Friday, December 16, 2011

The New Manhattan Core Parking Study is Released

Here is a link to the New Manhattan Core Parking Study. Here is the description from the website:
In 1982, in the context of the Clean Air Act and national and local concerns about deteriorating air quality, the City of New York adopted pioneering rules to manage the supply of off-street parking in Manhattan’s Central Business District.  The 1982 Manhattan Core parking zoning amendments sought, in the words of the City Planning Commission’s report, “to institute land use controls over off-street parking which are consistent with environmental policies and sensitive to the concerns of business and development interests in the City.”  While the 1982 amendments recognized the continuing need for limited amounts of parking for vehicles associated with services, business, culture, and entertainment as well as residents, the strictest limits were reserved for public parking.  It was anticipated that these limits, together with the redevelopment of sites with parking lots and garages, would, over time, reduce the overall number of public parking spaces and that with fewer parking spaces available, fewer motor vehicles would enter Manhattan’s most traffic-congested areas.  These regulations continue to be in effect today in Community Districts 1 through 8, comprising Manhattan below 96th Street on the East Side and 110th Street on the West Side.  This area is referred to as the “Manhattan Core” in the New York City Zoning Resolution and includes some of the City’s most populous neighborhoods, major institutions, parks and transit hubs, and the City’s primary Central Business District (CBD), defined as Manhattan below 60th Street.

The most significant change in the 1982 parking regulations was a shift from minimum parkingrequirements for new residential development to maximum parking allowances for parking spaces that are limited to residents of the development, known as accessory spaces.  Before 1982, off-street parking was mandatory in residential development in the Manhattan Core; since 1982, accessory parking is optional and subject to strict limits on the amount of parking that can be provided – no more than 20 percent of the number of residential units in Community Districts 1 through 6 and no more than 35 percent of units in Community Districts 7 and 8.  Accessory parking for other uses is also subject to maximums, and the total number of spaces provided in a development is capped at no more than 225 spaces for any mix of uses.  Under the 1982 regulations, only new developments and enlargements may incorporate parking, whereas prior to 1982 the creation of new parking in existing buildings was allowed as-of-right.  In addition, the 1982 regulations require special permits for accessory parking exceeding the maximums as well as for new parking in existing buildings and for all public parking facilities.  New surface public parking lots are prohibited in prime commuter areas such as Lower Manhattan and Midtown except by special permit.

Manhattan Core Community Districts
Looking back after almost 30 years, these regulations have proven to be compatible with a growing, successful Manhattan Core.  They allow limited amounts off-street parking to be provided with new development and allow some developments to provide additional parking by special permit.  In doing so, the Manhattan Core regulations strike a balance between discouraging auto commuting in a highly traffic-congested part of the city where transit access and walkability are excellent while recognizing that the need for off-street parking remains even when auto commuting is restrained.  

However, certain deficiencies in the existing regulations have become apparent over the years since 1982, as has the need for additional data to better understand how off-street parking is utilized within the Manhattan Core.  In 2008, with the assistance of a Federal grant, the Department of City Planning launched a study to collect data about off-street parking in the Manhattan Core and to use that information in assessing the zoning regulations.  Much of this research was conducted through a survey of users of over 100 public parking facilities.  The Manhattan Core Public Parking Study contains the results of that survey and detailed analysis of Census and other data as well as policy goals for a possible update of the regulations. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The 2012 Alternate Side Parking Suspension Calendar is a Model of Urban Diversity and Religious Tolerance

Behold the days in 2012 that New York City will suspend alternate side parking rules. This is what diversity looks like in the form of suspended parking regulations, because all New Yorkers, regardless of what language they speak or faith they follow, really hate moving their cars for street cleaning. Also available in Chinese (not sure of the dialect), Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Russian and Spanish.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

If Your Forecasts are Always Wrong, Should You Stop Making Forecasts?

Engineers and planners are regularly tasked with predicting the future. Prediction exercises are useful for thinking about what facilities and investment we need in the future. Prediction exercises are also invariably wrong. Errors occur because trends change, preferences evolve, external forces intervene and/or models are flawed. In transportation and land use planning, these errors lead to permanent changes in our cities, often for the worse, yet no one is held accountable for these errors. Prediction error is not limited to transportation, however. Here is a link to an engineer who laments the limits of his work. (h/t David Levinson)  And here is an op-ed in New Scientist arguing that economic prediction models have much to learn from meteorology. This sounds promising as the weatherman is never wrong.

