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Smart Growth: On Common Ground: Summer09


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Smart Growth: On Common Ground: Summer09

  1. 1. REALTORS® & Smart Growthon common ground SUMMER 2009 More Cities Opt for Light Rail Bus Rapid Transit: What is it Really? Transit-Oriented Development Spurs Growth transportation
  2. 2. Turning Points in Transportation To say that we are at a pivotal time in but also suggest that the political base addressing transportation would be an for supporting public transportation understatement. A confluence of factors investments is larger than ever. — including economic distress, politics, It seems reasonable to expect that the personal travel trends and changing development of new real estate product real estate markets — is posing a rare will be one of the last economic sectors opportunity to create a new national to recover, after the stabilization of the transportation vision in a way not seen existing homes market, a shake-out in since the Interstate Highway system was commercial real estate and the return created during the Eisenhower years. of jobs. This hiatus in new development Crumbling infrastructure and a need to will provide an opportunity for lenders, create jobs to jump-start the economy developers and land-use regulators has brought immediate and generous to consider emerging markets and funding to transportation projects new approaches that will include nationwide in the recently adopted walkable urbanism and transit-oriented economic stimulus legislation. Beyond development. In addition, tighter that, a new Administration and Congress availability of lending will restrict the are focused on the environment, climate development of large, new “greenfield” change, and reducing energy use, and developments and favor smaller infill Congress will be writing a new six-year projects in cities or older suburbs. authorization bill for transportation After the economic recovery, what funding later this year, which will create will the new “normal” look like? In an opportunity to shift funding priorities terms of real estate development and and create a coherent strategy for our transportation investment, it is unlikely transportation future. it will look like the boom years of the Startling changes in travel behavior late 1990s and early 2000s, considering — a sustained reduction in driving and the changes in the economy, politics and increase in transit usage — not only consumer desires that have occurred point to changing consumer demand for and will occur. The time is ripe for transportation facilities and services, transportation to take a new direction. For more information on NAR and smart growth, go to For more information on NAR and Housing Opportunity, go to On Common Ground is published twice a year by the Community and Political Affairs division of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (NAR), and is distributed free of charge. The publication presents a wide range of views on smart growth issues, with the goal of encouraging a dialogue among REALTORS®, elected officials and other interested citizens. The opinions expressed in On Common Ground are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policy of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, its members or affiliate organizations. Editor Joseph R. Molinaro Managing Director, Community and Political Affairs NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® 500 New Jersey Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20001 Distribution For more copies of this issue or to be placed on our mailing list for future issues of On Common Ground, please contact Ted Wright, NAR, at (202) 383-1206 or ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2009
  3. 3. Summer 2009 On Common GroundClimb On BoardLight Rail Adds to Transportation Choices 4by John Van GiesonThe FederalTransportation Program 14by David GoldbergSpurring Growth with Transit-Oriented DevelopmentDevelopers Are Helping Transformthe Way Cities Grow 20by G.M. FiliskoThe Survey Says…The Public Wants SmartTransportation Spending 24Take The BusIts Rapid Transit 28by Judy NewmanThe Transportation Quotient ofthe Affordability EquationTransportation Costs Are a DeterminingFactor when Buying a Home 36by Brad BrobergThe Time is Right forIntercity Rail 42by Gary FineoutComplete Streets 2009Pedestrian- and Bike-friendlyStreet Successes 48by Barbara McCannHOT LanesProviding Relief for Congestionwhile Generating Funds 52by Christine Jordan-Sexton Courtesy of the California High Speed Rail Authority and NC3DInfrastructure is Hot, Hot, Hot On Common Ground thanks the following contributors and organizations for photographs, illustrationsA New Administration Brings Transportation and artist renderings reprinted in this issue: GB Arrington, PB Placemaking; Lorie A. Beabes, EuclidInfrastructure to the Fore 58 Corridor HealthLine System; California High Speed Rail Authority; Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART); Danielson Grove, The Cottage Company/Ross Chapin Architects; Denver Regional Transportationby David Goldberg District (RTD); Carl Dranoff, Dranoff Properties; Ericksen Cottages, The Cottage Company/Wenzlau Architects; Lorie Flading, Loudon County; Jeff Goldberg-Esto; Greenwood Avenue Cottages, The Cottage Company/Ross Chapin Architects; Huraki, Sierra Seasons Magazine; James Karner, Charlotte Area TransitREALTORS® Take Action System; Michelle Larkin, Gregory FCA; Ryan Maloney; METRO light rail, Phoenix; Terri Metz, TuolumneMaking Smart Growth Happen 64 County Visitor’s Bureau; Ben Miller, city of Charlotte; NC3D; Orange County Transportation Authority; Oregon Iron Works, Inc.; Joe D. Pesaturo;; RNL Design; Steve Sugg, city of University Place, Wash.; Regina and Bob Thomas; Virginia DOT; Virginia Tourism Corporation; Andy Vobora, Eugene-Springfield EmX Bus Service; and Colby Walton, Cooksey Communications. Cover photo provided by Dallis Area Rapid Transit. 3
  4. 4. Light Rail adds to transportation choices Climb on Board! By John Van Gieson W hen public transportation analyst Art Guzzetti earned his graduate de- gree at the University of Pittsburgh in 1979, there were zero light rail systems in the United States. Courtesy of Denver RTD Thirty years later, 34 light rail systems are serving communities from coast to coast, including Pittsburgh. Many of them are involved in major expansions of their lines, and three dozen more communities are in various stages of planning and de- veloping light rail. “It started sort of as a way to do the heavy rail in a less expensive way,” said Guzzetti, vice president of policy at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). “It’s sort of a hybrid in a way. It’s a little bit streetcar, and it’s a little bit heavy rail, so it’s in the middle.” Of all the cities where light rail is winning public trans- portation converts and pulling people out of their cars, none has bigger ambitions than Denver. The RTD, the regional transportation agency that serves the Mile High City and all or part of eight adjacent counties, is plan- ning to expand its existing 34-mile light rail system to 122 miles by 2017.4 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2009
  5. 5. The Cost FactorThere is a major hurdle to overcome, however, anda recession isn’t helping. The cost of the expansion is Light rail has been a big hit in cities allpegged at $6.9 billion — $2.3 billion more than voters over the country that have built newwere told it would cost in 2004 when they passed, forthe second time, a sales tax increase to help pay for light systems in recent years.rail. Denver residents and visitors now pay a 1 percentsales tax to support light rail. Courtesy of Denver RTDA majority of the 15 members of the RTD Board of Di- Light rail has been a big hit in cities all over the countryrectors favor asking the voters to double the portion of that have built new systems in recent years. Denver isthe sales tax dedicated to the FasTracks expansion, as the already exceeding its ridership projections for 2020.proposed system is called, to eight-tenths of a percent. Light rail and streetcars (including trolleys) comprise a“The consensus was, essentially, we will vote to ask the small part of the public transportation market across thevoters for a tax increase, but we don’t know whether country but are growing faster than other modes. APTAit will be in ‘09 or ‘10,” said Matt Cohen, a Denver reported that light rail and streetcar ridership increasedREALTOR® who serves on the RTD Board. Unlike by 8.3 percent in 2008, highest among all modes ofmost other systems, board members in the Denver area public transportation. Total ridership for the year wasare elected. 465.1 million.“The best case scenario is the voters will approve a four- APTA reported double-digit increases in light rail rider-tenths of one percent increase in the FasTracks sales tax, ship last year in Charlotte, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Sac-and the feds will approve $1 billion in funding as we ramento, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Newexplore public-private partnerships,” he said. “If the tax Jersey, Denver and approved and the feds approve $1 billion in funding, “I think that why it works is it gives people an excellentwe build out the system by 2017.” alternative to driving and they like rail,” Marsella said.Without the additional local and federal funding, it will “It’s very dependable and runs on a regular schedule,likely take until 2034 to complete FasTracks, Cohen rain or shine.”said. The board has not decided when it will vote on “One of the reasons light rail is so popular is you cantaking the tax increase to the voters, he said. drive a couple of miles to a Park and Ride lot, get on aRTD General Manager Cal Marsella said polls show train and sit there and watch all the traffic congestion asthat 62 percent of Denver area voters support the pro- you whiz by,” he said.posed sales tax increase. 5
