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News & Notes

Bixi

Montreal’s bike share system, Bixi. Photo (cc) arcsi

→ CBC: Bixi to continue despite financial problems

A member of Montreal’s city executive committee says he cannot guarantee the municipal administration will put more money into Bixi if it requires financial assistance.

The bike-sharing program has struggled to make ends meet since it first hit Montreal streets in 2008.

Jean-François Lisée, the provincial minister responsible for Montreal, said Bixi was a valuable service and deserved to be helped out. He said the Quebec government is working on a $5-million bridge loan for the program.

See also: → The Atlantic Cities: In Paris, Thefts and Vandalism Could Force Bike-Share to Shrink


→ The Walking Bostonian: Car-free housing in Boston is natural

I feel strange explaining the concept of a market to someone as old as Tom Keane. The idea that residents could rent or purchase a parking space in a nearby garage should not be that difficult to grasp, and it’s not much different from the many other transactions which take place between residents and local businesses. For example, most apartment buildings are not constructed with grocery store requirements. However, most people seem to understand that when a resident wants a bottle of milk, they can walk down to a nearby store and buy one. We do not need to build “minimum grocery store requirements” into the zoning code because those products are handled perfectly well by normally operating markets. And parking spaces are no different. They are just one type of land use, among many, that can be purchased or leased on the real estate market.

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News & Notes

Walking in the ditch

Photo (cc) Transportation for America

→ Greater Greater Washington: When we lost the War on Pedestrians

Every new bike lane, speed camera, or change in parking requirements becomes an attack in what organizations like AAA decry as a “War on Cars.” But in the 1920s, there was a different war over our streets. And pedestrians lost.


→ Cincinnati Business Courier: City tosses out residential parking requirements

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory (D) has approved an amendment to the city’s zoning code that eliminates parking requirements for many residential developments and substantially reduces them for others.

Under the new regulations, any residential development with 20 or fewer housing units would not have to provide any parking, while those with more than 20 units would have to provide 0.75 spaces per housing unit above 20. That means a development with 32 housing units would need to provide nine parking spaces.

“The goal of the ordinance is to encourage development in the urban core by permitting developers to determine their own parking needs for downtown developments,” explained Simpson, who is vice chair of council’s Livable Communities Committee. “I firmly believe that the market will work to meet parking demands better than government minimum parking requirements.”

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→ ProJo: Revived historic tax credits drawing good news for 32 of 41 applicants

Thirty-two of 41 applicants for a revived state historic tax credit program are assured of getting the tax breaks they are seeking if they obtain the permits and approvals needed to participate in the program.

My understanding is that 7 or more of the projects are in Downtown Providence. According to PBN:

The identity of the applicants will be revealed once they have signed a tax credit contract with the Division of Taxation. Once the tax credit is received, the recipient’s name and other information will be posted publicly by the agency as well.

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News & Notes

Detroit - Renaissance Center

Detroit from Canada. Photo (cc) Patricia Drury

→ Spacing: Converting Alleyways to Livable Laneways and Country Lanes

Asphalt paving was removed and replaced with “structural grass,” rigid plastic honeycomb cells sprinkled with ordinary lawn seed and nurtured into green swaths. Concrete strips were embedded on two sides, creating a durable driving surface. Permeable brick pavers were installed in driveways and at the lane way entrances; these allow rain water to infiltrate between their joints and into the ground, reducing run-off, the bane of municipal storm sewer systems.


→ Newshour: Will Other U.S. Cities Follow in Detroit’s Footsteps?

Well, I think cities have realized they’re not going to grow their economies by bribing companies to come in[1].

Just as Bruce said, they’re going to build on their own strategic assets, and as specialized as they are — and Bruce knows this — they also to be diverse. Diverse economies grow. But in the United States, the cities and regions that are having trouble are the manufacturing regions that have not revitalized and developed their knowledge assets and diversified.

And Sun Belt regions that are dependent on real estate and construction, our economy is being reshaped around knowledge centers, big and small. Ann Arbor right outside of Detroit is doing fabulously well, and energy centers — and those are becoming the powerhouses of the U.S. regional economy. But there are very real winners and losers in this economy. And for those falling behind, they have to take steps to specialize, to focus on their niche, but also to diversify their economy.

