Currently viewing the tag: "Transit Oriented Development"

TransitMiami can’t help but give a great neighborhood bar, The DRB, some unsolicited praise for its ingenious selection of an otherwise neglected downtown office building for its new location.

By choosing to site its new bar in the part of downtown dominated by boring institutional land-uses, The DRB chose to bring some vibrancy and character to an otherwise lifeless part of downtown. The very phrase itself — “lifeless part of downtown” — is an unfortunate contradiction, an oxymoron of a poorly planned urban milieu.

The building in question — situated on NE 5th Street and 1st Ave. — is surrounded almost exclusively by  institutional land-uses (occupied by, e.g., federal courthouses, a community college, a church, etc.) and lots of shamefully vacant and/or completely undeveloped, prime-for-mixed-use-development downtown parcels.

When New Urbanists and other community design-oriented folks refer to the evils of homogeneous land-use configurations, the image most typically invoked is that of miles upon miles of single-family residential land-use. Indeed, monolithic residential land-use embodies the notion of ‘urban sprawl’.

Elected officials, planners, and developers must also recognize, though, that large areas of homogeneous institutional land-use in the downtown core is at least as toxic (if not more so) for our city as sprawling single-family cookie-cutter houses along the periphery.

We need more transit-oriented development (TOD) in Miami’s de facto government-institution district. That area already has a great combination of Metrorail, Metromover, and Metrobus access. We must augment this healthy transportation configuration with a healthier land-use configuration.

And we must certainly continue to push our elected officials to expand the public transit network. However, we must also push them to better incentivize more commercial in-fill near the highly viable sections of public transit we already have, especially in downtown. It’s the hustle and bustle of downtown that build’s a city’s personality.

Kudos to you, Democratic Republic of Beer, for selecting a site so wonderfully accessible by transit, foot, and bicycle. Now all those bureaucrats and college students have a nice neighborhood spot in which to enjoy one of your exotic specialty brews from one of the corners of the globe.

(This author recommends the Sri Lankan Lion Stout.)

Hey everyone…sorry for the long hiatus, I’ve been in El Paso for the past couple of weeks participating in an exciting planning project for the city. The city of El Paso hired a team of planners led by the local Miami firm of Dover Kohl & Partners to develop plans for Transit Oriented Developments around three new BRT corridors the city is implementing (and to update their Comprehensive Plan). Yours truly was invited as a transit/planning/bike consultant and I am excited about the work going on here.

Proposed Sun Metro BRT Routes

El Paso is a cool city (22st largest in the country) with a lot going for it. Great architecture abounds, and the mountains are really stunning. Like most American cities, they have had a torrid love affair with highway building, but their newfound commitment to transit is an encouraging sign of things to come.

Historic Union Station Watercolor by Kenneth Garcia

Historically, El Paseños were blessed with one of the most extensive network of streetcars in the USA (which also extended into Juarez, Mexico), and was also one of the first to draft a Comprehensive Plan (compiled way back in 1925 by pioneering landscape architect George Kesseler).

Historic streetcar map

It is nice to see other cities investing in transit. Too bad our own County Commissioners can’t get their act together to provide adequate transit to the residents of Dade County. As the rest of the country advances toward multi-modal transportation, our own transit plans continue to stagnate with no end in sight.

If you want to check out more of the work being done in El Paso, go to www.planelpaso.org. (I’ll Be back in Miami soon!)

Some bad economic news was reported yesterday. According to the New York Times article new home sales dropped by 33% in May:

The new housing market has never been this bad, at least not since the government started tracking such things in 1963.”

New homes declined by a record amount in May to a new low.”

In a separate report, New Urban News reviewed William Lucy’s new book, Foreclosing the Dream: How America’s Housing Crisis Is Reshaping Our Cities and Suburbs. Mr. Lucy is a professor of urban and environmental planning at the University of Virginia.

According to New Urban News, Lucy’s analysis of data he collected suggests:

• “As the percentage of households with children declines, and that of singles, empty-nesters, and elderly increases, housing demand will increase in cities and inner suburbs, and demand in outer suburbs and exurbs will level off or decline nationally.”