But here is something we can learn from weather forecasters. Two prominent hurricane forecasters have quit making long range forecasts because the forecasts are always wrong. They will only do near term forecasts. From the Ottawa Citizen:

OTTAWA — Two top U.S. hurricane forecasters, famous across Deep South hurricane country, are quitting the practice of making a seasonal forecast in December because it doesn’t work.
William Gray and Phil Klotzbach say a look back shows their past 20 years of forecasts had no predictive value.
The two scientists from Colorado State University will still discuss different probabilities of hurricane seasons in December. But the shift signals how far humans are, even with supercomputers, from truly knowing what our weather will do in the long run.
Colorado State has been known for decades for forecasts of how many named storms and hurricanes can be expected each official hurricane season (which runs from June to November.)
Last week, the pair made this announcement:
“We are discontinuing our early December quantitative hurricane forecast for the next year … Our early December Atlantic basin seasonal hurricane forecasts of the last 20 years have not shown real-time forecast skill even though the hindcast studies on which they were based had considerable skill.”
The two will still make the traditional forecasts closer to hurricane season.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said they were stopping all forecasts.

I think this is a promising approach and can be applied to transportation systems. If your long-range forecasts are always flawed, the best solution may be to stop making long-range forecasts.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Adapting to Climate Change: Tea and Olives are Now British Crops

Britain is known for tea, but until now tea has always been an imported product. Thanks to the magic of a warming planet--or at least a warming Cornwall, British farmers have developed tea crops. They grew over 10 tons this year. From this story:
London - British farmers are experimenting with crops such as olives and nectarines which have traditionally been imported from southern Europe while the first British tea plantation has opened with a changing climate set to transform the nation's countryside.
Flowers will bloom early and crops will be harvested sooner as Britain marches towards what the government describes as a “wetter and warmer” UK.
Britain's first tea plantation has opened in Cornwall in south-west England, the country's warmest region and the centre of much of the current crop experimentation.
“We had an opportunity when temperatures in Cornwall turned warmer and we started a farm in 1999 but we had our first harvest in 2005 and our yield has improved every year,” said Jonathan Jones, commercial director at the Tregothnan Estate.
Tregothnan now grows 22 varieties of tea and is expecting a record harvest in excess of 10 tons this year. The estate has also been experimenting with growing edible flowers.
Mark Diacono, a farmer in neighbouring Devon has been trying to grow a wide array of crops including olives, pecans, szechuan pepper and apricots and also lists vineyard on what he calls “climate change farm” on his website.
“I just made a list of all the foods I liked, knocked out all the things others grow perfectly well locally or are cheaply available. I researched and found out that some that had not been grown here before might be possible given new varieties and climate change... so I planted,” Diacono told Reuters.
Climate change doesn't get all of the credit, as seed technologies have improved as well. But this linked story highlights a difficult issue for the politics of climate change, which is that some areas will be made better off while many will be certainly much worse off:
Robert Watson, chief scientist at Britain's farming and environment ministry, said his department was closely monitoring the impact climate change was having on crops.
“There is no question that climate change will have significant effect on crops. Climate change might be beneficial for the UK at least because we will have a larger growing period with shorter winters and earlier springs,” Watson said.
“By 2050, the impact will largely be positive for crop growers but that will depend on where you are in the UK.”
Watson cautioned, however, that climate change does also raises serious concerns for a country such as Britain that relies heavily on food imports.
“If we take the world as a whole, with an increase of 2-3 degrees the overall impact will be negative. We are 65 percent food sufficient and the rest 35 percent is imported, mostly from Europe,” he said.
“So far, the supplies have been secure but the question is will the international markets be a secure food source? And at the same time, with the economic growth in China and India, will they push hard for increased food supply?
So the news is still bad overall. But it is worth noting that Britain now has a domestic tea crop for the first time ever. Maybe Port will be next.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Commuter Subsidies and Tax Expenditures