  6. 6. Light rails success is leading transportation planners and local government officials across the country to propose new systems for their communities. Courtesy of DART To put things in perspective, light rail ridership pales be- Light rail construction is financed largely by local tax side the major public transportation modes — buses and increases and federal construction grants with other commuter rail — accounting for less than 1 percent of federal, state and local funds added into the mix. Fares total transit trips last year. Most Americans, meanwhile, comprise a small portion of revenue — just 19 percent still hop in their cars to commute to work, go shopping, of operating expenses for Denver’s RTD. take in a movie or haul the kids to soccer practice. “It’s not a money-making proposition,” Cohen said. “It’s The transportation environment is changing rapidly, not going to pay for itself in the present model that’s however. Light rail’s success in Denver and elsewhere currently in place.” is leading transportation planners and local government “We’re always seeking federal grant sources,” Marsella officials across the country to propose new systems for said. “We’ve cut costs here in every way we can. We’re their communities. always looking at the state budget. So the only place you There’s even a proposal by a group called Vision 42 to can look to really is federal grants, if they’re there, and build a river-to-river light rail system on 42nd Street raising the sales tax.” through the heart of Times Square in New York. That But the sales tax increases approved by local voters in referen- would be New York, the Big Apple, where the city’s fa- dums are producing less revenue because of the recession. mous subways haul 2.5 billion riders a year. Charlotte’s LYNX light rail system is funded in part with Even as light rail is growing in popularity and ridership, a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1998 with 57 however, the global recession is creating funding issues percent of the vote. Last year, 70 percent of the voters that could put expansion plans on hold, or scaled back, rejected a ballot issue pushed by light rail opponents to until the economy recovers. repeal the sales tax. “They’re struggling, and they need some help,” Guzzetti “We are anticipating this year being down around 10 said. “Many systems are looking at fare increases, service percent at the end of our fiscal year, which is June,” said cuts and layoffs.” Olaf Kinard, director of marketing and communica- tions at the Charlotte Area Transit System. He said the6 ON COMMON GROUND
  7. 7. shortfall has been projected at $260 million over 10 in recent years. Transit-oriented development (TOD) isyears. “It is affecting what we look at as to what we’re built into the planning for some systems, but is not agoing to do in the future and when.” consistent factor in the growth of light rail.The federal government has provided major support for One that actively promoted TOD was Dallas Areaconstruction of light rail systems, coming up with 50 Rapid Transit (DART), which currently operates twopercent of the cost in many instances. Guzzetti noted, lines on 45 miles of track in Dallas and its suburbs andhowever, that the feds pay 80 percent of the cost of is planning to add a third, 28-mile line by Decemberhighway construction. He said federal support has been 2010.increasing, but the government needs to do a lot more. In November 2007, the Center for Economic Develop-“I would look at it another way and say they have been un- ment and Research at the University of North Texas is-derfunding,” Guzzetti said. “There are a lot of good projects sued a report on the potential fiscal impacts of TOD inout there, and there should be a higher level of investment.” the DART service area. The report came to this startlingThe federal economic stimulus plan will help, provid- conclusion: “The total value of projects that are attribut-ing $1 billion in capital investment grants for light rail, able to the presence of a DART Rail station since 1999heavy rail, commuter rail and high occupancy vehicle is $4.26 billion.”projects. Phoenix, New Jersey and Charlotte have re- The study reported that homes near rail stations in-ceived light rail stimulus grants. creased in value by 39 percent more than homes notLight Rail and Its Link to Community Vitality served by light rail.Light rail has proven to be a major stimulus to the In Charlotte, transit officials say that more than $291economies of communities that have built new systems million in new development has been built near stations on a 10-mile rail line that opened last year. They say The federal government has provided major support for construction of light rail systems. Courtesy of DART Charlotte, N.C. SUMMER 2009 7
  8. 8. Light rail has proven to be a major stimulus to the economies of communities that have built new systems in recent years. Photos courtesy of DART an additional $1.6 billion in development has been an- Diego Trolley — a misnomer — operates fire engine red nounced for the rail corridor. trains on three lines serving 53 stations on 51 miles of Denver transit officials say 8.4 million square feet of track and has the fourth highest light rail ridership in the new retail, office and government space has been built country. Pittsburgh’s Port Authority of Allegheny County along its existing 35-mile rail network. There have been started construction of its light rail system in 1981. 11,000 residential units built near the rail line. The term “light rail” is commonly applied to trains that In Seattle, a U.S. Department of Commerce model esti- operate on rights-of-way off the streets or on urban-area mates that economic activity generated by the University streets, have several cars and are lighter and shorter than Link, a 3.7-mile connection from downtown to the Uni- commuter rail trains or heavy rail systems. There is gen- versity of Washington, will be the equivalent of 22,800 erally some distance between light rail stations, perhaps direct and indirect jobs. as much as a mile, except in urban centers. Streetcars, also known as trolleys, usually share city streets with Light Rail Through the Decades cars, trucks and buses, have one or two cars and stop The light rail movement began in San Diego, which opened the first system in the country in 1981. The San8 ON COMMON GROUND
  9. 9. The fact that people who havethese systems want to make thembigger and more expansive tellsyou something right there.every few blocks. In most cases, light rail and streetcarsrun on electricity delivered by overhead power lines.The newest light rail system in the United States is theMETRO in Phoenix. Before the METRO opened inDecember 2008, sprawling, congested Phoenix, the na-tion’s fifth largest city, was the largest American city withno passenger rail service of any kind. Amtrak didn’t evenstop there. In the first two days of operation, 200,000rail-starved people rode METRO’s 20-mile starter line.Next on line later this year is Sound Transit’s 15.6-mile Cen-tral Link in Seattle. Nearly 62 percent of the voters approvedan extension of Seattle’s system in the 2008 election.“The fact that people who have these systems want tomake them bigger and more expansive tells you some-thing right there,” Guzzetti said. “If it wasn’t working,you wouldn’t want more.” John Van Gieson is a freelance writer based inTallahassee, Fla. He owns and runs Van GiesonMedia Relations, Inc. San Diego, Calif. Phoenix, Az. SUMMER 2009 9