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→ WPRI: The Providence economy may need some more apartments

Providence has low residential vacancy, and high unemployment. People want to live here, but developers have a very difficult time building financially feasible projects.

If people want to live in Providence, that’s a good sign for the Rhode Island economy. More residents means more customers, which means more businesses, which means more jobs, which means even more residents – a virtuous circle that drives economic growth. But they’re not going to come here without a place to live.

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→ PBN: Downtown vision tied to ‘Superman’?

Central to the argument for saving Providence’s Superman Building with public investment is a vision of the downtown economy driven by residents as much as office workers.

It’s a vision that’s emerged over the last two decades of downtown revitalization and would take a major leap forward if Rhode Island’s tallest building was filled with 280 apartments in the heart of the Financial District.

The new residents and their neighbors in other buildings would draw different services, such as a supermarket or expanded mass transit, than offices would.

The two recent studies of potential uses for the Superman Building at 111 Westminster St. outline the demographic and market shifts that have local developers rushing away from office construction toward rental housing.

Full disclosure, I work for Cornish Associates.
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News & Notes

→ Streetsblog: The Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America, and Why It Barely Registers

In 2010, 4,280 pedestrians were killed in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and another 70,000 were injured. That’s one death every two hours.

It’s impossible to quantify the human toll of traffic fatalities, but as David Nelson at Project for Public Spaces points out, AAA estimates that traffic crashes cost America $300 billion annually in the form of medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other factors. That works out to three times the annual cost of congestion reported by the Texas Transportation Institute. But while we’re spending billions “fighting congestion” with expensive new roads, getting a handle on pedestrian deaths and injuries is almost a non-issue at your average state DOT.


→ The New York Times: Where ‘Share the Road’ Is Taken Literally

“Woonerf” is what the Dutch call a special kind of street or group of streets that functions as shared public space — for pedestrians, cyclists, children and, in some cases, for slow-moving, cautiously driven cars as well.

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Aaron M. Renn: For Commuter Rail, Better Service to Boston, Not Southward Expansion

mbta-providence-place

MBTA Commuter Rail passing under Providence Place. Photo (cc) Sean_Marshall.

Rhode Island recently spent a large sum of money to extend MBTA commuter rail service south to TF Green Airport and Wickford Junction. Both of them feature large parking garages (although the TF Green Interlink facility is for more than rail transit) that are not typical of suburban train stations and were very expensive.

These stations are only served by select trains on weekdays only, and feature long journey times to Boston – 1:35 from TF Green and 1:50 from Wickford Junction. Though these stations can be useful for commuting to downtown Providence – I’ve used the TF Green service for that myself – Providence is not nearly the employment market Boston is. What’s more, the Wickford Junction station is in a particularly inauspicious location.

Unsurprisingly, ridership is low. TF Green had about 200 passengers per day as of last summer, and Wickford Junction about 150.

With a mind-numbing total price tag of $100 million for this project (the estimated cost of just the transit portions) – almost $300,000 per rider – it’s unlikely that this will ever be viewed as a successful project.

As with the philosophy of the Boston area commuter rail generally, this service expansion was based on expanding the coverage area, but not the quality of service. In effect, it is an equity investment to make access to transit more equally available geographically (though economically more troubled areas like Pawtucket remain without service, so it doesn’t provide more economic equity).

While geographic equity is a legitimate government goal, public transit requires certain characteristics such as origin and destination demand, density of residences and employment, and walkable destinations in order to work well. It’s possible to add service to areas, but that does not mean it will be cost effective or well patronized.

Additionally, the South County expansions don’t move the needle for Rhode Island. One of the biggest challenges facing the area is of course the economy. In the Greater New England there are basically two main sources of wealth generation: New York and Boston. To the extent that you are in New England and are tied to one of those markets, you are generally succeeding. To the extent that you are cut off from them, you are struggling. The Providence area struggles because it is not as able to tap into the Boston economy given the just far enough distance between them by both car and transit.

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Where Would Jesus Park?

WPRI: Store’s opening squashed by judge

Federal Hill and West Side friends and neighbors rallied on Sunday morning in support of Cluck!, an urban farm supply store that is trying to open at the site of a former gas station on Broadway.

The business was approved by Zoning to open but was challenged in court on a technicality and lost, forcing owner Drake Patten to begin the Zoning process from scratch. Read Drake’s commentary on what has happened.

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