Ron Lieber writes about the commuter tax expenditures in today's NY Times. He calls them benefits and tax breaks, but they are accurately called tax expenditures, or government spending through the tax code. Lieber rightly points out that the current expenditures favor drivers and that the potential transit expenditures are set to get cut by about half starting next year. Here is a previous post of mine about this.
 What I learned from the story is a bit of history of the program.  Senator Daniel Patrick Moyninhan lead the Senate in demanding the high parking tax expenditures:
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late New York senator, led the charge on the changes. The senator’s concern, according to Mr. Filler, was that eliminating the parking tax break might cause some workers to find jobs closer to their suburban homes, thus putting city employers in his and his Capitol Hill colleagues’ states or districts at a disadvantage.
Lieber continues:
At an economic moment like the one we’re in today, the idea that people would switch jobs because of the loss of a parking garage tax subsidy seems rather quaint. But whatever the soundness of the logic, rules at the time required legislators and policy makers to pay for all new tax breaks in full. So in an effort to appease subsidy-happy drivers, lawmakers figured out what the average monthly parking rates were and tested the resulting $155 figure. What they found was that capping the monthly benefit at that level would bring in enough new taxes from the formerly untaxed parking subsidy to pay for a $60 public transportation benefit.
I'm not sure what is quaint about the idea that parking affects people's location decisions. These folks could get subsidized to the tune of a couple of hundred dollars a month! That's a lot of wool, as the kids said in the days when Moyninhan was a kid saying colloquial things.

The troubling issue is Moyninhan's fear that people might work closer to home if they didn't get subsidized parking.  Not only have jobs and households continued to suburbanize, having people work near home should be encouraged. These expenditures are also tilted toward the wealthy, so we can't really argue that they are equity enhancing. It does seem that if the government is going to spend so much on transit investment it should at least have consistent complementary policies to encourage transit usage.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What Ever Happened to the People Mover? Or, How Federal Priorities Shape Local Transportation Investment

Eric Jaffe at The Atlantic Cities writes about the downtown people movers that were once seen as the future of urban transport. The link is here. From the story:
The "downtown people mover" is an automated, driverless transit car that most people, such as Lyle Lanley, would call a monorail. The monorail will end up an asterisk in the annals of urban transport, but there was a brief moment in history when it was the next great thing. In mid-1970s, at the peak of its potential, nearly 70 cities wrote the government expressing interest in building an automated transit system. In the end only three were completed.
The "peak of its potential" is a bit misleading, however. From later in the story:
 In the early 1970s, several airports embraced this type of technology. But cities didn't give it serious consideration. Congress was ticked, so it did what it often does when upset: issued another report [PDF]. This one urged the government to encourage urban automated transport projects through capital grants issued to suitable applicants. Sixty-eight cities replied with interest in this Downtown People Movers program, and 38 submitted full-blown proposals.
But the start of the Reagan administration brought with it a reduction in federal support for people movers, and in the end only three were completed: in Miami, Detroit, and Jacksonville.
The promise of federal money created the demand for 68 projects and 38 proposals at a time transit systems were suffering from disinvestment and rapidly declining ridership. The Detroit People Mover is now in danger of shutting down as it strains public budgets. The Miami service still operates, but overall people movers were examples of technological fetishes that favor specific modes rather than actual service improvements or improving transit service for users.

Technological fetishes are common, and too often federal dollars generate demand for technology rather than improved mobility and access. The U.S. is now going through a "streetcar revival." The US DOT claims that streetcars will lead to more mobility and more jobs. First the jobs:
One important benefit of America's streetcar revival is the return of domestic streetcar manufacturing and the jobs that industry will create.  The Tucson project, for example, has already ordered cars from theOregon Iron Works.  And Rockwell Automation, in Wisconsin, has engineered the first domestic streetcar propulsion technology in a generation.  Three other US companies have expressed interest in manufacturing girder rail for streetcar systems.  I think you'll agree that a new segment of American manufacturing is a very promising development.
I'm not wild about using transportation planning as industrial policy, but that's what is happening here. By justifying streetcars as a manufacturing issue we have to keep building streetcar systems to support the industry. Considering the precarious state of federal funding for transit, no one should count on permanent growth for this sector.  This Inhabitat post helps explain why we are going through a streetcar revival:
Urban greenies across the US may finally get what they desire — streetcar lines in their home cities. Due to a change in federal transportation policy under President Obama, 22 American cities are reportedly considering building or expanding streetcar lines. Not only would the streetcar construction help revitalize many American cities, it could promote greater adoption of public transit and decrease reliance on cars.
When Obama took office, the administration made it easier for cities to obtain federal funds in order to build or expand streetcar lines. This past February, the Department of Transportation gave grants to Tucson, Detroit, Dallas, New Orleans and Portland to create new streetcar lines. A total of 22 US cities are reportedly considering streetcars, including Los Angeles, Baltimore and Atlanta, among other towns. If the cities secure funding, construction could start within the next year or two.
 In the past few years the number of cities pursuing streetcars increased from one or two locally financed projects (including yet another Detroit project) to dozens because of federal preferences for the technology. The only reason there is a revival is because the US government is paying for it, not because transit riders are demanding it. Riders want better service to where they want and need to go and are much less concerned with the modal technology.