  10. 10. Funding the Light Rail Systems Like a tasty gumbo, many ingredients can go into the four-tenths cent sales tax for public transportation, and making of a light rail system, but the most important by in 2004, Maricopa County voters passed Proposition far are a strong, dedicated local revenue source, usually a 400, a four-tenths cent sales tax increase that provides sales tax increase, and federal funding. funding for additional transportation improvements, The starting point, the funding source that turns many including a 27.7-mile light rail extension. light rail dreams into reality, is a local sales tax increase Other areas where voters have approved sales tax in- approved by voters. Existing transit sales taxes range creases to support light rail include Charlotte, Salt Lake from four-tenths to 1 percent. In some cases, voters have City, Dallas, Denver, Seattle and Kansas City. Charlotte approved sales tax increases on two different occasions. voters approved, by 57 to 47 percent, a sales tax increase Light rail is popular in the communities that have it — 93 in 1998. Last year, they emphatically rejected, 70 to 30 percent of Denver-area riders rated the trains good or ex- percent, an attempt to repeal the tax. cellent in a poll earlier this year — and voters have shown Seattle voters rejected a sales tax increase in 2007, then a remarkable willingness to raise their taxes to pay for a passed a scaled-down increase last year to provide fund- form of transportation they may use rarely, if ever. ing for light rail and other projects. Valley Metro, the light rail system in Phoenix, links the The U.S. Department of Transportation’s New Starts city with three suburbs: Tempe, Mesa and Glendale. program has been providing roughly half the funding Tempe voters approved a half-cent tax for public trans- for light rail construction. The agency awarded $8.3 portation in 1996. In 2000, Phoenix voters passed a billion in 29 grants to light rail systems from 1992 to 2007. Those grants amount to nearly half of the total cost to build those systems, $16.7 billion. New Starts grants ranged in size from $53.6 million for the Medical Center Extension of the TRAX system in Salt Lake City to $700 million for the Northwest/ Southeast extension of the DART system in the Dallas area. Several light rail systems received more than one grant. Light rail is popular in the communities that have it and voters have shown a remarkable willingness to raise their taxes to pay for it. Courtesy of DART Courtesy of DART10 ON COMMON GROUND
  11. 11. The cost of the Salt Lake City extension is $89.4 million.The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has built three linestotaling 20 miles using a mix of 80 percent local and 20percent federal funding, according to spokesperson Car-rie Bohnsack-Ware. Voters approved a sales tax hike in2006 with the rate ranging from eleven-sixteenths of acent in Salt Lake County to one-fourth cent in outlyingcities and counties.The UTA is planning to complete its Front Line 2015expansion project, four new light rail lines and a com-muter rail line to Provo, Utah, a total of 70 miles oftrack, by 2015.Total cost of the DART extension in Dallas is $1.4 billion.Morgan Lyons, DART’s director of media relations, saidthe agency gets 75 percent of its funding from a 1 percentsales tax approved by voters in 1988. Fares account for 12percent of funding, he said, with the remainder coming Courtesy of DARTfrom interest and federal grants.DART has 42 miles of new lines under construction and • Federal Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality grant,plans to double the size of its system to 93 miles by 2013. $49.8 million • Transit capital grant, $39.9 millionArt Guzzetti, vice president of policy of the American • Minnesota Department of Transportation, $20.1 millionPublic Transportation Association, said the feds havenot been providing enough support for light rail, but The Portland Streetcar, running a four-mile stretchthe new administration has made it clear that more through the center of the city, drew on nearly 20 dif-funding is on the way. ferent sources of funds. The major ones were city park- ing bonds, $28.6 million; tax increment funds, $21.5“There should be a higher level of investment,” Guzzetti said. million; local improvement district, $19.5 million; andSome areas have come up with creative finance schemes regional transportation funds, $10 million. The systemto raise the money they needed to build their light rail cost $103.2 million.and streetcar systems from a variety of sources beyond “Local businesses volunteered to be taxed by a specialsales taxes and federal grants. district,” said Kay Dannen, community relations direc-When the Hiawatha light rail line in Minneapolis, a tor for the Portland Streetcar. “The assessment is levied12-mile route linking downtown Minneapolis with the within three blocks of the tracks and varies by type ofMall of America and the Minneapolis/St. Paul Interna- use. Residential uses are exempt.”tional Airport, was built at a cost of $715.3 million, Sound Transit, which operates the South Lake Unionlocal officials relied on a total of seven different sources Streetcar in Seattle, also created an assessment on prop-of funds: erty owners near the tracks. It contributed $26 million• Federal grant, $334.3 million through the Local Improvement District, nearly half the• State of Minnesota, $100 million $52.1 million cost. The rest came from federal, state and• Metropolitan Airports Commission, $87 million local government funds. • Hennepin County, $84.2 million SUMMER 2009 11
  12. 12. A modern transportation system or an American heritage The streetcar is finding its tracks For many years, the best way to get around in American Kapow!, a defunct coffee shop on the trolley, er, street- cities and small towns was the streetcar, pulled initially car’s route, sold “I Ride the S.L.U.T.” t-shirts and had a by horses and later powered by overhead electric wires. photo of Robin Williams wearing one on its Web site. Starting in the 1930s, about 100 years after the first Whatever locals call the line, they obviously love it. streetcar lines opened in cities like New York and New More than 500,000 riders used the streetcars in the first Orleans, the industry collapsed and all but disappeared year, prompting Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels to celebrate by the mid-1950s. by offering free rides for two weeks late last year. The Now, however, a streetcar revival is sweeping the country, city is planning four additional streetcar lines. featuring sleek modern cars built in Europe and learning “A half million riders on just the first line reflects the tre- lessons from the success of streetcars there and “heritage” mendous potential of streetcars,” said Nickels. “A Seattle trolleys here, which are modern versions of the cars seen streetcar network will be an important part of our future, on city streets around the turn of the last century. offering a climate-friendly transportation choice that helps Public transportation advocates prefer to call them attract employers and encourages more job creation.” streetcars, but they are still known in some quarters as The major booster of a streetcar line in Seattle was Micro- trolleys or trams. soft co-founder Paul Allen, who proposed a line serving a Portland, Ore., launched its streetcars in 2001, the first mod- Seattle neighborhood where his venture capital company, ern streetcar system in North America. Projected ridership of Vulcan, Inc., has major investments. The streetcar has 3,000 persons a day was doubled in the first month. helped to trigger a biotech and biomed development The line, a four-mile tract that connects downtown boom in the neighborhood, and has an- with Northwest Portland, the gentrified Pearl District, nounced it will move its headquarters there. Portland State University and the South Waterfront, has There are about two dozen active streetcar lines in the been a smashing success. Portland Streetcar reports that U.S., mostly “heritage” trolleys, with about 80 others in more than 10,000 residential units have been built and development or being considered by local officials. $3.5 billion has been invested in property within two Tennessee Williams fans will be disappointed to learn National Park Service blocks of the line. there is no longer a Streetcar Named Desire, but the “My husband is a REALTOR®, and he sells a lot of St. Charles streetcar in New Orleans has been running condos,” said Kay Dannen, community relations since 1834 with some time off to repair Hurricane Ka- manager for Portland Streetcars. “For most people the trina damages. Cities as small as Tallahassee, Fla., with a primary question is, ‘What kind of transit connections population less than 3,000 at the time, launched street- are there?’” car service in the late 1800s. All that remains is a street Seattle, which is Portland’s rival for Coolest City in the called Tram Road. Pacific Northwest, opened its South Union Lake street- The demise of the streetcar lines that once dominated car line, a 2.6-mile loop from downtown south to the the public transportation landscape is known by some high-tech South Lake Union neighborhood. Officials advocates as the Great American Streetcar Scandal. They deny that they ever intended to call the line a trolley accuse General Motors and other companies of setting instead of a streetcar, but local wits dubbed it the South up a shell company in the 1920s to buy streetcar lines, Lake Union Trolley, SLUT for short.12 ON COMMON GROUND
