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Video: Bikes, Buses, Streetcars, and Automobiles

This video shows the Broadway Corridor of Seattle’s First Hill Streetcar project.

In five auto lane widths of roadway you can see room for a separated cycle track, automobile traffic, bus and streetcar traffic, dedicated turn lanes, and it looks like maybe some parking (plus ample sidewalks with trees). It really shows how you can pack a lot of transportation modality into a not too big roadway. Of course Providence is a place where we have a lot of not too big roadways.

What roads in Providence could you see done up in a similar fashion?


Via: Greater Greater Washington

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Developing: Mayor’s Economic Report

taveras

Mayor Taveras unveiling his economic development plan this morning. Photo from the Mayor’s Facebook page

Mayor Taveras is unveiling his Economic Development Reportpdf.

Pledging Action, Mayor Taveras Outlines Plan to Grow Providence’s Economy

‘Putting Providence Back to Work’ report presents roadmap to improve the business climate, infrastructure and human capital in Rhode Island’s Capital City

PROVIDENCE, RI – Mayor Angel Taveras today announced a 20-step economic development action plan to put Providence residents back to work and jumpstart the economy of Rhode Island’s Capital City.

The Mayor said that Providence’s economy must be built on the success of a broad range of industries and sectors, and pledged swift action to improve Providence’s business climate, infrastructure and human capital.

“When we work together, we can compete head to head with any city or state in this country,” said Mayor Taveras. “Nothing will change minds about Providence as much as continuing our track record of success.”
The Mayor outlined five immediate steps his administration will pursue to support and grow Providence’s economy:

  1. Freeze the commercial tax rate – The Taveras administration will work with the Providence City Council to enact a seven-year commercial real estate tax freeze that guarantees consistency and stability for developers in Rhode Island and beyond.


    “Freezing our commercial property tax rate will send a message that Providence is serious about attracting new business. We look forward to the day when economic growth in our City enables us to actually lower Providence’s commercial rate,” Mayor Taveras said.
  2. Fix the City’s Permitting Process – Contained in the FY14 budget that Mayor Taveras will present to the City Council next month are two positions to staff a new unit in the Department of Inspections and Standards focused solely on reviewing and approving small-permit applications of under $100,000. These small projects account for 75 percent of all permit applications in the City.


    Additionally, this summer the City will move its permit application process online. For the first time, developers will only need to log onto the City’s website to apply for a permit and get status updates on their applications.
  3. Remove Barriers to Redevelopment – The City will conduct an inventory of all major properties in need of redevelopment. For properties that are not defined as historic landmarks, the City will put on a fast-track for approval all projects to replace existing structures with new construction.

    “We recognize that the City has an important role to play in facilitating new development. It is time to get cranes in the air and put people to work rebuilding our city,” Mayor Taveras said.
  4. Develop Surface Lots Citywide – To stimulate real estate development and ease the crunch on parking downtown, the Taveras administration will work with the City Council to provide tax stabilizations to developers who commit to new development on existing surface lots. New construction on an existing lot will be taxed based on the property’s current assessed value. This program will create jobs, incentivize new, mixed-use developments, and spur new investment on Providence’s major commercial corridors.
  5. Reinvent Kennedy Plaza – The City will work with the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy, RIPTA and other public and private partners to reconfigure and reduce the number of buses in the Plaza and transform it into a pedestrian destination.

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News & Notes

Traffic

Photo (cc) Joe Shlabotnik

The Transport Politic: As the U.S. Presidential Election Begins in Earnest, a Study in Contrasts

What is obvious is that Mr. Ryan has a dramatically different view of the role of government than President Obama; indeed, his perspective on that which Washington should be concerned is a deep expression of the conservative movement’s success in pushing the GOP to the right.

In matters of transportation, this attitude would steadily decrease the role of the federal government in sponsoring infrastructure projects, especially those that cannot be sponsored entirely through user fees. It would discourage the consideration of negative externalities, such as pollution and congestion, in deciding what subsidies should be provided for alternative transportation — because its political ideology opposes government subsidies altogether. It would dismantle enforcement of federal environmental regulations, especially those that recognise climate change, and encourage the privatization of public services such as transit systems or parking meters. These are the very tangible implications of a Romney-Ryan presidency.


