In The Road Ahead: Reimagining Mobility the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, presents a variety of concepts from around the world that ask the question: how will we move in the future? With concepts from firms like Höweler + Yoon, design studios like IDEO, and companies like Waymo, the exhibition suggests a range of possible futures instead of painting a holistic vision. Making the case that transportation options are multiplying as data and technology take to the roads (and tunnels, and skies), the show's organizers present a world on the cusp of transit change, change that could make cities not only more efficient but also a happier place for all their inhabitants. Hopefully. It's certainly a buzzy topic, given Elon Musk's constant parade of revelations and updates on his many ventures and self-driving cars taking to the street (at their own peril). Visitors to the show, up now through March 31, have just one obstacle in their way: the government shutdown. As part of the Smithson Institution, the museum is at the mercy of the federal government, which does not show any sign of ending its shutdown soon.
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This week the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) opened up an online survey inviting state transportation departments, transit agencies, transit operators, and other stakeholders—meaning you, the American public—to offer their opinions on what constitutes a "federal project." Through August 17, the transportation authority wants to gather these opinions in order to redefine which projects the federal government, as opposed to state and local governments, should be funding. According to the FTA, the dialogue is meant to help the agency better understand how a "federal project" definition affects project delivery and solicits opportunities to improve the process of deciding when a project, project phase, or project element is subject to federal requirements. It's important to reevaluate the definition, the FTA says, because sometimes not every element of an overall project is federally funded. The FTA hopes this effort will help it streamline and expedite investment in transit infrastructure. News has been buzzing recently surrounding the Trump administration's $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan released in February and how it's seeking to cut the number of transit infrastructure projects that it's funding, going so far as declining to distribute money already approved by congress for spending. Part of the administration's plan is to shrink the FTA's Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program, which provides money for "federal projects," and the spending plan indicates that the administration would like a narrower definition of what constitutes a "federal project." In turn, many projects or project elements previously covered will now be declared ineligible for the CIG program. The idea is to speed up federal investment on certain transit infrastructure, like roads and highways that cross state lines, while handing off the responsibility of paying for public transportation projects that facilitate intra-city movement, to local government agencies. According to the FTA's recently released annual recommendations for 2019, only $1.046 billion will be granted for capital investment projects next year, which is half of what was approved for 2018 and one-third of what the FTA recommended during Obama’s last year in office. As of May, the FTA had only released $1.3 billion of the $2.6 billion already approved by Congress for 2018 through the CIG program and is now suggesting that it may not appropriate the rest of the money. If the money is not distributed by the end of 2019, it will be returned to the federal treasury. This year the FTA has approved two projects for full construction grants and executed smaller grants for eight others, including Phase 2 of New York City’s Second Avenue Subway, Phoenix’s South Central Light Rail, Seattle’s Center City Connector, and Los Angeles’s Purple Line Extension. The FTA has announced that “future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.” This means that many critical projects already in the works within the CIG program may either suffer from significant delays due to lack of or decreased funding, or be stalled altogether if cities or private investors can't pay for them. The FTA is asking stakeholders to respond to this narrowing of the definition of "federal projects" by completing their online survey.
Officials with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) have begun to explore the potential opportunities public-private partnerships (P3) might afford the entity as it seeks to fast-track the construction of several key transit expansions across the Los Angeles region. Specifically, The Source reported that Metro is currently working to develop a timeframe for expediting the delivery of three projects: The construction of a new north-south transit tunnel running through the Santa Monica Mountains underneath the Sepulveda Pass; the addition of the new southeasterly West Santa Ana transit line to the city of Artesia; and the county-wide expansion of the existing Express Lanes toll lane system. The projects represent lynchpin expansions for the 26-year-old transit system that will result from the passage of 2016’s Measure M, a regional half-cent tax increase that is expected to raise $860 million in new transit-oriented revenue each year in perpetuity. Measure M is expected to rework the region’s approach to mobility by expanding Metro’s rail network by more than a factor of two, while also funding street, bicycle, and highway improvements, as well. Metro received several unsolicited proposals for the projects in question earlier this year. The proposals, aimed at improving delivery times and reducing construction costs for the projects, are the result a new effort on the part of the transit agency to draw industry knowledge and experience to its project planning operations under the tenure of Chief Innovation Officer Joshua Schank. In a statement, Schank said, “We are seeing innovation at its best and we look forward to delivering projects and programs—supported by P3s—to improve the quality of life in our region sooner rather than later.” Metro has utilized the unsolicited proposals to begin crafting RFPs for each of the projects. The logic behind the move is that P3s can speed construction and improve coordination between the agency, designers, and contractors, allowing for faster delivery of the projects in question and also—due to cost savings—potentially lead to expedited delivery for other projects, as well. Parsons Transportation Group and Cintra US Services submitted unsolicited bids for the Sepulveda Transit Corridor project, the transit portion of which will now be developed via the RFP process as a P3 project. Once completed, the 20-mile-long, $9.4 billion corridor is expected to serve over 100,000 daily transit riders. Parsons completed work on the final leg of Metro's Expo Line extension late last year. Metro received two proposals for the West Santa Ana Branch Transit Corridor from Skanska and Kiewit, which will also result in an RFP for a P3 project that will utilize elements from each firm’s unsolicited bid. The 20-mile long route would be built in two phases for between $3 billion and $4.5 billion and carry 75,000 riders daily. Lastly, Goldman Sachs submitted a proposal for the regional expansion Metro’s ExpressLanes network. Metro will pursue a procurement bond in order to underwrite the implementation of the new regional toll road network. Details, as well a timeline for the RFP process, are set to be released in the coming months.