  13. 13. Courtesy of DARTA half million riders on just thefirst line reflects the tremendouspotential of streetcars.most of which were privately owned, and put them outof business. The motive: Sell more GM cars and buses.Nine corporations and seven individuals were indictedon conspiracy charges in 1947, convicted and fined fortheir role in the scheme. “We saw how kind of beloved the Portland Streetcar“The United States still bears untold scars from the was and how well it was doing,” said Chandra Brown,American streetcar swindle,” author Al Mankoff wrote president of United Streetcar. “I guess we were kind ofin an article for a North Jersey Transportation Planning surprised there were no modern streetcars being built inAuthority publication. “The once profitable system the United States.”of privately held independent electric-powered urban The company has a prototype American-made streetcartransit was destroyed, giving cities the choice between ready for testing and is in discussions with Portlandgovernment-subsidized transit or no service at all. An Streetcars about selling it six or seven cars when the lineeconomical, efficient, and non-polluting transit system is expanded. It is one of two finalists to sell streetcars tohas been replaced with one that is more expensive, less- a line being planned in Tucson.efficient and highly polluting. The American taxpayerhas paid the price ever since.” “We’ve got literally tens of other cities that are coming out here to see the cars being built and ride the PortlandJust as the streetcar lines went out of business, so did a system,” Brown said. “There are more than 80 cities thatonce-thriving American streetcar manufacturing indus- are looking at streetcars.” try. That is about to change. United Streetcar, a subsidiaryof Oregon Iron Works in Portland, is building prototypestreetcars under license to the Czech company Skoda. SUMMER 2009 13
  14. 14. The Federal Transportation Program: T ime for a New Vision? With the six-year spending bill up for renewal this year, major changes could be in the offing. By David Goldberg E very few generations, innovations in trans- portation spur a revolution in how people and goods move around, with profound implications for how and where we build our cities and towns, and ultimately, how we live. In the 1900s, the railroads reshaped our still-young country, allowing a city like Atlanta to arise at the inter- section of two major lines, despite the lack of a key wa- terway or other compelling reason to be. Corresponding federal policies promoted the widespread distribution of the rail lines and the settling of vast swaths of new territory. In the middle of the 20th century, America was gripped by a new vision for connecting cities, states and regions: the interstate highway system. The automobile was still new, and as we emerged from the second World War, the possibilities seemed endless. The vision had begun to take hold during the 1939 World’s Fair, when mil- lions of Americans lined up to see the General Motors Futurama. The exhibit showed depression-weary audi- ences a brave new world of sleek highways and well- ordered cities.14 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2009
  15. 15. The federal transportation lawis up for reauthorization and thedebate surrounding it is growingin intensity.In 1956, when gasoline was just 20 cents a gallon, Presi-dent Eisenhower picked up on that futuristic inspirationwhen he signed what came to be called the InterstateHighway Act — an ambitious program to link America’scities and states with a network of long-distance super-highways. It has been called the biggest public worksproject in history.Over the next few decades we pursued that program,laying out more than 45,000 miles of highway, and thesystem was complete by the late 1980s or early 1990s,depending on how one counts it. The federal transporta-tion program created in 1956, with public transit addedin over the years, has been renewed every six years or soby act of Congress. This year, the federal transportationlaw is up for so-called reauthorization again, and thedebate surrounding it is growing in intensity.Indeed, many of those following the issue believe thisyear could be a turning point akin to that of 50 yearsago. The last authorization, passed in 2005 after a two-year delay, is widely viewed as something of a disgrace.With the interstate system built, the $286 billion billknown as SAFETEA-LU was larded with 6,000 ear-marks for disparate projects in Congress members’ dis-tricts, and the statement of purpose was removed from Courtesy of Dallas Area Rapid Transitthe bill. SAFETEA-LU would come to be most stronglyidentified with Alaska’s so-called “Bridge to Nowhere.”“Almost no one disagrees that we desperately need toarticulate a new national vision for transportation,” said There is no shortage of reasons cited. As the MinnesotaRobert Puentes of the Brookings Institution, author of bridge collapse made brutally clear, we have fallen be-“A Bridge to Somewhere: Rethinking American Trans- hind on upkeep of our world-leading highway system.portation for the 21st Century.” In the last year, two At the same time, other developed nations are far aheadCongressionally appointed commissions, key members on urban transit systems and high-quality intercity rail.of Congress, road builder groups, the U.S. Chamber Our collision course with oil dependency and climateof Commerce and large advocacy coalitions such as change requires us to burn less fuel, but our systemTransportation for America all have declared the current remains based almost exclusively on car travel. Ourprogram exhausted and in need of a major rethink. increasingly urban population sits mired in congestion, 15
  16. 16. A leveling off in the growth of miles driven per person, coupled with rising fuel efficiency and the worsening economy has hit the highway trust fund hard. “But we’re not going to get Americans to pay more, whether in gasoline taxes or other funding sources, until we can show them that the money will be spent to make their lives better, he said.” The American Association of State Highway and Trans- portation Officials (AASHTO) — an alliance of state Departments of Transportation — echoed that senti- ment in announcing their own call for major reform last fall. desperately looking for a way out that seems far too slow “The American public has every right to see what they in coming. Volatile gas prices are playing havoc with will get for increased transportation investment,” said household budgets and roiling the real estate market. AASHTO President Allen Biehler, secretary of the Our aging population and low-income communities are Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. “We have increasingly isolated in spread-out metro areas that re- to be accountable, and we have to move to a perfor- quire a car to reach services and jobs. Freight shipments mance-based program focused on national goals.” are impeded as well, and our rail networks and port con- While few dispute the need for greater accountability, nections need urgent attention. there is not yet consensus on what the national goals And then there’s the matter of money. The federal gas might be. Making that determination, Puentes and oth- tax, which has remained at 18.4 cents a gallon since ers said, will require acknowledging the degree to which 1993, does not produce the revenue needed to match the country has changed since the current program was rising construction and energy costs. In fact, a leveling adopted in the late 1950s. off in the growth of miles driven per person, coupled In that era, exponential growth in automobile travel was with rising fuel efficiency and the worsening economy almost a given, and policies were created to accommo- has hit the highway trust fund hard. Last fall, Congress date and even promote it, as families moved to suburbs, felt obliged to appropriate $8 billion from the general women streamed into the work force and an entirely fund to cover a shortfall in already-promised funding, new urban form, designed expressly for car use, began and is expecting a similar move later this year. Long to become the norm. Today, there are numerous indica- term, the prognosis is even worse. If the nation succeeds tions that Americans will be driving less, on the whole, in its goal of burning less gasoline in order to reduce in the future. oil dependency and greenhouse gas emissions, fuel tax Of course there are the realities of energy and climate. receipts are likely to decline further still. As oil becomes less plentiful and more hotly contested The revenue problem is real, said James Corless, director in coming decades, reducing per-person consumption of Transportation for America, a campaign by a coali- will be part of the nation’s plan to insulate ourselves tion of nearly 300 organizations — including the NA- from volatile energy markets and potentially hostile oil- TIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (NAR) producing countries. Higher prices, in any event, will — to reform the federal program. lead Americans to reduce their driving, as they did when16 ON COMMON GROUND