• “Suburban decline will accelerate in middle-aged housing, but that won’t be uniform; demand for housing in some inner suburbs will rise.”

• “Demand will increase for transit serving more areas more frequently.”

• “Demand for more mixed use and walkable neighborhoods will increase, and prices in these areas will escalate as supply lags behind demand.”

He (Lucy) rejects the idea that rapid, continuing, outward development is inevitable because of the nation’s growing population and a scarcity of room for development in cities. If we choose to make it happen, he says, “a tremendously high proportion of our future growth as a nation could easily occur within already developed areas: in, or on the edges of, big-city downtowns; on busy corners of city streets away from downtown; and in new urban villages close to high-speed transit stations in suburbs.”

How each region responds to the challenges of transit and development will vary, producing contrasting results. Greater Atlanta and greater Washington, DC, illustrate the two extremes, in Lucy’s view. “Washington, DC, and some suburban cities and counties planned for transit-oriented development, and use of transit rose to the second-highest level in the United States,” he notes. “Atlanta’s transit use lagged, which may be one reason why Atlanta has the most declining suburbs in the country.”

The gap between city and suburban growth has narrowed dramatically. From Foreclosing the American Dream: How America’s Housing Crisis is Reshaping Our Cities and Suburbs

I don’t think the decline in new-home sales is a total anomaly. New home builders, particularly those that build single family homes in new suburban and exurban communities are going to have a difficult time going forward. Real estate developers that focus on infill and mixed use development as well as TOD should perform better. We are reaching the tipping point; people are leaving the suburbs and returning to the cities.

I just finished reading the 2010 Emerging Trends in Real Estate.  Now in its 31st year, this report is jointly produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Urban Land Institute (ULI). This is the first time I have read this report, but I am very impressed. According to the PricewaterhouseCoopers webpage this report:

is the oldest, most highly regarded annual industry outlook for the real estate and land use industry and includes interviews and survey responses from more than 900 leading real estate experts, including investors, developers, property company representatives, lenders, brokers and consultants.”

The report is downright bearish on real estate development for 2010.The report goes on the say that real estate developers are “largely dead” and that “builders can leave on long sabbaticals”. They don’t foresee construction picking up until 2012, but when it does, most construction will be focused on urban infill development.

This is great news for those of us that believe that our cities are our future. Below are some of my favorite excerpts from this report:

Next generation projects will orient to infill, urbanizing suburbs, and transit-oriented development. Smaller housing units-close to mass transit, work and 24 hour amenities-gain favor over large houses on big lots at the suburban edge.  People will continue to see greater convenience and want to reduce energy expenses, shorter commutes and smaller heating bills make up for high infill real estate costs.” (Page 12)

Infill vs. Suburbs. Road congestion, higher energy costs, and climate change concerns combine to alter people’s thinking about where they decide to live and work.  ‘It’s a fundamental shift.’ The lifestyle cost-of-living equation starts to swing away more dramatically from bigger houses on bigger lots at the suburban edge to great convenience and efficiencies gained from infill housing closer to work. These homes maybe more expensive on a price-per-pound basis, but reduced driving costs and lower heating/cooling bills provide offsets. And time saved avoiding traffic hassles moderates stress and enhances productivity. ‘Two-hour commutes reach a tipping point with higher energy costs’ and ‘near-in suburbs will do well especially if they link to business cores by mass transportation.” (Page 32)

Investors tend to favor the following:

  • Global gateway markets on East and West coasts- featuring international airports, ports and major commercial centers.
  • Cities and urbanizing infill suburbs with 24-hour attributes-upscale, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, convenient office, retail, entertainment, and recreation districts; mass transit alternatives to driving; good schools (public and/private); and relatively safe streets.
  • Brainpower centers-places that offer dynamic combination of colleges and universities, high paying industries-high tech, biotech, finance, and health cars (medical centers drug companies)- and government offices.” (Page 27)

Denver metro area wins points for building out its light-rail network, encouraging transit –oriented mixed-use projects around stations.” (Page 35)

So what does this mean for Miami’s future?

