Atlanta’s initial modern streetcar line went into service yesterday. It marks the first time for streetcar operations in Georgia’s capital city since service was phased out in 1949.
The $90 million project, which relied upon $47 million from TIGER II funding, has a similar system design as Cincinnati’s system, but utilizes different rolling stock. In Atlanta, transit officials opted to award a $17.2 million contract for four vehicles to Siemens. Like Cincinnati, however, the vehicles are capable of expanded capacity more akin to light rail trains in use around North America.
The reason for such planning is that this streetcar segment is seen as the first part of a much larger network that folds into the comprehensive Atlanta BeltLine project. As part of that, planners anticipate building a 63-mile network of modern streetcars throughout the heart of the 448,000-person city.
City leaders, civic boosters and transit officials gathered in downtown Atlanta yesterday to celebrate the occasion. Paige Malott, an UrbanCincy contributor, was there to capture the scene and reported capacity crowds on the initial trains in operation.
“First ride inside the Atlanta Streetcar, and it is standing room only,” Malott wrote. “It is at capacity with 150 riders; super smooth ride!”
The 2.7-mile route is notably smaller than Cincinnati’s initial $148 million segment, which is 3.6 miles and features 17 stations, and is planned to average 15-minute headways.
Starting at Centennial Olympic Park and ending in the King Historic District, the initial features 12 stations and is envisioned to connect people to a slew of attractions spread throughout the center city, while also spurring redevelopment on the southeast edge of the central business district.
Like Cincinnati, the City of Atlanta is the owner of the project while MARTA oversees its operations. The Atlanta Downtown Improvement District is also a part-owner.
Real estate in America has largely followed predictable funding patterns over time. This, however, appears to be shifting. In one recent example in Washington D.C., a pair of young developers are looking to empower a community with the opportunity to invest in developing a property in their own neighborhood. Some believe that this kind of deal could change the way real estate deals are brokered in the future. More from CityLab:
Real estate developments are typically financed by wealthy investors who live in the suburbs, or by Wall Street funds even farther away. In a neighborhood like Washington’s H Street Northeast corridor, this means that local projects often can’t find backing, or that far-flung investors put up safe, formulaic products in their place: say, “the glass shiny office/condo building that’s horrible,” Dan Miller says, grimacing.
This model – with its broken connection between a neighborhood’s desires and its investors’ bottom line – seemed to the brothers illogical. Why couldn’t people in the community invest in real estate right next door? Why couldn’t the Millers raise money to purchase a property on H Street from the very people who live there? The neighborhood is a quirky mix of barbershops and hip beer gardens. It’s not the kind of place that investors from wealthy Chevy Chase, Maryland, quite get.
Washington D.C. has, perhaps, the nation’s most prosperous and booming urban economy. It is a city that has also become defined by its highly educated, young workforce.
Over the past decade or so, the nation’s capital has also been transforming its transport network in a way to make it more multi-modal and improve mobility.
One of the most striking things upon arriving in Washington D.C. is the sheer number of bike lanes. And not just bike lanes, but protected bike lanes. As many cities have begun noticing in recent years, striped bike lanes next to moving traffic are not enough, and that protected bike lanes that separate cyclists from moving traffic with bollards or on-street parking are far superior.
As a result, you see many of the newer bike lanes in Washington D.C. receiving this treatment, and many of the older lanes being transitioned over, as possible, to protected facilities. To this end, it should come as no surprise that the city has one of the nation’s highest percentages of people commuting by bike.
In addition to that, Washington D.C. launched North America’s first bikeshare system in 2008 when SmartBike DC opened with 120 bikes at 10 stations. After some initial struggles, a new system called Capital Bikeshare was launched in September 2010 and currently boasts more than 2,500 bikes at more than 300 stations.
This new system extends beyond the District of Columbia into three additional nearby jurisdictions and stands as one of three biggest bikeshare systems in the United States along with New York City’s CitiBike and Chicago’s Divvy.
I used Capital Bikeshare to make an approximate two-mile trip from near the U Street Metro Station to Washington Union Station. The journey was a breeze and preferable, to me at least, to using a taxi or the city’s well-functioning transit system.
Upon arriving at Union Station I met a friend to check out one of Washington D.C.’s other marque transportation projects at this time. The H Street/Benning Road modern streetcar line terminates here and extends approximately 2.4 miles to the east, and is part of a larger 37-mile streetcar network that will include five lines in total.
The $137 million starter line is in the final stages of construction, with train vehicles and their drivers currently being tested and trained along its route. Project officials expect it to open to riders in early 2015.
Walking the route was not all that pleasant thanks to the hot temperatures and only brief areas of shade along the busy street, which serves a bevy of transit operations including Megabus, Greyhound and Bolt intercity buses, articulated city buses and now the streetcar. Fortunately a mid-afternoon stop at a local Mexican eatery, with plenty of guacamole to go around, made the overheated outing more tolerable.
While H Street is a largely a hit-or-miss commercial corridor, its immediately surrounding residential streets are expectedly charming and offer a good foundation from which to build. Some development has already begun to spring up along the line, including a slew of residential projects and a 41,000-square-foot grocery store. There are also signs of renewed interest in many existing buildings that have new restaurants and shops opening up within them.
Of course not everything that is happening in Washington D.C. is related to infrastructure or transportation enhancements. There is, overall, just an extraordinary amount of new construction taking place and a far-reaching sense of vitality. One cannot help but think that there is at least some connection between these policy decisions and investments, and vibrancy on the ground.