  17. 17. Courtesy of DART Courtesy of DARTToday there is demand for another product we haven’t addressedfor decades — walkable urban.prices spiked dramatically last summer and fall. Likely count for 65 percent of the population and 78 percentmeasures to curb greenhouse gas emissions — whether a of economic activity. And the population is projectedcarbon tax or cap-and-trade system — also will increase to become even more heavily concentrated in urbanthe cost of driving, and thereby suppress the growth in areas in coming years. Getting between cities, or frommiles of motoring we all do. farm to market, is not the challenge so much today asBut perhaps even more powerful are the demographic getting around and delivering goods within increasinglychanges that are well under way. First is the aging of crowded metro areas.the population. It is estimated that by 2030 one in four These changes in travel patterns, demography and cul-Americans will be 65 or older. As they leave the work tural preferences are being reflected in an evolving realforce, stop commuting and begin to restrict the hours estate market, said Christopher Leinberger, a real estateand distances they travel from home, older Americans consultant and developer, and the author of “The Optiongenerally drive less than the population as a whole. In of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream.”the baby-boom era of the early days of interstates and “The market has begun to shift,” Leinberger said. “Forcar-oriented suburbs, half of all households had a mom, 50 years there was pent-up demand for drivable subur-dad and kids. Today that share has shrunk to less than a ban product, and it was a new product. We had a verythird, while the proportion of single-person households good run of that, but now the pendulum has swung.edged past it. Fewer soccer moms and dads shuttling the Today there is pent-up demand for another product wekids around also will mean fewer miles driven over all. haven’t addressed for decades — walkable urban.”The other big change since the 1950s is that 75 per- Places designed to be “walkable” allow residents to meetcent of Americans now live in metropolitan areas, said many, or even all, daily needs within walking distancePuentes. The largest 100 metropolitan areas alone ac- or by transit, according to Leinberger. Recently, the real SUMMER 2009 17
  18. 18. The big challenge for coming “That ‘drive til you qualify’ idea was based on a calculus, and that calculus is broken, as many people are find- decades will be developing and ing to their dismay,” McNamara added. “Although gas funding a program to build intercity prices have dropped recently, people are much more conscious of the cost of transportation.” trains, light rail and bus lines, and Transportation issues have begun to loom so large in the walking and biking infrastructure. real estate and housing equation that, for the first time, NAR has adopted a detailed policy position on the reau- thorization of the federal bill, McNamara said. estate Web site began posting walkability ratings for its listings, created by, which “The reauthorization legislation doesn’t touch directly bases the score on how many activities and services are on real estate transactions, so there is not a direct stake. located within walking distance. The REALTORS’® interest in this stems from the inter- est in community livability, in smart growth, and — in “It’s not that everyone wants walkable neighborhoods, looking at the polling we’ve done — the fact that hous- but we clearly are not meeting the demand, and it’s ing consumers would like more options and different only going to grow.” Meeting that demand will require options. If we’re successful in providing those options, “a balanced transportation system: rail transit, walking, communities will be more prosperous and more livable biking as well as car,” Leinberger said. and that’s got to be good for real estate.” He noted that in the current, down market, properties In another first, the NAR also has joined a diverse on the exurban fringe with long commutes to job cen- coalition of nearly 300 other national, state and local ters are languishing even at drastically reduced prices, organizations with a stake in the federal transportation while those closer to transit stations and employment bill. The Transportation for America coalition (online concentrations are holding value. The recent experience at aims to represent the broad range of with high gas prices has exacerbated a trend away from users of the transportation system, as distinct from the places with long, expensive commutes, said Bob McNa- industry groups who usually follow the debate closely. mara, senior policy representative with the NATIONAL T4America includes well-known organizations such as ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. AARP, the American Public Health Association and the National Trust for Historic Preservation as well as key groups on issues including rural and small town concerns, affordable housing, the environment, social equity, public transportation, bicycling and walking, in addition to a number of elected officials and state and local entities. Courtesy of DART18 ON COMMON GROUND
  19. 19. Corless, the director of T4America, said the big chal- “This is the first time we’ve gone into an authorizationlenge for coming decades will be developing and fund- debate with the highway trust fund insolvent,” notesing a program to build “the second half ” of the trans- John Horsley, executive director of AASHTO, the asso-portation system — the intercity trains, light rail and ciation of state DOTs. “Usually there have been reservesbus lines, and walking and biking infrastructure that deep enough that Congress could take its time and keephave lagged over the years — while maintaining and extending the existing law till they reached agreement.”maximizing the efficiency of existing highways, bridges But even as the insolvency question adds to the urgency,and transit lines. Other major policy questions include: “There is a desire by the White House and the Congres-• How to meet the pent-up demand for public transit, sional leadership to make a transformational bill.”particularly rail, rapid bus and streetcar projects, many Horsley said he thought Congress should go ahead andof which have local funding but must wait years for their debate a vision and establish funding authorizations at afederal match; level sufficient to fulfill it — about a half-trillion dollars,• How to give metropolitan areas the latitude to solve he reckoned, nearly double the current level — thentheir congestion and mobility issues, while holding work through the politics of actually raising the moneythem accountable for being fair and inclusive, while in the next couple of years. The bill itself should encour-making timely progress on national goals; age experimentation with new funding sources: charg-• How to better serve rural areas and small towns, who ing a “vehicle-miles traveled” tax based on how muchwere especially hard hit when gas prices soared, and you drive, rather than how much fuel you buy; fundingwhose chronically under-funded bus and shuttle services some rail transit projects by recapturing increased landleave many stranded; values; charging “congestion tolls” for driving at peak• How finally to start to coordinate development and times; and plowing that money into providing alterna-growth patterns with transportation investment, to en- tives modes of travel in the same corridor.sure that people can find homes near jobs, that highways Whatever the mechanism, Corless said, Americans aredon’t become overburdened by bad planning and that likely to pay if it results in giving them cleaner, smarter,we make the most of transit investments; and cheaper and more convenient options.• How to streamline the programs and delivery systems “In the end, you should still be able to choose to drive,— the transport agencies at all levels who must imple- but it shouldn’t be your only option.” ment the new vision — so that projects get built quickly, David A. Goldberg is the communications directoryet still according to smart planning. for Smart Growth America, a nationwide coalition based in Washington, D.C. that advocates for land-And the biggie, of course: How to pay for it all. use policy reform. In 2002, Mr. Goldberg was award- ed a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University, where he studied urban policy. SUMMER 2009 19