  • We should hold the Urban Development Boundary, this report confirms that 2 hour commutes are out of vogue.
  • Miami 21 should be implemented immediately and not delayed any further.
  • A large scale light rail system, including Baylink, is long overdue
  • If Miami wants to become a competitive city we need to diversify our economy as much as possible in order to become a brainpower center. A service economy based predominantly on tourism will not attract educated people seeking high paying jobs.

Great Green Places: Columbia Heights from National Building Museum on Vimeo.

I recently had the chance to spend a whole day riding Tri-Rail (Fully Work Related) and finally got a good glimpse at the quantity of commuters who depend on this rather primitive commuter rail system daily.  Last week, Tri-Rail averted a major financial crisis that would have slashed daily service from 50 to 20 trains and completely eliminated weekend service, thanks to only a 10% budget reduction by Palm Beach and Broward Counties.  Another year of near optimal operation should allow the former fastest growing transit agency in the nation (2006) to continue to attract riders, in a time when public transit infrastructure is of paramount importance.

Ridership is up already 45% over June 2007. May saw a 25% increase, April 28% and March 22%.  More than 157 companies signed up for the authority’s employer discount program in May — about 881 riders.

While travelining along the line, I noticed a few key areas where tri-rail could drastically improve its bottom line and service:

TOD: Currently Inexistent.  This is my major focus in Regional Planning studies.  Often times, I find that our problems are not necessarily the fault of poor transit policy but rather what we choose to do with the land around our transit centers.  In Miami, this usually equates to fences, poor access, and inappropriate uses.

Parking: Currently free and very limited.  Potential revenue source?  There are several reasons why free parking poses many problems, even at transit stations.

Tri-Rail Golden Glades, Miami

Employee Parking: Seriously?  This parking is largely unused and unnecessary.

Tri-Rail has received a year reprieve in which it must continue to attract a larger share of riders while working to better integrate itself with the South Florida Landscape.  Most of the land use issues are largely out of the control of the agency but must still be addressed regionaly if we ever hope to make a sliver of change in our very autocentric lifestyles.

This video provides us with a glimpse of Miami’s first Transit Oriented Development, conceived in the 80s at the Kendall Station of the southern terminus of the metrorail system. This video kicks off a series of articles which will be aimed at discussing TOD…

Today’s post is inspired by an article I read on The Overhead Wire, republished below. The successes and failures of our transit systems can be determined by the attempts we make to integrate them with the urban spaces which surround them. I typically make the distinction that our failures with metrorail has nothing to do with the transit system itself but rather with what we have done in the immediate vicinity of its 22 stations. VTA’s LRT in San Jose, is a perfect example of the type of transit we should be pressing for within the county, instead of Heavy Rail like metrorail. The at-grade train is versatile enough to move passengers quickly and efficiently but small enough to integrate into urban spaces such as the city’s downtown pedestrian mall:San Jose, LRT, Transit Mall

Imagine an LRT similar to this one connecting every major city on our eastern coast through the FEC railroad…

Here is the article from The Overhead wire, illustrating how we should orient our urban structures to transit:

What happens when we orient buildings to transit? It saves space. It creates more value from the land. It creates more opportunities for walking. Here is an exercise I did with that employment sprawl photo from the post below.

1. The Sprawl Way – What San Jose Looks Like

San Jose LRT

2. Sprawl Rearranged – What the same amount of development would look Like if the development were organized around the station. I outlined the buildings and rearranged them in a more compact way.