Going back to the US DOT post, there is this claim:
 Streetcars foster livability.  They connect urban destinations and spur redevelopment of urban spaces into walkable mixed use, high-density communities.  Transportation projects like streetcars spark America’s neighborhoods into become safer, healthier and more vibrant.  In fact, in several cities, streetcars are reviving some of the very same neighborhoods they once helped create. 
Transportation can't be all things to all people, and I say that as someone who really likes transportation and thinks everything has a transportation angle. I wish transit investment had magical properties to create jobs, revitalize US manufacturing, create high density communities and spark safer, healthier and vibrant neighborhoods. But it doesn't, at least not as a primary cause. (Does anyone else still consider that travel is largely derived demand? This characteristic of travel is ignored in the political fights over transport investment.) If transit investment was a magical as the US DOT says it is, then there is no reason that the US DOT needs to set priorities and provide funding*. If transportation and transit was as transformative as claimed, then cities and states should have no problem paying for new projects.  Ultimately, however, transportation investment (transit or otherwise) simply redistributes economic activity rather than create new economic activity**.

 But in the end, many of these streetcar projects will make traffic congestion and pollution worse by operating in mixed-traffic***, offer slow travel speeds (due to the congestion) and further strain transit agencies operating budgets and shift resources away from buses and other existing services. As for walkable, mixed-use, high-density communities, you don't need transit investment for those. Cities just have to change the zoning code (there are many ways to do this) and lenders have to finance the projects.

Federal funding can help overcoming status quo bias by offering other peoples money to finance new projects. But by attaching modal technologies to funding the US government only ensures that cities will apply for the favored technologies rather than making investments that make the most sense in a local context. People movers, commuter rail, light rail, streetcars, and maybe high speed rail have all had their time in the sun thanks to federal involvement. The Interstates were jammed through cities in part because of federal involvement. Even the reviled Robert Moses was after Interstates because of the federal money attached to them. (Remember, he couldn't toll the Interstates directly so they didn't increase the wealth of his fiefdom except through construction.)

Overall, federal involvement distorts transport investment in ways that should make auto enthusiasts and transit advocates queasy. I suspect that federal involvement in transport investment has peaked, but as long as federal dollars come with strings attached we will still pursue the latest incarnation of the people mover as preferences change. I really hope that the next trend isn't pod cars.

*For instance, if California high speed rail is as special as the promoters say it is then it would be irresponsible for California not to build it and there shouldn't be any need for any type of federal subsidy. You could just charge each of the expected 60 million California residents to pony up their contribution of $1,600 each to build the system, plus the cost of tickets.

** For instance, current practice in the UK for evaluating high speed rail is to assume the net effect on the real economy of high speed rail investment is zero. This reflects that activities will shift around the country but new activity will not likely materialize. The UK government assumes that transport investment only affects the the location, not scale or efficiency, of economic activity. See David Banister and Mark Thurstain-Goodwin (2010) "Quantification of the non-transport benefits resulting from rail investment," Journal of Transport Geography.  David Banister has written other articles and books about this issue.

**See Re´my Prud’homme, MartinKoning, and PierreKopp (2011) "Substituting a tramway to a bus line in Paris : Costs and benefits," Transport Policy 18, pp. 563-572. Not only did traffic get worse, CO2 emissions increased. The effects were not uniformly spread across the Paris region, however. Some areas improved, but the net effect was negative.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Go Read Urban Magazine: The Zoning Issue

Students from Columbia University's Urban Planning Program publish Urban magazine and have produced an excellent new edition that focuses entirely on zoning. Since the 1961 New York Zoning Resolution turns 50 this year, New York planners have spent a lot of time thinking about the potential and limitations of zoning. In the magazine there are articles on how zoning works and many pieces on specific aspects and consequences of zoning.
You can read the edition here:

There are three articles I want to highlight, though the entire magazine is impressive. First, Eric Goldwyn explains how Zuccotti Park came to be through innovation in the zoning code that created privately owned public spaces. The second article is by Sara Beth Rosenberg, and she writes about the long history of vending from metered parking spaces. This may sound mundane, but the city is struggling to enforce parking regulations as businesses are setting up shop curbside. Curb parking is the best real estate deal in New York and metered spaces are now used by food trucks, delivery vehicles, shipping companies and other commercial users. These uses bring many of the externalities that the zoning code sought to minimize.