  20. 20. Spurring Growth with Transit-Oriented Development D e v e l o p e r s a r e h e l p i n g t r a n s fo r m the way cities grow with projects huddled near transit hubs. By G.M. Filisko F rom Los Angeles to Philadelphia and at a growing number of points in be- tween, developers are jumping aboard the movement to cluster real estate projects near transit hubs. “There’s a growing number of develop- ers who really get transit-oriented development,” says Jud Pankey, chief executive officer of Dallas-based Prescott Realty Group. Prescott is currently develop- ing the Lake Highlands Town Center, a nearly 2-mil- lion-square-foot, mixed-use project that will include a Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) light rail station. “It’s a shift because it’s a whole new way of doing busi- ness, and it’s a challenging form of development.” Planned TOD in Park City, Utah Development clustered near light rail stations, at subway stations and near streetcars — called transit- oriented development, or TOD — is indeed changing the way developers operate. And those who’ve mas- Properties along transit routes will have tered TOD say the phenomenon will only expand. increased in value because people will “In five years, properties along transit routes will have increased in value because people will pay a premium pay a premium to live where they can to live where they can walk to a transit station, even walk to a transit station. if they’re not using it every day,” says Carl Dranoff, president of Dranoff Properties in Philadelphia and20 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2009
  21. 21. developer of a $180-million project to revitalize the That strong support has been driving TOD. “Transittrain station and business district in Ardmore, Pa. has definitely grown,” says Allison Brooks, managing“Those will be the most sought-after locations, and director of Reconnecting America, an Oakland, Calif.,developers will want to develop where customers will be nonprofit transit advocacy organization. “There’s a— it’s that simple.” demand for more easy living where you don’t have toThe Forces behind TOD rely on your car. That’s caused a real boom in cities and regions investing in new transit systems.”Mass transit has had a stop-and-go history in the UnitedStates. In cities like New York and Chicago, systems Brooks rattles off just a few cities building new or ex-are long entrenched. However, Americans’ attachment panding existing transit systems. “In Denver, votersto their cars has made the penetration of new transit agreed to tax themselves to pay for a regional light railthroughout the country a harder sell. system,” she says. “Minneapolis-St. Paul is investing in a new light rail system. In Los Angeles, voters approvedBut attitudes may be changing. There’s been a shift a tax to pay for the expansion of the current system.”toward a “green” lifestyle, caused in part by increas- Charlotte, N.C., and Phoenix are also investing iningly volatile gas prices. Add to that today’s weakened transit.economy, which is forcing Americans to scrutinizeevery penny they spend on housing and commuting. “Transit has been gradually growing since the earlyEver-worsening traffic gridlock may also be converting 1990s,” says G.B. Arrington, vice president and prin-nonbelievers into transit evangelists. When asked the cipal practice leader for PB PlaceMaking, a Portland,best approach to solving traffic problems, 47 percent of Ore., design and planning firm specializing in TOD.respondents to a 2009 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION “I’ve been doing TOD since the late 1990s, and I con-OF REALTORS® and Transportation for America poll tinue to ask myself whether it’s going to go away. Butfavored improving public transportation, 25 percent the interest and demand in both the public and privatepreferred building communities that make it possible sectors continues to grow because developers who followfor people not to drive, and only 20 percent advocated the principles of TOD will create places that are morebuilding new roads. resilient in the face of gas prices and climate change.”There’s a demand for more easyliving where you don’t have to relyon your car. 21
  22. 22. Federal policy-makers seem to agree. In March, the improvements may also have to be done, and that could U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mean working with the city, county and a tax increment (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Transportation financing (TIF) district. Those members represent vari- (DOT) announced a joint “livable communities” initia- ous constituencies, and you have to be able to navigate tive to help Americans better access affordable housing, that process and articulate the benefit of transit living.” more transportation options and lower transportation Take financing, which typically requires developers to costs. According to the two agencies, the average work- work with both public and private funding. “It’s been ing American family spends nearly 60 percent of its suggested that TODs need patient money,” says Rich budget on housing and transportation. They’ve united von Luhrte, president of RNL, an architecture and to cut those costs by creating affordable, sustainable urban design firm in Denver, who’s worked on TOD communities that rely heavily on transit. DOT also since the 1970s. “The funders take a developer who’s announced in March $100 million in federal funding willing to make a long-term investment in property and for transit projects that reduce energy consumption or go through tremendous effort to do a redevelopment greenhouse gases. project. The patient money often requires acquiring “In the last six months, we’ve seen national interest at the property and holding it until the transit service the policy level that we haven’t seen before,” says Abby matures and the demand is such that it can support Thorne-Lyman, a principal at Strategic Economics, an the development.” economic and real estate consulting firm, and a staff Not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) concerns are nothing member for the Center for Transit-Oriented Devel- new to developers, but TOD offers added complications. opment, a nonprofit research and advocacy group in “Often, neighborhoods impacted by transit stations Berkeley, Calif. “It’s become a national movement, aren’t ready to accept the increased density,” explains not just of developers but also of policy-makers von Luhrte. “Developers need to generate a tremendous realizing they have a role to play and that transit has large amount of community and city support for TOD to be benefits in terms of greenhouse gas reduction and successful. Too many projects get stalled because NIM- economic development.” BYism stops them or makes them extremely difficult.” Increased government commitment to transit should be music to the ears of the NAR-TFA poll respondents. Fifty-six percent said the federal government isn’t paying enough attention to trains and light rail systems, and 75 percent said the government should improve intercity rail and transit. Challenges and Opportunities To give consumers what they want, developers must Richardson, Texas change the way they operate. “TODs are definitely a total pain in the neck,” jokes Dranoff. “They’re complex projects that require great skills to execute.” Why so complicated? Land assemblage can be difficult. Zoning and permitting restrictions can make the ap- proval process a maze. Lenders often don’t understand the large and intricate projects. And local residents often lay down early opposition to the density-rich develop- Walkability has become a very ments. Handling all those challenges simultaneously requires formidable development and political acumen. significant driver for consumers. “You’ve got multiple public entities and public constitu- encies you really have to work with,” says Pankey. “You have not only the transit authority, but other public22 ON COMMON GROUND