San Jose LRT

3. Sprawl Rearranged x2 – Doubling the amount of buildings, using the same footprint for each original building.

San Jose LRT

Miami-Dade Commission Charmain Bruno Barreiro woke up this morning and decided that he wanted to see a permanent development boundary somewhere west of the UDB (and east of Naples). Matthew Pinzur writes about Barreiro’s big idea in the Herald. He wants to rethink the boundary so that there is a buffer between the Everglades and the UDB. What?? He wants to hire a consultant to decide where that line should be. Pinzur points out though that “Barreiro’s idea of hiring experts has been tried and ended up stymied by politics. Most recently, the county spent six years and $3 million on the South Miami-Dade Watershed Study, an attempt to protect water supplies that evolved into a complex 40-year plan for growth management.” You go Pinzur!

I took a stab at studying the Watershed Study expecting bad planning policy and a series of platitudes about parks and birds and butterfly’s being important. I was surprised to find an intelligent, well thought out document. The report describes that Dade County’s “two major policy choices for the future can be characterized as either a Sprawl Scenario or a Smart Growth Scenario. The long-term consequences of a sprawl scenario are enormous. This is the path that the County is on today. The Smart Growth choice will require the County to take some bold, but achievable, policy steps. The benefits of choosing a Smart Growth policy are substantiated by the Study and supported by the literature.” Sounds good, right? It gets better. The study makes policy recommendations based on the current stock of housing, along with projected population growth:

Specific Watershed Policy Guidelines:

2007 through 2025: Allocation of 100 percent of the required 102,000 dwelling units inside the existing Urban Development Boundary (UDB) through 2025;

2026 through 2050: Allocation of a minimum of 60 percent (61,000) of the required 102,000 dwelling units inside the existing UDB between 2026 and 2050″


How much more clear does this issue have to be? If you have a chance read through the document. It has a lot of great graphics and data that support land use changes within the boundary that increase density along transit corridors (new and existing). We need another UDB like we need another 8 years of George Bush. Lets try implementing the policy recommendations that have already been made. The more these commissioners talk the more irrelevant they become.

In other UDB related news, the West Kendall Community Council delayed a meeting last week to discuss a project called ‘Parkland 2014′, a Lennar development that encompasses over nine hundred acres outside the UDB. “According to the completed plans filed with the county earlier this year, the developer is proposing 1,257 single-family homes, 2,436 townhomes, 3,248 condos, and about 200,000 square feet of retail space off Southwest 152nd Street and Southwest 162nd Avenue.” Oh Jeez.

Photo by Flickr user jimfrazier
We already pointed out the resurgence of freight rail in this post in February, but now the rail boom is in the news again. This time a Harvard professor, John R. Stilgoe, is predicting the revival of rail for both freight and passengers. He points to indicators such as Warren Buffet buying stock in a freight railroad company, high gas prices driving people away from cars, and success of commuter rail systems.

We can point to our own indicators of a boom. The Florida House of Representatives’ budget includes $700,000 for a feasibility study for a freight rail corridor from South Bay to West Miami, which the Miami Herald referred to as the “Sugar Train“; the House also gave their support for a commuter rail system in Orlando. This is at a time when the state is cutting the budget everywhere else. The number of Transit-Oriented Developments (TODs) being proposed around Tri-Rail stations seems to be increasing weekly. Sheridan Stationside Village, Deerfield Beach, Boca Raton, and Delray Beach TODs are all pushing forward at a time when the housing market is dismal and even general development is being pulled down with it. Fort Lauderdale is funding their new streetcar system despite the property tax amendment cutting their revenues.

Overall, rail is looking up while the economy looks down. The argument that you cannot get Americans out of their cars is no longer valid. Now is the time to get people out of their cars and onto the rails. Wake up or miss the train.

You heard me right — Tri-Rail’s Deerfield Beach Station is poised to have transit-oriented development by 2010.

According to real estate website globest.com, Atlanta-based developer York Residential has received final approval to begin construction on the the Deerfield TOD. The project is expected to cost $180 million, with construction beginning in early 2009. Let’s hope that our market conditions don’t squash this development.

