Up To Speed

More than $64.3B to be invested in North American rail transit in 2013

More than $64.3B to be invested in North American rail transit in 2013.

As the migration of people from the suburbs back to cities continues, so does the investment in urban forms of transport. A modern streetcar route is currently under construction in Cincinnati, and bus rapid transit, light rail and commuter rail is all being studied for the area. Nationally, more than $64.3 billion is being invested to expand rail transit. More from The Transport Politic (including map):

What is evident is that certain cities are investing far more than others. Among American cities, Denver, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington stand out as regions that are currently investing particularly dramatically. Toronto has the biggest investments under way in Canada. These metropolitan areas have invested billions of local dollars in interconnected transit projects that will aid in the creation of more livable, multi-modal environments. Dynamic, growing cities require continuous investment in their transit systems.

Up To Speed

Will Cincinnati be left behind in the latest passenger rail station boom?

Will Cincinnati be left behind in the latest passenger rail station boom?.

Inter-city rail is also booming as Amtrak experiences record ridership numbers, and is beginning to implement the first phases of the nation’s planned high-speed rail network. Cincinnati’s Union Terminal, however, sits waiting investment to allow additional passenger rail service. Meanwhile, throughout the rest of the nation, cities are investing to support this growth with new and improved central train stations. More from Denver Urbanism:

Los Angeles Union Station opened in 1939 and is often referred to as “last of the great railway stations in America.” And for the past 3/4 of a century that superlative has been largely correct. As rail travel declined, so did rail station design. During the latter half of the 20th Century, many cities replaced their grand historic depots with so-called “amshaks”, cheap and awful buildings that have more in common with utility sheds than anything else. But now that’s all changing, and soon Los Angeles will have to give up its title.

News Transportation

Cincinnati’s Efforts to Improve Urban Bicycle Culture Paying Huge Dividends

Cincinnati’s aggressive efforts to bolster bicycle infrastructure appear to be paying dividends. In a report released by The Atlantic Cities, it was discovered that Cincinnati has experienced a 200 percent increase in those commuting by bicycle over the past decade.

The study found that many cities across the United States, particularly those in the Northeast and Midwest, experienced rapid increases in the number of bicycle commuters.

Commuter bicycle growth from 2000 to 2009 – Source: The Atlantic Cities.

While Cincinnati saw one of the fastest growth rates in the entire nation, it also now boasts the fifth highest overall percentage of bicycle commuters in the Midwest. Only Columbus, St. Louis, Chicago and Minneapolis have a higher percentage of bicycle commuters than Cincinnati.

That news was further punctuated Cincinnati’s “Honorable Mention” at the 2011 Bicycle Friendly Community awards held in Washington D.C. At the awards, only 22 cities were recognized nationwide.

“Bicycling is a critical component of vibrant urban areas,” explained Michael Moore, Director, Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE). “Bicycle Friendly Communities provide more transportation choices for citizens, are more physically active, environmentally sustainable, and enjoy increased property values, business growth, and increased tourism.”

Temporary on-street bicycle parking for the MidPoint Music Festival – Source: Queen City Bike.

City leaders believe the wave of good news comes as a result of significant policy decisions made over the past several years that have included new on-street bicycle parking; passage of comprehensive bicycle safety legislation, legislation requiring bicycle parking in all new parking garages, and a comprehensive bike plan; the launch of a Bicycle Friendly Destinations program; the construction of a new Bike & Mobility Center at the Smale Riverfront Park; and the completion of new bike lanes, sharrows, and bike trails throughout the city.

Recent decisions to install temporary on-street bicycle parking for the MidPoint Music Festival seem to further emphasize the city’s prioritization of the two-wheeled mode of transportation.

In total Cincinnati city officials plan to have 340 miles of bike lanes and paths in place by 2025. Currently the city has only 20 miles of bike lanes and paths in place, with five of those miles being installed over the past year. Future plans call for completing the remaining segments of the Ohio River Trail and adding additional miles of sharrows, dedicated bike lanes and paths.

