 20 minutes or so, while maintenance work is performed. The transit authority has also begun switching out the line’s aging fleet with new rail cars. The line’s train fleet has not been substantially upgraded since the early 1990s, so the aging Kinkisharyo P865 trains will be replaced by newer P3010 trains, the same locomotives that run on the system’s Gold and Expo Lines. The first of the new trains went into service in May of this year and are going be completely rolled out by the end of 2018, according to The Source.   Long Beach is also working toward implementing a long-delayed light synchronization improvement plan throughout the line’s final stretch in downtown Long Beach, Longbeachize reports. The improvements would coordinate traffic signals along the parallel and intersecting streets that run around the transit line in order to assure Blue Line trains hit green lights at each intersection, speeding the line’s passage through the downtown area. Delays along this stretch due to the lack of synchronization reportedly increase travel times by between five and 30 minutes. The transit authority has also studied creating express lines between Downtown Los Angeles and Downtown Long Beach but has not released any plans to implement such measures.
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Chicago "L" celebrates 125 years of operation

Few things in Chicago are as iconic as its extensive elevated rail system, locally known as the “L.” June 6th marks the 125th anniversary of the system, making it the second-oldest rapid transit system in the Americas. To mark the occasion the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is rolling out some vintage cars and giving away commemorative posters. The original elevated rail was built by the Chicago & South Side Rapid Transit Railroad Company, which began regular service on June, 6th 1892. That first leg of the rail rain from Congress Avenue, just south of the downtown, to 39th street. A small coal-burning steam locomotive pulled wooden passenger cars, and the entire trip took about 14 minutes. One year later the tracks were extended to 63rd Street, where there was a station at the Louis Sullivan–designed Transportation Building. To this day, some of those very same tracks are still in regular use by the southern portion of the Green Line. It would only be a few short years before elevated lines spread across the city in all directions radiating from the downtown. It would be five years, though, before the many separate lines would be connected to the downtown-encircling Loop, making the train one of the most convenient ways to get to the city’s commercial and financial center. More branches and extensions were continuously added for the next 30 years, and eventually, some of the lines were continued underground, making them true subways. This year also marks 70th anniversary of the transfer of the “L” from private ownership to public control. In 1947 the Chicago Transit Authority took over the system and began modernizing. This week’s celebration will include train cars from both pre-, and post-CTA eras. For a limited time on June 6th, starting at noon, 4000-series cars from the 1920s will make trips around the Loop. At 1:45 pm, 2400-series cars from the late 1970’s, complete in their red-white-and-blue bicentennial livery, will make trips around the loop. Passengers will also be able to get commutative posters on the inner-Loop platform of the Clark/Lake stop. Many Chicagoans have a love-hate relationship with the L. While it is sometimes late, the elevated platforms are frigidly cold in the winter, and the small cars are packed every morning and afternoon rush, there are some things about it that Chicagoans would trade for any other city’s transit system. Unlike New York’s sticky and sweaty subway stations, the “L” subway stations are a relief from the summer heat. There is also nothing quite like riding through the downtown at eye level with beautiful architectural details and workers at their desks just feet away from the tracks, or rumbling through the neighborhoods, so close to residential balcony’s you can smell the barbecue. And as for that rumbling echoing through the city, as Elwood Blues said, it goes by “so often you won’t even notice it.”
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Las Vegas could get a $12.5 billion light rail system

If stars align, it looks like car-centric Las Vegas will soon place new bets on mass transit. This week state and local officials presented a preliminary plan to construct multi-billion-dollar light rail system in Sin City. The route, which has been in the works for more than two years, would link Las Vegas's airport, McCarran International, to the Strip. A bill under consideration in the state senate would give local officials authority to pursue federal grants or impose tax increases to fund transit, as well as emerging technologies like self-driving cars. Right now, state law forbids local transit commissions from creating "high-capacity" mass transit systems like the proposed railway, the Associated Press reports. Bill sponsor Mark Manendo was one of six elected officials at the meeting who said Las Vegas trails similar municipalities in mass transit development. "If we can lead in the travel and tourism industry—and who can dispute that, accommodating more than 42 million visitors a year—I find it hard to believe our community cannot come together to help build a world-class transportation system," Senator Manendo told the AP. To formulate its plan, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada looked to light rail systems in Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Denver, and San Diego. In addition to trains, the commission is also considering other mass transit options to connect the city's college campuses, commercial corridors, hospitals, and residential districts. The senate bill, though, doesn't stop at Las Vegas, where a light rail line could cost $12.5 billion and take two or three decades to build. Reno, Nevada, could see transit improvements, as well, if the state's estimated $26 billion plan is approved and fully funded.
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A new report outlines the 25 year transportation goals of Chicago's Cook County