The mixed-use TOD will be adjacent to Deerfield Beach Station along Hillsborough Boulevard. Some specs according to the article:

  • It will include three residential buildings with 467 market-rate apartments and 82 workforce-housing units, 36,000 sf of office space, 14,500 sf of ground-level retail space, a 140-room hotel and two parking garages with 1,146 spaces.
  • The residential units are expected to come on line in 2010 while the completion date for the remainder of the project has not been determined.
  • Target rents for the residential units also have yet to be set. According to Yonce, rents for a one-bedroom unit in the area range from $1,100 to $1,150 per month.
There are also 3,500 employees that work within a quarter mile of the development site, which means there could be a considerable walk-to-work element to this TOD. Let’s just hope that the design is up to far so that walking in and around the development will be a pleasant experience.

Note: Photograph is not a rendering of Deerfield Beach’s proposed TOD.
Photo: mhginc.com

In a post I published last week on the transit options available to the Kendall residents, our message may have been presented unclearly and biased towards the CSX rail option. I’d like to clarify this position and reiterate the true stance of Transit Miami on this hotly contested issue.

The CSX corridor was never meant to serve as a replacement to the Kendall Metrorail, LRT, or BRT, but rather operate in conjunction with the east-west option. The belief stems from our knowledge of the low upstart cost of the CSX rail, along with the increased benefit citizens in the Southern part of the Kendall region would experience, an area currently overlooked by all presented alternatives.

Now, we don’t fully support plans to bring transit to the Kendall Dr. corridor unless some drastic measures are taken to ensure that the area adjacent to the corridor is reestablished and rebuilt in a more accessible manner. Revitalizing the strip shopping centers, vast swaths of parking lots, Malls, and dwellings along the corridor will all be keys to its’ success and should not be overlooked in the planning stages. We would not want the transit system to be considered, approved, or funded unless preemptive measures are taken to ensure that Kendall Dr. itself will be transformed into a true urban area that is more hospitable to transit oriented needs.

Similar measures should be set into place for the CSX corridor at key intersections and stations, creating accessible nodes or urban life. The CSX corridor should be limited to a southern terminus at Metrozoo to prevent “justification” of UDB expansion. UDB line movement will be critical to the success or failure of all transit oriented redevelopment in the Kendall region.

We support the use of the CSX corridor to serve as a complimentary system with a rapid transit system along Kendall drive as long as effective measures are put into place which would transform the suburban landscapes into transit oriented communities.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez has concluded his nationwide search for a venerable replacement for Roosevelt Bradley by selecting none other than interim director Harpal Kapoor. Harpal Kapoor, who first began working for MDT in 1985, was appointed by Bradly in 2006 as the deputy director of operations.

Although I wished that Alvarez had tapped an outside source to lead the agency, I sincerely hope that Kapoor can begin steer (pun intended) the agency in the right direction. MDT is in dire need of some proper guidance to end the squandering of PTP money which has occurred for the past five years. I have composed a short list of issues we would like to see MDT take up over the next few beginning months of Kapoor’s Tenure (not including the obvious expansion of transit options):
  • Expansion and Improvement of TOD- Transit Oriented Development is critical in such an auto-centric city such as Miami. By placing a greater developmental emphasis on our existing transit line and actively expanding the amenities within easy walking distance of existing stations, our area transit will become more accessible to a greater portion of our population. It is imperative that MDT works together with surrounding developments to ensure safe, easy pedestrian access as well as higher density multi-use projects.
  • System wide Farecards- MDT has to modernize our transit system- Quick. Token machines are outdated and the cash system is primitive. Users must be able to quickly and easily purchase flexible farecards at convenient locations using credit cards. Farecards should be integrated with the surrounding tri-county area transit systems and should facilitate the use of transit for locals, not just visitors.
  • GPS Integration- MDT is currently working to install a system along metrorail which would provide users with upcoming train statuses and times. We need to move this technology along to every station platform, major bus transfer station, and most heavily used bus stops. Nearly every London Municipal stand alerts passengers of the wait time for the next bus, why can’t we? Plus, the new system would allow users to track transit using mobile or hand held devices.
  • Car/Bicycle Sharing Program- This should certainly be higher on the list. We can’t expect citizens to fully abandon car use, that’s unreasonable and absurd. Therefore a reliable and reasonable car sharing program such as Flexcar should be sought to partner with MDT to provide service to the greater Miami area. Flexcar could park cars at every Metrorail station or major transfer facility providing more flexibility for Miami residents. The car program would allow residents who can solely rely on public transit for daily needs to do so, but will provide them with flexibility of regular car use (without the burden of ownership, of course.) A bike rental/sharing program could similarly be instituted along every station, allowing resident and tourist rental of bicycles from electronic stands. The idea here being that MDT needs to expand from a system of buses and trains, it should encompass all forms of local transit. Bike rental facilities could one day be found along the river walk, Museum Park, or Midtown, giving residents greater choices of mobility…
  • Better Transit Facilities/Amenities- Take a ride along the NYC, Boston, or any other major cities subway system and each station will feature a newsstand, coffee shop, or lunch stand. MDT’s stations are barren and hostile by comparison. NYC is currently working on a citywide plan to update and standardize all newsstands and public toilets. MDT needs to work to bring such amenities to our local users. Some cities even feature buses and trains which display news, weather, and transit updates to users on televisions…
Kapoor has suddenly adopted the enormous responsibility of managing the 14th largest transit system in the country. We hope that the enthusiasm and energy he has displayed thus far to Burgess continues and continues to propel our blighted transit agency in new directions. Transit Miami looks forward to working with Mr. Kapoor to provide him with an outside point of view and to continue to spread the voice of transit in Miami-Dade County…

