Monday, May 5, 2014

This Transit Battle Caught My Eye

Google sued over buses

It has been a few years since I have exclusively worn a transportation planners hat. Then again, most local planners delve into this area time and again.

The goal of every transportation planner, especially those working with transit options, is to provide the lowest cost transit option possible. Face it, it is nearly impossible to drag people out of their private automobiles. The idea of a free ride as a job perk just might.

So, in the land of the worst air pollution, and some of the worst traffic congestion, a group of private employers have gathered together to offer employees fair free transit. And entities that should be applauding this are taking to the ramparts.

MASCO, serving the Longwood Medical Area, is a prime example of employer paid for public transportation that works. MASCO shuttle buses serve MBTA transit stations, bus stops and their own park and ride facilities. Creating a fully integrated set of transit options - fare free to employees - for the medical facilities in the Longwood area of Boston.

If anything, there is one strange aspect of California law that needs to be changed. Not allowing private buses to use "bus stops" seems quite strange. The more buses that meet at a particular location, the more opportunity for passengers to decide to catch a transfer. So, even though the passenger of the private bus, on the free leg of his trip, may not be a fare paying customer of the regular transit system, it does not mean that some portion of these riders may not be enticed to make connections on fare supported systems. Moving them away from these stops eliminates all such possibilities.

I cut my planning teeth promoting a transit option that offered NH Seacoast residents a free ride, it's good to see this returning.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Housing Affordability, a bad sign for compact development

Here we go again:

1 in 3 homes is unaffordable and a bubble is forming


As the economic recovery staggers along, the return of the housing bubble can only bring in a gray cloud.  People cannot afford to live in the metro areas and, once again are looking for housing further from the walkable neighborhoods. Long term "savings" on a more affordable home, outpaces short term costs such as travel costs and hours spend commuting.

Not sure how we change the thinking, somehow we need to get commuters to understand that $300 a month spent on fuel, off-sets that extra $300 a month on a mortgage in a more dense, transit and walking, setting.

As fuel prices continue to climb, that next bubble burst may not be that far away.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Something to watch

There have been many communities creating inclusionary housing programs based upon the models that have come out of California. After decades of use, the rules might be changing. This Palo Alto case really needs to be watched closely by affordable housing groups.

Inclusionary Housing Must Be Litigated As Exaction, Cal Supremes Rule

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Flood Protection and Takings, This Ought to be Interesting

Just sitting here in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and thinking back on a court case I recently read about. Back in June the New Jersey Supreme Court decided it would review a lower court case that determined that dunes blocking the view of the water from a first floor dining room constituted a taking valued at $350,000. The Borough of Harvey Cedars, New Jersey, exercised eminent domain to secure easements to construct dunes to protect the Borough from floods.  The Borough determined that the taking was valued at only $300 the court felt the impact on view was worth far more.  The mayor opined during the court proceedings, "what's more important the view or the house?"

Hurricane Sandy, and the devastation it caused in New Jersey got me to wondering how this community fared.  If the articles I have read are accurate,  the Borough of Harvey Cedars and its dunes did not fare well.  "In places where the island is only a few blocks wide, such as Harvey Cedars, the ocean met the bay over the borough's streets. Dunes were obliterated, and sand blanketed parts of Long Beach Boulevard, the 18-mile-long island's main drag."

A portion of Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island, N.J., was underwater Tuesday, 
a day after Hurricane Sandy blew across the New Jersey barrier islands.

I cannot help but wonder, whether the house that was impacted by the dune was constructed to meet flood zone standards, with the first floor constructed to be above base flood elevation.  One would think that, if it was constructed to flood standards, the view would only have been minimally impacted.

In the wake of the destruction, it will be interesting to see what happens with this court case.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Power of a Positive Public Image: Or What Not to Blog

In the competitive world of attracting new and growing businesses to a community a positive public image is quite important.  Here on Cape Cod there are those who get it, and those who don't.  The advent of so many ways of communicating to the world creates many challenges.  Before blogging, Facebook, Twitter and all the others we all had to rely upon our local print and broadcast media to determine whether a message was important, and from what angle they were going to cover the story.  Now we all have the tools at our disposal to communicate directly with our audience, and, communicate the message we desire.

From an economic development point of view communicating the good things about your community is essential.  On the Cape, it might be the great natural resources we have, our beaches, or the welcoming atmosphere a town may bring to attracting new jobs to the community.