Illinois’s Cook County, home to Chicago, has released a report that outlines its vision for transportation over the next 25 years. Connecting Cook County addresses the changing nature of transportation in the Chicago area. The last countywide strategic transportation plan was written 70 years ago. The new plan takes into account the latest in transportation technology, including bike shares, automated driving systems, and adaptive speed limits and tolls. The plan was compiled with input from multiple public and private stake holders, as well as community members. Though Cook County is the second most populous county in the country, its entire transportation system is in need of repair and rethinking. An estimated 39% of the roads and highways in the county are either in “Poor” (7%) or “Fair” (32%) condition. Only 24% are considered in “Excellent” condition. The bridges of the county are not in much better condition; 45% are not in satisfactory condition. Estimates for bringing the entire system up to satisfactory condition are around $20 billion. None of the many organizations involved in transportation have those resources. Connecting Cook County lays out the many complex aspects of the area’s current transportation situation. Every day residents take 19 million trips on the county’s 12,500 miles of streets and highways.  The county’s five public transit systems serve 650 million passenger trips a year. Yet the nature of transportation in the county is changing, and the plan is taking account for modes of transportation that have not been accounted for in the past. Bike use has doubled in the past 15 years, and car sharing, ride sharing, and bike sharing didn’t even exist until recently. The plan also takes into account pedestrians, a far cry from many transportation plans that are strictly car-centric. The plan, as a whole, prioritizes building a more diverse transportation system. “To successfully compete, the County must complement its extensive road network with improved transit and fully embrace other modes such as walking, biking, car sharing, and ride sharing,” reads the report. “Of these modes, public transit is the single-most important.” One of the main goals of the plan is to address “transit deserts” throughout the county. Most of these are in areas where everyone drives, or in under-served impoverished urban areas. The plan is careful to point out that transportation is not an end in itself: it's a means to improve the economic strength of the region. Connecting Cook County outlines the aspirations for the county over the next 25 years, but its success will be heavily dependent on the federal and state governments that control many of the roads in the county. The cities in the county also play an important role in the plan. Connecting Cook County is a much overdue step in rethinking transportation in the country’s third largest metro area, even if its efficacy may take as long to realize. The full report is available here.
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James Corner–designed pedestrian street, the Nicollet Mall, gets budgetary rethink in Minneapolis

MinneapolisJames Corner–designed Nicollet Mall redevelopment project has hit a speedbump as an initial construction bid has come in at over $24 million over the $35 million construction budget. The Nicollet Mall is a 50-year-old pedestrian and transit street in the heart of Minneapolis. Historically the commercial center of the city, the mall was given over to pedestrians, buses, and taxis in 1965 in an attempt to bring shoppers back from the suburbs, and the growing popularity of enclosed malls. Edina, MN, a suburb of Minneapolis, is home to the first enclosed modern mall in the U.S., designed by Victor Gruen in 1956. The Nicollet Mall was given a makeover in the 1980s as well, but it has been nearly 30 years since the Mall has seen any major improvements. The new plan, based on a competition winning design by James Corner Field Operations, incorporates a series of event spaces along the street to engage the public. A two-block mirrored canopy walkway, a “reading room,” improved transit stations, and a theater in the round will activate the 12-block stretch of the downtown public space. Each end of the Mall will also include a “Wood” where more intensive green spaces will include larger native trees. The overall planned budget for the two year project is $50, but with only one construction company submitting a bid for $59 million for the construction alone, the projects organizers are having to rethink parts of their plan. The first step that may be taken is rethinking material choices for the project. One of the main sticking points in the budget is the plan for eight acres of the Mall to be paved in custom concrete tile pavers. Officials say that the main design elements for the project will not be sacrificed though in the new plan, and more bids will be solicited in February based on an altered design. To entice a more varied size of contractors, instead of one single bid, it is also likely that the project will be broken down in to smaller, more manageable segments. Major construction is still expected to begin in spring of 2016, with the completion date set for summer 2017.  
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Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel floats ordinance to fast-track transit-oriented development, reduce parking minimums

This week Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will push a plan to expand transit-oriented development (TOD) by easing zoning restrictions and releasing certain projects from parking requirements altogether. The city already has an ordinance providing for transit-oriented development and, as AN has previously reported, several projects have rushed to take advantage of it. Mixed-use developments with dozens of new housing units have slashed their parking lots, avoiding a longstanding code requirement that they provide one spot for every unit by building near transit stations. Chicago's Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) gave the proposed changes a favorable preliminary analysis, building off its own “TOD calculator” which the agency released recently in order to spur private developers into building on dozens of properties it labeled “ready for TOD.” Emanuel's new ordinance would give developers of such projects more opportunities to reduce their investment in parking. Here are the changes City Council members will vote on Wednesday, according to the mayor's press office:
• TOD incentives will be available within an expanded radius from a transit station: up to 1,320 feet (1/4 mile) or 2,640 feet (1/2 mile) on a Pedestrian-designated street. • A 100 percent reduction from residential parking requirements if replaced with alternative transportation options, such as a car sharing station on site, or bike parking. • A streamlined process for accessing the minimum lot area, floor area ratio (FAR), and building height incentives by allowing developers to secure these benefits through an Administrative Adjustment from the Zoning Administrator, as opposed to a zoning map amendment by City Council under current law. • For projects that trigger the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO), an additional 0.25 FAR increase (to 3.75) if the development includes half of any required affordable housing units on site, plus an additional 0.25 FAR increase (to 4.0) if the development includes all required affordable housing units on site.
(Metropolitan Planning Council) image-full