Areas around the only heavy rail transit stop in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley are poised to change dramatically as a new plan calling for the addition of over 1,500 residential units to the area coalesces. The redevelopment plan—orchestrated as a joint proposal by developers Trammell Crow Company, Greenland USA, Cesar Chavez Foundation, architects Gensler, and landscape architects Melendrez—also aims to bring roughly 450,000-square feet of offices and 150,000-square feet of ground-level commercial spaces to a collection of lots owned by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (L.A. Metro) surrounding the North Hollywood Red Line station. The plans will also consolidate a series of bus turnaround areas around the station into a single transfer complex. Urbanize LA reports that the plan, to be detailed in an upcoming presentation by the development to L.A. Metro’s San Fernando Valley Service Council (SFVSC), comes after Trammell Crow and Greenland had initially proposed two competing schemes. A rendering of the proposed project showcases a collection of mixed-use towers surrounding a series of open plaza areas and the new bus turnaround. The renderings depict the tallest tower as a podium-style structure located at the northern corner of the site, with a much shorter, perimeter block structure topped with a green roof standing beside it. The back corner of the site is populated by several courtyard apartment building complexes and a mid-rise housing tower. Another tall tower will be located on a corner opposing the main portion of the development. The complex is designed as a Transit Oriented Community (TOC), a notion that builds on transit-accessibility at the core of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) projects by including “holistic community development” that engages not only with mass transit but also facilitates pedestrian activities, according to the report that will be shown to the SFVSC. The plan comes out of a series of community scoping meetings conducted by L.A. Metro and the developers that uncovered historic preservation of the surrounding NoHo Arts District and balance between height, density, and pedestrianism as major community concerns. As such, the development will aim to engage and building upon existing street life in the pedestrian-heavy node while also adding generous paseos between various structures to create pedestrian paths around the station. The project will also include an unspecified number of affordable housing units. A detailed timeline for the project has not been released.
Twenty one planning projects have been awarded over $19 million between them by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in a bid to boost transportation infrastructure funding. According to the two federal agencies, "public transportation doesn’t just move people; it moves communities." A post on the DOT website goes on to say: "And we believe that when communities invest in new transit options, they can connect their citizens to jobs, education and opportunity. However, creating that connection to opportunity doesn't happen by accident. It takes planning." The aim of the project is to "help communities plan for housing, jobs and services centered around transit lines" which will hopefully enable cities to grow economically with transport links connecting workers and tourists. "Our goal at FTA is to help these and other communities make the most of their investment in new transit services and harness greater benefits for residents." As America's population looks set to grow by a quarter in the next three decades, there will be greater demand for travel options between "home and work, school, the doctor, shopping, and recreation–all while maintaining a good quality of life." Here are examples of other projects selected:
- The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh will receive $1.2 million to encourage transit-oriented development along a corridor connecting downtown Pittsburgh to neighborhoods on the east side of the city. The redevelopment authority, along with the Port Authority of Allegheny County and local partners, has begun initial planning and environmental review of a bus rapid transit project proposed for the corridor.
- The Sacramento Area Council of Governments will receive approximately $1.1 million to work with local partners to develop a toolkit of policy and regulatory changes to encourage transit-oriented development in the areas surrounding the planned Downtown Riverfront Streetcar project.
- GoTriangle (formerly Triangle Transit) in Durham, NC, will receive approximately $1.7 million to support efforts to implement transit-oriented development along the Durham-Orange Light Rail project, a light rail line the agency is developing between Durham and Chapel Hill.
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.