  23. 23. Future transit-oriented development in Ardmore, Pa.Dan Johnson, deputy city manager and chief operating Dranoff also believes the value of TOD is worth theofficer for Richardson, Texas, which is adding four sta- extra work. Though the Ardmore project is still in thetions to the DART rail line that runs through the city, planning stages, the bulk of Dranoff ’s developmentssays early planning helped his city avert major NIMBY have been near transit, and that proximity has paid off.sentiments. “Several years before the rail was developed, Take Symphony House, a 163-unit condo developmentwe were active with our city council and speaking in in Philadelphia’s cultural hub. “You can walk out thepublic sessions,” he says. “We were also selected by the front door and be within steps of the Kimmel Center,Urban Land Institute for a panel study in which a task our major performing arts center,” explains Dranoff.force of professionals conducted planning and visioning “You can walk 60 or 70 steps and be at the subwaysessions. That was very effective in allowing us to get an entrance.”overall vision and commentary from across the country Today, Symphony House is 90 percent sold. “We wereand to frame our TOD. A lot of problems were circum- able to hold our prices, and our fall-out ratio of peoplevented by having that session early on.” who cancelled contracts while waiting for their unit toPhil Kushlan has had a slightly different experience. The be finished was only 7 percent,” says Dranoff. “We wereexecutive director for Capital City Development Corp., able to go against the grain because sales on projects neara quasi-public urban renewal agency for Boise, Idaho, transit are better than those further away.”has had to address public pushback on a $60-million With those results, Dranoff feels confident taking ondowntown streetcar redevelopment to be completed in the Ardmore TOD. “We’re putting our money on it,”2011. The project will be financed through a TIF and he says. “Walkability has become a very significanttax-exempt bonds, but the numbers have raised con- driver for consumers. People don’t want to be tetheredcern. “The primary issue we’ve had to deal with is the to their cars.” cost,” he says. “People say, ‘It’s going to cost a fortune!’ G.M. Filisko is an attorney and freelance writerBut we’ve been able to demonstrate that $60 million is who writes frequently on real estate, business andless than the cost of a new freeway interchange and the legal issues. Ms. Filisko served as an editor at NAR’scommunity benefits over time are much greater than REALTOR® Magazine for 10 years.with each new freeway interchange. This isn’t a projectthat withstands a 10-year test; it’s a 100-year, transfor-mative community design project. We think it’s a muchbetter investment.” SUMMER 2009 23
  24. 24. A nd the sur vey s a y s … T h e P u b l i c Wa n t s S M A R T Tra n s p o r t a t i o n S p e n d i n g Many across the countr y would agree t h a t t r a ff i c a n d t r a n s p o r t a t i o n a r e a p r o b l e m . The 2009 Growth and Transpor tation S u r v e y, s p o n s o r e d b y t h e N AT I O N A L A S S O C I AT I O N O F R E A LT O R S ® a n d Transpor tation Amer ica, outlines w hat Amer icans think a bout how their communities are handling development, how development a ff e c t s t h e i r i m m e d i a t e c o m m u n i t y a n d h o w the transpor tation needs of communities can best be met. Courtesy of DART Growth and Transportation Nationwide To accommodate future U.S. population growth, which is expected to increase 100 million by 2050, Americans As the federal government makes its plans for transportation favor restoring existing roads and bridges and expand- funding in 2009, which one of the following should be the ing transportation options; improving intercity rail and transit; and walking and biking over building new top priority? highways. When asked about transportation approaches to accommodate the future growth, three out of four favor improving rail systems rather than building new highways and freeways. When asked about the federal government and its pri- orities for the budget, half of U.S. citizens believe that maintaining and repairing roads, highways, freeways and bridges should be the top priority as the federal government makes its plans for transportation fund- ing in 2009. Just under a third (31%) believe the top priority should be expanding and improving bus, rail and other public transportation, and only 16 percent believe it should be expanding roads, highways, freeways and bridges.24 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2009
  25. 25. What citizens want or need and what they get are two Half of U.S. citizens believe thatdifferent stories. When asked which one or two typesof transportation are not getting enough attention maintaining and repairing roads,from the federal government, more than half (56%) highways, freeways and bridgesresponded trains or light rail systems and nearly half(48%) responded roads and buses. should be the top priority.Growth and Transportation in Local CommunitiesWhen asked about more local issues, almost two-thirdsof the respondents believe their communities do a goodor excellent job providing parks and protecting openspace (65%), and more than half believe their commu-nities do a good or excellent job providing good publicschools (58%). However, when it comes to transporta-tion, a majority of those surveyed think their communi-ties do a poor or fair job in various aspects of transporta-tion and new development.For instance, 56 percent think their community is doinga fair or poor job managing growth and new develop-ment. And, only 7 percent believe their community isdoing an excellent job providing practical and conve-nient public transportation.In addition, the survey showed that when it comes to traf-fic congestion in their local communities, more than two-thirds (67%) want public transportation improved, in-cluding trains and buses, and want it to be easier to walkand bike in order to help reduce traffic congestion, whileonly just over a quarter (27%) want more roads built andexisting roads expanded to help reduce congestion.When asked about approaches to the best long-termsolution for reducing traffic in their areas, almost half Courtesy of DART(47%) preferred improving public transportation, a 25
  26. 26. quarter chose building communities that encourage Which of the following proposals is the best long-term people not to drive as much, and 20 percent preferred solution to reducing traffic in your area? building new roads. According to the survey, more people agree than disagree that new home construction should be limited in outly- ing areas and encouraged in already developed areas, and that businesses and homes should be built closer together so that stores and restaurants are within walking distance and do not require the use of an automobile. The survey also indicates that respondents agree that economic stimulus activities need to be less focused on immediate needs and more about long-term economic growth and projects that achieve multiple goals. Specifically, 80 percent of Americans want transporta- Courtesy of DART tion and other infrastructure spending included in the economic stimulus bill to target projects that achieve multiple goals including creating new jobs, improving The Economic Stimulus Package and Long-Term the environment, increasing transportation choices and Economic Growth Priorities reducing dependence on foreign oil, even if it means jobs are created over a longer period of time. And, the When those surveyed were asked about the economic top transportation-related goal in respondents’ eyes is stimulus plan, there was an overwhelming response for promoting long-term economic growth (41%). transportation- and infrastructure-related projects to be included through job creation initiatives. For example, In addition, Americans are very interested in energy most agreed that highway and bridge repair projects conservation as it relates to stimulus money. Eighty- (93%), alternative energies such as wind and solar pow- nine percent agree that transportation investments er (86%), the development and improvement of public should support the goals of reducing energy use, with 58 transportation (83%), and developing and expanding percent agreeing strongly. Three in four of those polled parks that preserve green space and recreation areas in also want the stimulus plan to support the reduction communities (71%) should be included in the plan. of carbon emissions that lead to global warming and climate change.26 ON COMMON GROUND
  27. 27. Given that the U.S. population will increase by one hundred million people by 2050, which of the following transportation approaches do you prefer to accommodate this growth?Another issue of importance is the future populationgrowth and how transportation approaches will accom-modate the growth. Respondents across the countrywant a change of pace from building and expanding I’m going to read you two statements, and I’d like you toroads, as 75 percent prefer building and improving rail tell me which one comes closer to your point of to meet future growth needs.As the statistics highlight, American citizens know thatwhen it comes to the economic stimulus plan, short-term solutions are not the answer. They have specificpreferences and agree the plan should be based on theoverall benefit to the community and not just to createjobs (80%). The 2009 Growth and Transportation Survey was con-ducted by Hart Research Associates, January 5–7. HartResearch Associates telephoned 1,005 adults living in theUnited States. The study has a margin of error of plusor minus 3.1 percentage points. The entire survey can beviewed at SUMMER 2009 27