The Wall Street Journal: Streetcar Plans Plow Ahead

Proponents say the streetcars would boost economic growth and catch the fancy of younger generations.

“Kansas City’s downtown has bled jobs, people and buildings for decades,” said David Johnson, a 38-year-old engineer and co-founder of Streetcar Neighbors, a residents group that advocates for streetcars in that city. “We’re trying to reinvigorate the downtown.”

But others see a waste of tax dollars on projects that, they say, offer little more than a way to move downtown workers from their offices to lunch.


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News & Notes

TriMet: MAX and Bus on Portland Mall

MAX train and bus in Portland, OR. Photo (cc) TriMet.

The Atlantic Cities: Can Light Rail Carry a City’s Transit System?

We often think of light rail as a single component of a larger transit system, but if it’s done right it can just as soon serve as the foundation. Since 1981 a dozen American cities have built light rail lines atop bus-only systems. In five of them — Dallas, Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, and San Diego — light rail now accounts for at least 30 percent of all transit ridership in the metropolitan area, even as it covers less than that much service space in the region.

Thompson and Brown settled on three key factors in the success of these systems. First, a great light rail system anchors a transit network that’s dispersed throughout a metro area. Second, it acts as an express regional alternative to the local bus network. And third, it promotes transfers between the bus and rail systems. The researchers believe these traits can serve as guides for future light rail planners “by setting forth attributes that these services need to possess in order to attract substantial ridership.”


Boston.com: Car-free commuting push pays off in Kendall Square

Doug Taylor used to get to work the way most Americans do, driving alone. Then he switched jobs to one of the many Kendall Square companies that offer financial incentives for employees to leave their cars at home. After trying the commuter rail, the 48-year-old Medford resident soon discovered he could pocket even more by biking.

Taylor is part of a set of statistics so surprising it looks like a mistake. ­Despite the rapid expansion in and around Kendall Square in the last ­decade — the neighborhood absorbed a 40 percent increase in commercial and institutional space, adding 4.6 million square feet of development — automobile traffic actually dropped on major streets, with vehicle counts falling as much as 14 percent.

Not for nothing but, modern day Kendall Square is a model City and State leaders are looking toward in regards to the (so-called) Knowledge District. Though leaders have not been looking enough at the transportation aspects of the area.


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News & Notes

If you’re on Twitter or Facebook and live in Providence, then you’ve seen this story posted a thousand times already today, if you’re not, then here you go:

The New York Times: 36 Hours in Providence, R.I.

Providence’s grit and obscurity make it easy to underestimate. On the verge of bankruptcy, with a former mayor who served four years in federal prison for racketeering conspiracy, the capital of the country’s smallest state has something of an image problem. But like Portland, Ore., or Austin, Tex., it’s also a town many times more creative and cosmopolitan than its modest population and municipal troubles suggest. Home to an Ivy League college, one of the best design schools in the country and a major culinary institute, Providence, unsurprisingly, has exceptional food, compelling art and architecture, a thriving gay scene and an inordinate number of very smart people. Yet the city remains unpretentious and affordable, a place where even the best restaurants rarely demand reservations.


Boston Society of Architects: Why punish Rhode Island?

…the [Boston-Providence] corridor has remained overshadowed, particularly after a few recent academic and professional Boston–Washington (Bos-Wash) rail concepts that shift the primary rail corridor between Boston and Washington westward, away from Providence and southern Rhode Island. The shift would reward regions and states, such as Connecticut, that have pursued a suburban auto-centric approach well into the 21st century. In turn, the process punishes Rhode Island after 15 years of rail-oriented advancement and three major breakthroughs…

See also: Fast Lane: High speed rail: right here, right now


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News & Notes

Transportation for America: Newly approved transportation bill is a clear step backwards

Unfortunately, this final bill moves closer to the House’s disastrous HR7, which was too contentious and unpopular to garner enough votes to pass. This final negotiated bill has been called a “compromise,” but it’s really a substantial capitulation in the face of threats by the House to include provisions with no relevance to the transportation bill — the Keystone XL pipeline, regulation of coal ash and others.