For comparison, an infusion of money similar to that of the Brent Spence Bridge project ($2-3 billion) would enable the construction of roughly 20,000 miles of dedicated bike lanes, and pay for their maintenance.

News Transportation

Diverse transport network positioning Minneapolis as economic leader

Minneapolis is not a coastal city, nor does it boast a favorable climate, but the city does count a growing population of young people and 21st century jobs on its score sheet. What is also unique about this German Midwestern city is that it has become the envy of other cities due to its impressive bicycling culture, expanding transit system and diverse economy.

The Twin Cities boast two unique transport items. The first is the bicycle highway connecting bicycle commuters with downtown Minneapolis and other job centers. The second is a growing light rail system that taps into regional commuter rail. The Minneapolis light rail system is still young, but this has benefitted its operations.

Hiawatha Light Rail at Franklin Avenue Station (January 2011). Photograph by Randy A. Simes.

Unlike St. Louis and Denver, Minneapolis’ light rail system has low-floor vehicles that do not have awkward steps right when you enter the train. The more modern rolling stock used in Minneapolis is also more visually attractive and at least seemed to be quieter.

Presently the light rail system extends from the famous Mall of America, through the region’s international airport eastern suburbs, and into downtown Minneapolis eventually terminating at the recently completed Target Field (home of the Minnesota Twins).

The good thing about the line is that it is there and that it has been able to improve on earlier designs incorporated elsewhere throughout the United States. The problem is that the route runs through a very suburban-designed part of the region and offers very little in terms of walkability immediately surrounding the stations. Transit-oriented development will certainly help this situation, but significant time and money will be needed to right the ship.

Much like Atlanta, Minneapolis seemed to sacrifice urban connectivity so that their early system connected major nodes like their airport, stadiums and mega mall. As a result much of the large population nodes are left off the map, and thus out of reach of this young light rail system.

Articulated bus in the Warehouse District [LEFT], and Hiawatha Light Rail running through downtown Minneapolis. Photographs taken by Randy A. Simes in January 2011.

What will help this issue immensely will be the system’s growth. Fortunately, the region’s rail transit system is about to grow and expand into St. Paul. Under construction now is the $957 million, 11-mile Central Corridor light rail project. This will tap into the existing Hiawatha light rail line at its Metrodome Station in downtown Minneapolis.

The 16-station Central Corridor light rail line will connect downtown St. Paul and the University of Minnesota with the rest of the overachieving transit system. Current projections call for the first passengers to start riding in 2014.

While Minneapolis and St. Paul are not there yet when it comes to transit, they have been investing in a system for years that is beginning to become regional and comprehensive. These moves already seem to be paying nice dividends for the Twin Cities, and have placed it among one of the few good economic performers in the Midwest. Where would Cincinnati be today had it began investing in regional rail transit in 2002 when MetroMoves put regional light rail before voters?

Business Development News Politics Transportation

New report confirms potential economic impacts of the Cincinnati Streetcar

A new report released by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development finds that transit investments like the Cincinnati Streetcar are winning economic winners. The report studied the three most recently opened light rail lines in the United States and discovered that urban portions of the lines were most successful at spurring economic activity and ridership.

Contrary to popular belief that rail transit is only successful in liberal bastions like Portland, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Philadelphia or Seattle, the report looked at three modest cities in terms of political affections: Charlotte, Denver and Minneapolis.

Rails to Real Estate: Development Patterns along Three New Transit Lines also identified Charlotte’s Blue Line as the most successful despite being the having the least number of years studied of the three and being the smallest of the three transit lines. The economic patterns were consistent though, with each transit line experiencing anywhere from six to ten million square feet of new development since they opened. The report attributes the success is to five main considerations:

  1. Proximity to downtowns and other major employment centers
  2. The location and extent of vacant or “underutilized” property that might offer opportunities for development or redevelopment
  3. Block patterns that influence “walkability”
  4. Transit connectivity
  5. Household incomes

“We need to make transit investments that unlock the potential for TOD, but we need to make them in the right places,” said the director of the Center for Transit-Oriented Development, Sam Zimbabwe.