  28. 28. Take the Bus It’s Rapid Transit By Judy Newman I n more and more of the nation’s urban areas, riding Communities around the the bus no longer requires meandering from one end of a city to the other, stopping to pick up pas- country are floating plans to sengers every couple of blocks and fighting heavy include Bus Rapid Transit in their rush hour traffic. From Puyallup, Wash. to Chicago to Bergen Coun- transportation systems. ty, N.J., communities around the country are floating Strictly defined, Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, has plans to include Bus Rapid Transit in their transporta- seven characteristics, said Hinebaugh, also of the tion systems. University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Supporters say it’s a quick, efficient way to get people where Transportation Research: they’re going and costs less than any sort of rail line. • Dedicated lanes on streets or highways “My guess would be that every medium- to large-size • Stations that go beyond bus shelters, with benches, city in the United States is considering Bus Rapid Tran- lighting, ticket vending machines and information on sit,” said Dennis Hinebaugh, director of the National arrival time for the next buses Bus Rapid Transit Institute in Tampa, Fla. • Specialized, articulated buses that carry more passen- Opponents say Bus Rapid Transit doesn’t measure up to gers than regular buses light rail when it comes to long-term labor costs, fuel use or economic development. “You can’t make a bus into a • Improved fare collection systems train and that’s what’s been promoted,” said Dave Dobbs, • Advanced technology that allows a BRT vehicle to publisher of, based in Austin, Texas. change upcoming traffic signals and to provide real- time travel information to passengers28 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2009
  29. 29. Cities varied in size operate BRT programs and each conforms to the needs of the area.• Improved service such as faster trips and better reliability• Branding and marketing, including special signs, dis- tinctive logos and colors for the buses and stationsMost of the 25 metropolitan areas across the UnitedStates with Bus Rapid Transit don’t incorporate allseven features. Cities as varied in size as Los Angeles;Hartford, Conn.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Eugene, Ore.,operate BRT programs and each conforms to the needsof the area.Some systems are doing little more than calling a busroute BRT, while others meet several qualifications, suchas running on a dedicated lane during peak traffic timesand being able to affect traffic signals.An elaborate BRT system can cost $300 million to $400million. But even small changes that might cost as littleas $1 to $2 million, such as upgrading bus shelters and Courtesy of DARTrunning a bus that stops at every other stop, can makea difference, Hinebaugh said. “Take the best route onyour system and make it more rapid,” he said.Dobbs, though, said that’s one of the problems he haswith Bus Rapid Transit. “Nobody knows what it is. It’smostly a public relations term,” he said. 29
  30. 30. In the past five to 10 years, Defining a BRT Early versions of Bus Rapid Transit date back several communities around the decades, but only in the past five to 10 years have com- United States have engaged munities around the United States engaged in earnest discussions to adopt that type of system, Hinebaugh in earnest discussions to said, and most have been implemented just in the past adopt BRT systems. three years. One model of a BRT system is the TransMilenio in Bogotá, Colombia, launched in late 2000. According to a World Bank report, by early 2004, TransMilenio was running as many as 280 buses an hour in each direction and providing up to 900,000 passenger trips on an average weekday, or about 16 percent of the public transportation trips. At the same time, by 2002, air pollution on TransMilenio corridors decreased 40 percent in the system’s first year of operation, according to TransMilenio. In the United States, Cleveland’s Euclid Corridor Transportation Project is the newest full-scale BRT. Launched in fall 2008, the BRT, called the HealthLine System, uses 63-foot, hybrid diesel-electric, articulated buses that can hold as many as 111 passengers (seated and standing) and have two interior bicycle racks. The seven-mile route, through one of Cleveland’s oldest ar- eas, uses special median bus lanes and is being adorned with $1.2 million worth of public art. Cleveland’s Euclid Corridor Transportation project. Photos by Lorie A. Beabes30 ON COMMON GROUND
  31. 31. The Emerald Express in Eugene, Ore.It’s so new [that] I think people will haveto grow into it and learn that it [BRT] isthere, it’s easy and it’s accessible.“It’s so new [that] I think people will have to grow into itand learn that it’s there, it’s easy and it’s accessible,” saidDianna Hosta-Stickney, chairwoman of the ClevelandArea Board of REALTORS®. Before the EmX, the route drew 2,700 boardings perThe corridor links downtown Cleveland to major hos- day; now, it averages 6,000 boardings a day, said Andypitals and Case Western Reserve University, all of which Vobora, director of service planning, accessibility andare big area employment centers, as well as to cultural marketing for the Lane Transit District, which runs theattractions. “I think it’s going to be remarkable,” Hosta- service.Stickney said. “Our projection was a 40 percent increase in ridershipSince the HealthLine System began running last Octo- over a 20-year period. So we’re pleased with that,” heber, ridership is up nearly 40 percent, said project officer said. So far, the service has been free, but fares will beginDanielle Willis. this summer.A Burgeoning Success The EmX’s four-mile route connects downtown EugeneIt didn’t take long for people in the Eugene and Spring- with downtown Springfield and uses the same type offield, Ore., areas to take to their Bus Rapid Transit sys- elongated buses that Cleveland’s system has adopted. Ittem. The Emerald Express, or EmX, debuted in January also has median bus lanes separated from traffic, median2007 — after 12 years of community discussion and transit stations and signal priority.planning — replacing what had been a regular bus line. SUMMER 2009 31
  32. 32. “We tried to create, probably, the most extensive BRT system around, in terms of amenities. We were trying to emulate light rail,” Vobora said. EmX stations are one-third to one-half a mile apart, which means there are fewer stops than with a regular bus. “People have to walk a little farther,” he said, which may be more difficult for older or disabled passengers, but few have voiced any concerns, Vobora added. One benefit is faster travel time. The regular bus tra- versed the route in 22 minutes while the EmX takes 16 minutes or less. Skeptics may ask if it was worth spend- ing $24 million to create the four-mile EmX stretch just to save six minutes, Vobora said. His reply: “Even that is pretty significant in terms of operational cost savings.” Fewer buses are needed to provide the same service, he We tried to create the most said. And the real impact will be felt when a 7.5-mile, $41 million extension opens in 2010. extensive BRT system around, Eugene’s EmX quickly drew recognition from around in terms of amenities. We were the United States. The BRT system received an Hon- orable Mention from the 2008 Sustainable Transport trying to emulate light rail. Awards, sponsored by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy in New York. Eugene was theCourtesy of Dallas Area Rapid Transit32 ON COMMON GROUND
  33. 33. Courtesy of Dallas Area Rapid TransitFewer buses are needed toprovide the same service.only United States city nominated for the awards, whosetop honors went to London and Paris.Boston’s Silver Line also has been popular with pas-sengers. Skirting Boston’s waterfront and extending Photo by Joe D. Pesaturoto Logan Airport, the Silver Line opened in 2005 andhas become the busiest of the 185 bus routes oper-ated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Traffic congestion is definitely an issue in the Boston(MBTA), said Joe Pesaturo, director of communica- area where the streets are former cow paths and weretions. On a typical weekday, the Silver Line has 14,200 never laid out in a grid formation like most other bigboardings compared to 800 to 13,000 a day on the cities, said Gregory Vasil, chief executive officer of theother bus routes. Greater Boston Real Estate Board.The Silver Line is just one part of a massive transit sys- “Our members were seeing … a number of people thattem in the Boston area that also includes light rail and were looking for homes very close to public transpor-subways. When planning was underway, some people tation nodes — commuter rail, subway or bus routes.thought the Silver Line should be a light rail, or trol- Traffic is a nightmare, and people would rather takeley, system but the cost would have been substantially public transportation than drive,” Vasil said.higher, Pesaturo said. Even in the car-loving Los Angeles area, more people“And trolleys still compete with traffic,” he said. “All it are starting to turn to mass transit, whether it’s BRT ortakes is one car, one accident and trolleys have to come rail, said Alan A. “Scotty” Herd, president of the Beverlyto a stop.” A bus can veer around a crash scene and keep Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association of REALTORS®.going, he added. SUMMER 2009 33