As a result of this “compromise,” the bill dedicates zero dollars to repairing our roads and bridges, cuts the amount of money that cities and local governments would have received, makes a drastic cut in the money available to prevent the deaths of people walking or biking, and ensures that you have less input and control over major projects that affect you and the quality of your community.

Despite record demand for public transportation service, this deal cut the emergency provisions to preserve existing transit service, does little to expand that service and actually removed the small provision equalizing the tax benefit for transit and parking.

See also: Bike Portland: Why advocates are distraught over new transportation bill


Next American City: France Commits to Tramways, A Possible Model for the Future of Urban Rail

The appeal of tramways is easy to understand. The electric vehicles are silent, modern-looking and entirely flat-floor. Their tracks can be nestled in a lawn, creating a grass median through which trains run; if done right, they can be used as a tool to restore the beauty of an urban boulevard, rather than deface it, as do some light rail lines traveling on grade-separated track. In some cities, like Nice, Bordeaux and Orléans, vehicles have been designed with batteries that allow them to travel some distance (such as across a historic square) without the need for overhead messenger wire. In virtually every case, tramways in France have been specifically located on major bus corridors in order to replace overcrowded routes with higher capacity services.


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News & Notes

The Transport Politic: Time to Fight – With a House like this, what advances can American transportation policy make?

Actions by members of the U.S. House over the past week suggest that Republican opposition to the funding of alternative transportation has developed into an all-out ideological battle. Though their efforts are unlikely to advance much past the doors of their chamber, the policy recklessness they have displayed speaks truly poorly of the future of the nation’s mobility systems.


The New York Times: How About Gardening or Golfing at the Mall?

Malls, over the last 50 years, have gone from the community center in some cities to a relic of the way people once wanted to shop. While malls have faced problems in the past, the Internet is now pulling even more sales away from them. And as retailers crawl out of the worst recession since the advent of malls, many are realizing they are overbuilt and are closing locations at a fast clip


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News & Notes

Streetcar Shuffle

Seattle Streetcar, photo (cc) kcl_in_pdx

Pedestrian Observations: Improving the MBTA

The MBTA has a problem. And I say this coming from New York, whose standards for good regional transit aren’t all that high, but now Metro-North looks like something to look up to from the MBTA. Ridership on the system is rising, but not very quickly; the MBTA moreover has no plans to modernize. Most of what I’m going to suggest will involve commuter rail, not because it’s the most important portion of Boston’s public transportation but because it’s the part I’m most familiar with and also the part that seems most direly in need of improvements. Put another way, I’m necessarily going to talk about the MBTA as perceived from Providence, rather than from within Boston.


Fast Lane: American streetcar projects creating jobs today, livable communities and economic development tomorrow

Federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on streetcars:

Today, streetcars in New Orleans and Tucson are under construction. Dallas, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City are currently designing their own streetcars. Tampa extended its popular TECO Line Streetcar System, which has already created billions of dollars in economic development. And Cincinnati will break ground very soon on the Queen’s City’s unique streetcar project.

It’s simple: this streetcar revival means greater mobility and more American jobs. DOT will continue to improve public transit services by supporting these critical projects that create jobs today and livable communities and economic redevelopment tomorrow.


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News & Notes

Boxpark

Photo from Boxpark’s Facebook Page.

News & Notes Shipping Containers & Shopping – London’s ‘Retail Revolution’ Finally Opens [This Big City]

London’s first pop-up shopping mall has finally opened, after originally being slated for a Summer launch. Located in east London, at the intersection of Bethnal Green Road and Shoreditch High Street, ‘Boxpark‘ is made entirely from reused shipping containers and has been called a ‘retail revolution’ by its owners. I paid a visit last week to see if it lives up to this ambitious statement.

Route 195 land?