Take a tour of Chicago's newest Green Line stop, Cermak-McCormick Place, designed by Ross Barney Architects
Chicago commuters transiting through the South Loop and Chinatown have had a new stop since early this year, when the Chicago Transit Authority opened its newest train stop: Cermak-McCormick Place. Designed by Ross Barney Architects (the team behind West Loop's lauded Morgan stop for the Pink and Green Lines), the new station employs brawny steel trusses and sleek, curved surfaces. Via the architects, here's a gallery of images from the new station, shot by Kate Joyce Studios:
United States Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx recently delivered some welcome news to proponents of bus rapid transit (BRT) in Indianapolis. "The city is on throes of launching something unique,” Foxx said in April while touring the proposed system's first leg, the 28-mile, $100 million electric bus route known as the Red Line. "Transit can be the difference between someone having a shot and not having one in the 21st-century economy.” Central Indiana has struggled for years to scrape together enough money to expand public transit throughout the metropolitan area under an ambitious $1.2 billion transportation plan, known as IndyConnect. The Red Line is a key component of that plan, eventually connecting Hamilton, Marion, and Johnson Counties with a north-south, electric bus rapid transit route that would stop at local landmarks like the state fairgrounds and the Carmel Arts District. About 100,000 people live within a half mile of the Red Line and 169,000 people work within a half-mile of it, according to the Indianapolis Star. Last year Indianapolis won $2 million from the federal government for an environmental study of the Red Line, adding to a pot of a few million dollars already established by the city and surrounding suburbs. The project is now eligible for a federal construction grant of up to $50 million.
Jeddah hopes a high-design transit network by Norman Foster can transform the Saudi city into a transit capital
British design firm Foster + Partners recently inked a deal reportedly worth upwards of $80 million to master plan a city-wide public transportation network in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Currently, just 12 percent of the population resides within a 10-minute walk from a transportation hub, and just 1–2 percent of commuters use public transportation. But can high design lead to higher ridership? The new network will encourage pedestrianization with shaded streets in deference to the sweltering climate, while the ambitious transportation grid will introduce a 42-mile light rail metro system and public spaces at key locations below the elevated tracks. The grid will also build on the existing ferry, bus, and cycling networks, and this three-line network will operate from 22 stations. In addition, a sea transport network with 10 stations will be built along the Corniche to boost tourism. The overarching "architectural vision" by the British firm will address everything from station design to trains to branding, all the while with careful regard for the “high-density, compact urban model of Al Balad,” Foster + Partners wrote in a statement, referring to Jeddah's historic district. “Each station node will create a new neighborhood with a unique characteristic.” The Norman Foster–owned firm has set a goal for a 2020 completion date and 2022 opening. According to the Saudi Gazette, the new transportation network could reduce traffic by 30 percent within the next 20 years. Also on board for the project are architecture and engineering firm AECOM, which signed an 18-month contract in May 2014 to provide pre-program management consultancy services. Meanwhile, French railway engineering firm Systra was appointed in July to provide preliminary engineering designs.
With the Midwest's winter thaw underway, Minneapolis residents have an eye to the outside. But for the 40 percent of the city's downtown workers that walk, bike, or ride transit to their jobs throughout the winter, public spaces play a year-round role. Downtown transit stops in particular see tens of thousands of Twin Cities denizens on any given weekday, yet their designs range from utilitarian to downright unwelcoming. Writing for journalminneapolis.com, Max Musicant mulled how his city could turn transit stops into places where people want to be. He envisions a network of local groups taking ownership of their area transit stops, requesting money from the Twin Cities' Metro Transit agency that would otherwise go to “off-the-shelf” bus shelters and their maintenance. They'd spend that money on place-based designs, their “own “branded” station, perfectly attuned to local custom, utility, and whimsy.” Muses Musicant, founder and principal of the Minneapolis-based placemaking and public space management firm The Musicant Group:
An ideal set up could have Metro Transit establish a handful of pilot project sites chosen based on the ability of capacities of local groups that came forward. For each site, Metro Transit would ensure quality control over the process: that riders, businesses and property owners drive the process, that each station meets minimum requirements (shelter, seating, structural integrity, etc.), and that there is an accredited entity with proper insurance and capacity (non-profit, adjacent small business, etc.) that commits to build and maintain the station up to an agreed upon standard.Minneapolis is a good place for public space designers to dream—the city's public review process and collaborative design culture make it especially attuned to public opinion. With the recent extension of the Metro Green Line, the Twin Cities reconnected their separate light rail systems after decades apart. One of the junctions, next to Target Field in downtown Minneapolis, was specifically envisioned as a celebrated public space, as much park and plaza as multimodal transit hub. Over the next two years, Metro Transit said it will deliver $7.36 million in upgrades, including 22 new bus shelters. At $1.7 billion, however, the Green Line extension was not without its local critics—fairness and fiscal efficiency were at the heart of many complaints about the project. And in the sprawling midwest, many in the Twin Cities still depend on their cars. Much of the $6 billion Governor Mark Dayton is requesting to improve the state’s transportation system over the next 10 years will go to repair roads and highways.