Of course this gift at our disposal also becomes a double edged sword.  All these tools also allow for anonymity, and therefor, the ability to get negative without normal societal mores coming into play.  These situations make our jobs as planners all the more challenging as comments get posted about a community that paint an image of that community that will make potential investors shy away.  After all, who wants to go to a community where key citizens, whether in elected positions or simply a part of the town, are being anonymously criticized.

The simple probability that anonymous naysayers exist out there, makes it even more important for local planners and economic development specialists to put forward the good things about there community.  A relatively high unemployment rate, becomes a readily available labor force.  School spending issues bring out improvements in SAT scores and other recognition the schools have received.  General government spending issues perhaps reflect high quality beaches, recreation facilities and other infrastructure investments.  However, it is not engaging the anonymous bloggers head on.  Its all about identifying your message and sticking to it.

At work I have been blogging for nearly four years now.  Discussing town issues such as standardized test scores, changes in housing values, and unemployment of course.  But, we are also talking about what we are doing zoning changes, land acquisitions and public improvements that enhance the town image.  The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Both from within the town, and from outside the town.

Yes, we have had our interesting debates, but by staying on message we have managed to promote the positive image everyone ultimately desires.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Roll Up The Sidewalks

It was a beautiful day here on Cape Cod. Nice enough for many people to take an after work stroll through the village where we live. Yours truly included. Stopped at a local Mom and Pop coffee shop only to find they close up, this time of year, before the year-round residents get home.

This got me thinking, if the Cape truly wants a year-round economy, we need to remember we need to serve  our year-round residents. I preach this daily where I work, and the businesses are responding. We need it here where I live as well, or everyone will be forced to visit the chain fast food businesses who are more than happy to take our money and ship it to their off-Cape headquarters.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Only 15 Years Late

Wow, way back, almost half a career ago I was part of the Greater Boston Clean Cities Program.  We convinced the Boston MPO to put aside funds that created the first EV Pilot Program in the state.  About 17 years ago EV charging stations were placed in Alewife and Braintree Stations in hopes of seeing these installed all over the Boston region.

I am glad to see the first private facilities being installed. I just want to know, what took so long?

Lenox Hotel installs EV Charging

Monday, August 22, 2011

Carless on Cape Cod: Expanding The Walking Area

After walking for a few days I have noticed that in 20 minutes I can cover more distance, bringing my "market" area to about a mile from home.  This brings our village center into consideration.  Unfortunately, as with many villages on Cape Cod, the mix of uses lend themselves to the tourism market and not the day to day needs of area residents.

Yes you can find fine coffees and teas, sandwiches, pizzas and snack foods.  But the people who live and work here must leave the area for their basic needs.  Not to mention those who live in the surrounding neighborhoods. Overall, the village fails as a live-work-shop location.

Expanding beyond the 20 minute walk, to 30 minutes, brings a chain convenience store into play. Better prices, but still a very limited selection. The walk score of 20 sure seems generous, on a sustainability rating I think is far lower.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Carless on Cape Cod - Trash Day

So Sunday is supposed to be trash day.  We actually live within walking distance of the tansfer station by way of an old paper street.  The right of way currently has a trail that is used by hikers and mountain bikers. So you would think that we could dispose of our trash without a car.

No such luck.

Our town requires you to be a "resident" of town to dispose of your trash.  You would think that residency could be easy to show, after all there are so many ways to show residency.  Not so fast.  Those "non-resident taxpayers" don't deserve to throw their trash away at resident rates, thus the tax bill is not a valid measure for access to the transfer station. Voter roll, also unacceptable.  The Town has chosen to use where you register your vehile, and every pass is tied to your vehicle.

No vehicle, no access to dispose of your trash.  Car sharing programs (Zip Car) and rental cars do not cut it. you get to buy a pass based upon paying your vehicle excise tax

So trash day does not pass the carless test.

Carless on Cape Cod: The Farm Stand

Walkscore.com gives our neighborhood an index of 20, this means we are considered "car dependent." Check out your score here: walkscore.com

The convenience store I previously talked about is about 3/4's of a mile from our house.  Walkscore shows the farm stand as a "grocery" as well.  After being disappointed by the selection at the convenience store, we chose to walk to the farm stand.

From spring to fall this stand provides fresh vegetables, eggs and other homemade items such as pies, salad dressings and preserves.  Since we did not find anything we wanted at the other store, we hoped for more luck at the Farm Stand. Today we were looking for potatoes, carrots, salad items and dressing. Found everything but the carrots, substituted zucchini as the days vegetable of choice.

Overall, at least during the growing season, we could survive on what we can buy at the Farm Stand. Walkscore also notes that the Farm Stand is only a third of a mile from the house.  It could be a doable walk, even in the rain.