The wisdom of crowds – The strange but extremely valuable science of how pedestrians behave [The Economist]

Messrs Helbing and Moussaid are at the cutting edge of a youngish field: understanding and modelling how pedestrians behave. Its purpose is not mere curiosity. Understanding pedestrian flows makes crowd events safer: knowing about the propensity of different nationalities to step in different directions could, for instance, matter to organisers of an event such as a football World Cup, where fans from various countries mingle. The odds of collisions go up if they do not share a reflex to move to one side. In a packed crowd, that could slow down lots of people.


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News & Notes

Amsterdam

Photo (cc) Fang Guo

News & Notes Amsterdam proves bikes and streetcars are allies [Greater Greater Washington]

Cyclists and streetcar tracks don’t always get along, but the two should not be enemies. On the contrary, cities with large streetcar networks also tend to be the most bicycle friendly.

This is because streetcars contribute strongly to the development of more dense, urban, less car-dependent cities – the same characteristics that produce the most friendly urban bicycling environment.


It’s time to forget the big-box store Downtown . . . and think small [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

More boutiques, more women’s clothing and accessories, more home furnishings and entertainment, longer store hours, common courtesy and parking, parking, parking.

If the working group formed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is serious about improving the retail environment Downtown, those areas might be good places to start.


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Streetcars: The train station is out, but that’s OK

Providence Core Connector

Providence Streetcar proposed between College Hill and Prairie Avenue

The latest Core Connector (Streetcar) study document can be found here. [.pdf]

The main question that has been at issue with the Core Connector alignment is how to serve both the train station and College Hill at the northern end while maintain frequent service between those points and the Hospital District at the southern. If northbound trains split with every other one going to the train station or the Hill, then that would degrade the service frequency to each location.

Several options were explored, one would have had a shuttle running between the train station and Kennedy Plaza where passengers would be able to connect to the main line streetcars heading to College Hill and the Hospitals. That would be a major investments to carry passengers the 4 blocks between the two and would not address the fact that passengers are forced to make another connection along their trip.

Another option was to send the streetcars to the train station but not College Hill. College Hill would be served by other conventional bus services and passengers would make a connection at Kennedy Plaza to the streetcar. The issue here is that the expected passenger load to and from the train station will be confined to rush hours.

There are trains serving the station throughout the day, but mainly it will be commuters. College Hill will have commuters but will also have Brown and RISD students, staff, and faculty traveling downtown and the Jewelry and Hospital Districts. Economic development in the Jewelry District will likely for the near future be tied to academia, especially Brown. A direct connection to College Hill will serve more people more often.

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News & Notes

A Stupid Attack On Smart Growth [Planetizen]

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has a well-financed campaign to discourage communities from considering smart growth as a possible way to conserve energy and reduce pollution emissions. They contend that compact development has little effect on travel activity and so provides minimal benefits. The NAHB states that, “The existing body of research demonstrates no clear link between residential land use and GHG emissions.” But their research actually found the opposite: it indicates that smart growth policies can have significant impacts on travel activity and emissions.


Most Aging Baby Boomers Will Face Poor Mobility Options [Transportation for America]

By 2015, more than 15.5 million Americans 65 and older will live in communities where public transportation service is poor or non-existent, a new study shows. That number is expected to continue to grow rapidly as the baby boom generation “ages in place” in suburbs and exurbs with few mobility options for those who do not drive.

The report, Aging in Place, Stuck without Options, ranks metro areas by the percentage of seniors with poor access to public transportation, now and in the coming years, and presents other data on aging and transportation.


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REBOOT: Providence Train Station

Schematic for a redesigned Providence Train Station area.

Click image to enlarge

REBOOT is an occasional series of posts on GC:PVD where we identify areas of the city that display poor urbanism and propose ways to improve them. Our interventions may be simple and quite easily realized, or they may at times be grand and possibly take years or decades to complete. Either way, we hope they generate interest and discussion.

Oh Providence Station… why are you such a dump?

Of course the short answer to that is that we have not taken care of it. But this post is not about the sad condition of the station, it is about the fact that the station was a mistake to begin with.

Of course we used to have the stunning Union Station which is now the home of the Rhode Island Foundation and other offices. The river and railroad relocation projects resulted in the tracks leaving Union Station behind and a new station being built.