How many people get on the train at your "El" or Metra stop each day? Which county's roads make for the roughest ride? How long do Chicago-area drivers while away waiting for train crossings? The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) just unveiled a new tool to stir discussion about transportation in the greater Chicago area that can answer all of those questions, as well as many more about the regional transportation system as a whole. CMAP planners said they hope the interactive website, which is full of clickable maps and tables compiled from mountains of public data, will resonate with policy makers as well as frustrated commuters. When it comes to transportation infrastructure, Chicago has an embarrassment of riches—and a wealth of problems. Some 25 percent of the nation's freight traffic travels through the region, but the seven-county region's 1,468 rail crossings snarl traffic for a total delay of 7,817 person-hours every day. In total traffic ate up more than $6 billion in wasted time and fuel in 2011 across the roughly 30,000 miles of roads in Cook, Lake, McHenry, Will, Kane, Kendall and DuPage Counties. As the authors of GO TO 2040, the 2010 comprehensive plan that sought to renew Daniel Burnham's regional vision, CMAP officials said they made the website to encourage more data-driven planning and regional policy. The website gives a mixed assessment of public transit in the region. While 71.5 percent of residents had at least moderate access to transit, progress on increasing that share of people has occurred at a slower rate so far than will be necessary to meet the 2040 goal of 78 percent, CMAP's analysis shows. Although Chicago lauds its growing open data culture, CMAP's Tom Garritano said arbitrary policies persist. For example Illinois' 55/45 rule, whereby 55 percent of highway funds typically go downstate, while only 45 percent stay in the Chicago region—despite the fact that more than two-thirds of the state's population and economic activity occurs in and around its largest city. “We believe strongly that the best decisions are driven by data,” said Garritano. “We want people to get excited about data.” While the website shows the region has made considerable progress on meeting GO TO 2040 goals in recent years, CMAP officials stressed that stats inflated with stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 may paint a rosier picture of transportation infrastructure's finances. CMAP pointed to the declining share of crumbling roads and bridges in the area—without continued funding for maintenance, they said, that progress would soon be overwhelmed by mounting infrastructure repair needs. More than half of non-highway roads in Cook County were judged less than “acceptable,” but that figure was less than 10 percent in McHenry and Kendall counties. More than 300 bridges in the Chicago area were deemed “structurally deficient” in 2013—a distinction CMAP pointed out does not mean they are necessarily dangerous, just below civil engineering standards. The total share of deficient bridges in the area was 9.7 percent, slightly below the national average of 11.1 percent. A section of the site named “Forward” links to a public-private fundraising campaign called FUND 2040. Last year CMAP called for a quarter-penny sales tax hike that would net $300 million per year for infrastructure work. “Metropolitan Chicago must compete globally against regions whose public investments have for decades far outpaced our own,” reads the site. “Current infrastructure funding mechanisms are simply not adequate to meet our region's infrastructure needs.” New spending, however needed, is politically risky in fiscally troubled Illinois, but CMAP's ideological influence recently got a boost in Springfield. The agency's executive director, Randy Blankenhorn, was recently appointed to head the Illinois Department of Transportation by incoming Republican Governor Bruce Rauner.
Day One: New Yorkers rejoice as their governor, Andrew Cuomo, announces his intent to bring AirTran service to LaGuardia Airport. Day Two: Well-respected transportation blog The Transport Politic digs into the $450 million plan and shreds apart some of its ambitious goals, namely the time savings it takes to get to the airport. Using the LaGuardia AirTran would actually be a less convenient way to get to the airport than the slow and unreliable options that currently exist. The plan, which is in its early stages, would mean building an AirTran station by Citi Field, between an existing Long Island Rail Road stations and a 7 line subway station; the elevated train would then connect to LaGuardia via the Grand Central Parkway. The Cuomo Administration says the distance traveled is 1.5 miles, but Transport Politics puts it closer to 2.3. Since the new rail line would travel alongside a highway, it would cause minimal disruptions for existing neighborhoods, making this whole thing a much easier pitch for Cuomo, at least politically and financially. Cuomo says the state has the money to pay for the plan through existing funds. But if the LaGuardia AirTran is built as currently proposed, it would actually mean a longer ride to the airport from many major population centers. Travelers heading to LaGuardia from Midtown, Downtown Brooklyn, Central, Queens, and the South Bronx would be better off taking one of the bad public transit options that already exist. The new AirTran would, of course, be faster for anyone living near Citi Field, and would shave a few minutes off the ride from Penn Station for those taking the Long Island Rail Road. This is not the first time that the city has looked into ways to make New York City’s closest airport not feel so far, far away. A 1990's plan, for example, would have extended the N subway line from Astoria, Queens right to LaGuardia. But as Transport Politic noted, the extension was squashed by neighborhood opposition because people apparently didn't want an elevated rail line cutting through their neighborhood. Check out Transport Politic's handy chart below that compares travel times of that 90's plan, Cuomo's plan, and an alternate plan for a connector from Jackson Heights, Queens.