Cincinnati’s modern streetcar system has recently been challenged by Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) in regards to its ability to generate economic investments and create jobs. This challenge goes against economic studies performed by HDR Economics and confirmed by the University of Cincinnati’s award-winning economist George Vredeveld. When applying the key findings of the Center for Transit-Oriented Development’s recent report Cincinnati’s streetcar system looks to be an even bigger winner than expected by the OKI Regional Council of Governments (OKI) and Ohio Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) which have both enthusiastically supported the project.

The Cincinnati Streetcar meets all five of the reports key considerations for economic success along transit lines. The system runs through downtown Cincinnati and connects the regions two largest employment centers, and serves areas that include vacant and underutilized properties that offer opportunities for development or redevelopment. The Cincinnati Streetcar also connects with the region’s focal point for bus transit, serves a block pattern that is extremely walkable, and includes a diverse range of household incomes.

And while the report shows Charlotte as the big winner, its findings show that the Cincinnati Streetcar could be even more successful than the Blue Line’s approximately 9.8 million square feet worth of real estate investment between 2005 and 2009. The main reason is, of course, location.

Cincinnati’s streetcar line will serve an area better equipped and positioned for transit-oriented development (TOD) when compared to Charlotte’s Blue Line which saw economic investments drop off precipitously after leaving that city’s downtown (Uptown) and adjacent residential neighborhood (South End). When compared to Charlotte, Cincinnati’s downtown and adjacent residential areas (Over-the-Rhine, Clifton Heights, Mt. Auburn, Corryville, University Heights) served by the streetcar line represent significantly greater land area prime for TOD.

Major economic investments are already occurring on and around the Cincinnati Streetcar line in anticipation of its opening in 2013. In Clifton Heights the $70 million U Square at The Loop mixed-use development derives its name from its proximity to the streetcar’s connection to Uptown. In Over-the-Rhine Rookwood Pottery, Christian Moerlein, the $400 million Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati and dozens of small businesses have expressed their hopes for the eventual opening of the modern streetcar system. And in downtown developers of The Banks and other major developments have begun using the Cincinnati Streetcar as a marketing tool.

In addition to the existing positives for Cincinnati’s streetcar system when it comes to TOD, the planned streetcar system also has local planning efforts supporting it. In 2010 Cincinnati City Council passed a measure that will reduce or eliminate parking requirements at residential developments within two blocks of a streetcar stop. The streetcar system will also be managed with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) which currently operates Metro bus service and plans to coordinate the two systems.

The report noted that while transit improvements were a factor in the real estate investments, that coordination with longer-term efforts to revitalize center cities was greatly important.

“This study marks an important step in understanding the impact of transit investments in three regions, and the implications for other communities looking to transit investments as a source of long-term economic prosperity and competitiveness,” Zimbabwe stated. “Investments in neighborhood infrastructure and amenities are critical for unlocking the potential for TOD.”

When the study examined the differences between the lines in Charlotte, Denver and Minneapolis it showed that the urban portions were most successful at attracting economic investment. Charlotte’s Blue Line (9.6 miles) saw approximately 1,021,000 square feet of development per mile, while Denver’s Southeast Corridor (19.1 miles) and Minneapolis’ Hiawatha Line (12.3 miles) saw 408,000 and 545,000 square feet of development per mile respectively.

The results from this study are clear for transit-oriented development. An urban setting with opportunities for development, close proximity to job centers and transit connectivity are critical for economic success. Suburban areas show diminishing returns in the form of economic activity and real estate investment along transit line. The Cincinnati Streetcar represents all of the key considerations and more, and is exactly why the project has received TRAC’s highest score for two consecutive years out of every transportation project in Ohio.