Last week, the Miami City Commission voted 4-1 to send the proposed mixed-use Coconut Grove Metrorail Station project back to have its standards reevaluated.

According to the Herald’s article, the project’s developer Carlos Rua has admitted his frustration with Grove NIMBYs, whom he has been trying to negotiate with for more than a year over building standards and specifications.

Now I know I have lambasted this project in the past for the incredible oversupply of parking being proposed, but as time goes by and this project continues to linger, I find myself disheartened by the lack of progress. I’m tired of looking at the large vacant parcel adjacent to the station as it sits fenced off waiting for the project’s groundbreaking. It’s really sad when you are forced to choose between bad urban design and vacant land, especially on such an important block.

I find it interesting, though, that of all the Grove NIMBY complaints, I haven’t heard any objections over the elephantine parking allotments that will surely contribute disproportionately to increased traffic congestion in the area.

I got some of the latest shots of the proposed retail center slated to rise on 5th street and Alton Rd. on Miami beach, just across from the up and coming Vitri Lofts. The retail center will feature some of the principles I am always advocating for the buildings rising in the design district and other parts of Miami. If just some of these concepts were required on all of the buildings in Miami, I guarantee we would have a far better pedestrian friendly atmosphere and a much easier time implementing public transit infrastructure and use. For example, a bus station will be integrated into the project, bringing the beach’s many transit users right into the front doors of the complex:Covered sidewalks and tree landscaping are an integral part of creating and maintaining vibrant pedestrian activity, particularly in Miami due to the heat and frequent summer showers. 5th and Alton will feature cover porticoes, palms, and public artwork, similar to that of many of the buildings on Miami Beach:Some of you think we’re against vehicles, which simply isn’t true. We’re against planning for vehicles as the priority of any project. Buildings should be designed to primarily interact with people rather than cars. 5th and Alton will likely feature enough parking for most of its visitors, but the parking garage won’t be the focal point of the structure and neither will its’ unsightly entrance. The entrance is relegated to a back street, Lenox Ave, where the traffic impact will be minimal and the pedestrian and transit entrances will remain uninhibited:
Update: Fifth and Alton is being developed by the Berkowitz group in conjunction with the Potamkin Family. The project is slated to be 170,000 square feet and will contain a Staples, Best Buy, and Publix among others. The City of Miami Beach will be purchasing parking spaces from the retail center for public use at a cost of $9.5 Million. The Berkowitz group created the Dadeland Station mall in Kendall as well as the Kendall Village Shopping complex in west Kendall, which both also featured large Romero Britto sculptures…

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