EDITORIAL NOTE: All 39 photos were taken by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy between Wednesday, September 3 and Friday, September 5.
We subsidize parking for automobiles in almost all situations in our society, but it is especially true when it comes to public parking. This can be seen quite clearly throughout the city where public parking garages, lots and on-street spaces are regularly priced below market rates.
A recent proposal by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) to charge $300 annually for a residential parking permit in Over-the-Rhine was met with immediate criticism. Perhaps the criticism was fair given that such a rate would be the highest in the country by a long shot. And yes, that includes far higher than what’s charged in San Francisco, Washington D.C. and New York.
UrbanCincy, however, believes this says more about the sad state of subsidizing parking than anything else. In fact, we believe that the $300 annual parking permit is reasonable.
To better understand how this proposed permit fee stacks up, let’s consider that it averages out to approximately $25 per month. According to the most recent State of Downtown report, the average monthly parking rate in the Central Business District, Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton is $89. This average accounts for approximately 36,400 monthly parking spaces available in 2013.
While this average monthly parking rate is skewed by much higher rates in the Central Business District, many lots and garages reserved for residential parking in Over-the-Rhine charge between $40 and $110 per month. This means that Mayor Cranley’s proposal would put the city’s on-street parking spaces nearly in-line with their private counterparts.
This is a smart move. We should stop subsidizing parking as much as possible. Therefore, such a proposal should not only be examined in greater depth for Over-the-Rhine, but all of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods.
According to parking management policy expert and UCLA professor Donald Shoup, charging market rate prices is particularly important for a variety of reasons. One of the primary reasons, however, is the fact that the higher prices will cause higher turnover and thus positively influence a number of other factors such as reduced congestion from cars circling the block and reduced pollution from those cars’ exhaust.
UrbanCincy recommends identifying what the market rate for parking is throughout the city and establish districts where on-street residential parking permits can be purchased. The proceeds from those permits could then be reinvested back into those neighborhoods for improvements of selected by those neighborhoods.
In Over-the-Rhine it has been suggested that the money could go toward offsetting the operating costs of the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar, but in other neighborhoods it could support public art, cleanup activities, public art or whatever it is that neighborhood desires.
This may not have been what the mayor had in mind when first proposing the residential parking permits for Over-the-Rhine, but if it was then Mayor Cranley deserves serious kudos.
During the housing boom years between 2000 and 2007, many cities saw an influx of new housing and new wealth into their core neighborhoods. It was a trend that was consistent throughout America as wealthier individuals looked to move back into the cities that had been abandoned in prior decades.
This trend was more pronounced in some cities – Atlanta, Washington D.C., Denver, and Seattle – than others. But for the most part, the majority of the cities were gaining wealth relative to their regional average. Following the burst of the housing bubble, however, virtually every city saw this rate of improvement slow down.
According to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the majority of 59 cities studied now fall between either a one percentile decline or one percentile increase between 2007 and 2010. This is in contrast to the housing boom period which saw cities like Atlanta and Washington D.C. move up 8.7 and 5 percentiles respectively.
“During the housing boom, a number of large cities in the United States experienced redevelopment in their lower-income neighborhoods as higher-income residents moved in, a process known as gentrification,” wrote researcher Daniel Hartley. “Since lending standards have tightened with the onset of the housing bust and the financial crisis, we wondered whether gentrification has continued after the recession in places where it was happening before.”
The results of their research found that only a select handful of regions reasonably continued to see relative wealth growth in their principal cities. The findings also detected one region that bucked the trend and actually increased its gains over the housing boom period.
“Another interesting case is Cincinnati, which barely changed in income ranking from 2000 to 2007 but has increased at a pace similar to Denver or Washington during the 2007 to 2010 period,” the research team noted.
While the gains in wealth may seem like a positive thing for the city, not everyone is so thrilled about the changes taking place in Cincinnati.
“It seems to me what this information really indicates is how, when people experiencing poverty are systematically removed from a certain area, and housing stock is renovated with the goal of selling to wealthier people, property values increase,” says Jason Haap, an area teacher and prominent advocate for the city’s homeless population. “The fact that Cincinnati has seen gentrified growth during a time of slow economic growth in minority communities further exacerbates the situation.”
One of the tools in order to prevent the displacement Haap mentions from happening is including ‘set asides’ in new developments for affordable housing. The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) has done this a bit in Over-the-Rhine at projects like Mercer Commons and Bremen Lofts, but there is no official city policy or requirement to do so.
What also factors into the relative changes studied by the Federal Reserve Bank is the widespread poverty and low income levels of those living within city limits. Thus, even nominal improvements would show up as a potentially significant increase.
We do know, however, that some housing prices, particularly in the city center where demand is highest, are starting to get out of hand. Most new apartment developments in the Central Business District now feature rents of $2,000 or more per month, and in one recent case, a three bedroom flat on Sixth Street rented for a whopping $4,600 per month.
In such cases it is leaving many now wondering if these prices are not only driving out existing residents but, paradoxically, also preventing many new potential residents from moving in.
“Demand in Cincinnati’s core is insatiable, and supply is only coming online at a trickle,” explained Derek Bauman, an urban development consultant and chairman of Cincinnatians for Progress. “Without urban housing supply, we may miss the coming wave of new residents. At nearly $2 per square-foot rents and $250-$300 a square-foot sales, we may not have Manhattan prices yet, but we’re damn near Brooklyn.”