When Providence Station was opened in 1986 we were deep in the heart of the automobile age. Gas supplies were cheap and seemingly inexhaustible, Amtrak was kind of a quaint hobby that we north-easterners insisted on keeping in service, and the MBTA did not reach Providence. This resulted in a station that is too small for our post-$4/gallon gasoline world. A station that is inconveniently located away from the city’s major employment centers (and with the removal of Route 195, the city’s employment centers are poised to move further from the train station).

Were it maintained properly, the station is certainly handsome. The clock tower nicely pierces the skyline, the low slung dome is handsome and adds a modern bent to the collection of domes we have in our fair city, the interior is attractive. However, the interior is not spacious enough for the passengers we have utilizing existing MBTA and Amtrak services, and the station will become more crowded as MBTA services expand southward and if a Blackstone Valley commuter service is ever instituted. And as the price of gas continues its generally upward trend, more and more people will turn to the trains.

Let’s not waste time blaming the planners from the 80’s for their shortsightedness on the station’s design, let’s instead consider what we can do to modify it for a world that is very different from 1986.

Bret wrote a post a couple years ago in which he cited me as referring to the station as a hundred-year mistake. He went on to highlight some of the short comings of Capital Center area as a neighborhood, and suggest some solutions. We were to write a Part II to that post and never got around to it, this is that Part II I suppose.

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News & Notes

Little. Yellow. Dangerous. “Children at Play” signs imperil our kids. [Slate]

There are several reasons engineers don’t like the signs. The first, and most simple, is that if you are driving in an area where children are actually playing, you will, it is hoped, notice them before you notice a sign warning you of them. Or, more to the point, that you will have noticed that you are driving in an area (say, a residential street) where there are likely to be children about. “I find it amazing that people think that a 30-in X 30-in square sign (that is only a little less than 6.25 square feet of sheeting material when you make the corners rounded) will make a difference in driver behavior,” one engineer complained on an Internet forum. “If the driver does not notice the characteristics of a neighborhood as they drive down the street, why would they notice a sign as they pass it, or remember it for more than a few seconds once they have passed it.”

The physical make-up of the street, more than anything, influences how motorists drive. A street built for slow traffic will result in slow traffic.


In Defense of the Corner Market [Next American City]

The argument about food deserts seems to be premised on the assumption that supermarkets – suburban-style, big-box, corporate chain stores with plenty o’ parking – are inherently superior to walkable, family owned food markets that serve low-income populations. The media portrays these corner markets as liquor stores or “discount” stores carrying little fresh produce and lots of Hostess cupcakes.

While there is certainly a class of convenience store that lacks healthy food options, many analyses have completely ignored the presence of small, family-owned food markets and their important role in feeding urban populations.


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News & Notes

Porous street unveiled in South Philly [Philly.com]

Tired of trying to navigate your car through flooded roadways when it rains or trying to walk across street puddles that resemble miniature lakes?

Imagine a city where you didn’t have to wear knee-high water boots when it rained, or worry about backed-up sewer systems creating havoc on your block – because your street suddenly became a sponge.


Get back to work! [New Urban Network]

A report, Transit-Oriented Development and Employment, makes the case that transit-oriented development (TOD) discourse has paid too little attention to major employment centers — instead concentrating on higher-density residential over retail.

Research shows that both transit ridership and quantity of real estate development around transit stations are closely related to the number of jobs within a half-mile radius of transit, the authors find. So, if new transit systems are built to serve as many riders as possible and promote TOD, connecting existing large employment centers is a very good strategy, the report concludes.

Connecting two major employment centers (Brown and the Hospitals) while promoting transit oriented development in the Jewelry District, is exactly what our Core Connector aims to do.

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Providence Core Connector Study Survey

The Providence Core Connector Study is seeking input from those who live, work, visit, or go to school in downtown Providence, College Hill, and Upper South Providence. A brief survey is available through May 13th.

If you have a moment, please take a few minutes to complete this survey about your travel patterns and current and potential transit usage. The results of the survey will help the study team make key decisions regarding the potential operations plan for enhanced transit service in the downtown area.

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