The third article of note is "Density is not Destiny" by Jake Schabas. Jake challenges the perceived importance of density for robust transit service. Using examples from Zurich and elsewhere, he makes the case that service quality matters more than planners generally think. He also nicely summarizes the decline of U.S. transit systems in the middle of last century and why there wasn't a grand conspiracy against transit.

Toyota Presents the Future of Cars and the Craziest Parking Structure Ever

Check out this video to see the future of cars from Toyota:

Click to the 3:40 mark to check out the crazy future of parking structures.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

New Adventures in Security Theater

Airport screenings in the U.S. are inefficient, inequitable*, and rightly criticized for being "security theater" more than actual security.** Anyway, Glacier International Airport in Montana took the theater aspects seriously and produced the following video. I suppose this is supposed to make security easier and less traumatic (and funny! Don't forget to joke with the TSA agents because they love it when travelers make jokes!), but airport security looks extra ridiculous after watching this:

*The most inequitable part of airport security is the extra line that first and business class passengers get to use. Those people don't pay for that privilege. Airport screening is paid for through a flat fee that everybody pays. Everybody pays the same amount for security so everyone should get the same security treatment. And members of Congress should be required to wait in the long line. Every time I've seen a Senator or Representative (probably about six or eight total) in a TSA line they have been ushered to the first class line.

**James Fallows highlights the Department of Fear's recent poll to rename the awful sounding Department of Homeland Security here. Here is the DOF's post about it. The winning naming idea was to just name the department after the highest bidder. Sounds about right.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

An $800,000 Parking Space in Manhattan's Suburban Neighborhood of Chelsea

Glauco Lolli-Ghetti lives in an 11th-floor apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. His unit has a parking space which happens to be in him living room. Here is the NYTimes story, and some explanation:
Mr. Lolli-Ghetti has one of the world’s most expensive parking spaces, a costly talking point in a city where residents spend dearly to shelter their cars. His three-bedroom apartment at 200 11th Avenue — now on the market for $7 million — includes a 300-square-foot “en suite sky garage” that would be valued at more than $800,000 if priced at the same rate per square foot as the rest of the apartment.
It is not the parking spot in the sky attracting buyers to the new 19-story building at 24th Street, Mr. Lolli-Ghetti says, but the Hudson River panorama, the floor-to-ceiling windows and the thousands of square feet of space. Still, the sky garages in the building, which was designed by Annabelle Selldorf, are what has drawn the most attention.
“This is about as close to a suburban home that you can achieve in an urban area like New York,” he said. “You walk out your door and three steps later you’re in your garage.”
Yep, one of the things that attracts residents to Manhattan is the suburban feel.  I will also note that street parking outside of this building is free.

Is this a trend? We don't know, but other buildings are doing this:
Jonathan Miller of Miller Samuel Appraisers said there was no rule of thumb for how much a parking spot adds to the value of an apartment. 
“It was clearly a marketing hook,” he said. “It doesn’t mark the beginning of a trend.” 
Despite the building’s delayed opening — it was originally set for completion in 2009 — there are signs that the concept may hold some appeal, at least at the top end of the market. Last month, plans for a 57-story building in Miami Beach with apartment parking were approved. The project, a joint effort of the Porsche Design Group and a local developer, suggests that there are wealthy drivers who will pay for the privilege of pulling up directly to their front door.
In any event, there aren't very many people who can afford $800,000 for a parking space so if it is a trend it won't be a national craze.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Two Trends in Auto Ownership

The Wall Street Journal has two stories today (both gated) about trends in auto ownership. The first (link here) is about the decline of auto ownership in Japan. The intro:
You wouldn't know it from the buzz ahead of this weekend's Tokyo Motor Show, but Japan has fallen out of love with cars.
The country's domestic auto sales have fallen in eight of the past 10 years. Demographics are part of the reason—the population is shrinking while more people are living in cities and riding public transit. 
The second story is about the resurgent sales of SUVs in the US. From this story:
The sport-utility vehicle is making a comeback.
After being largely shunned during the recession, high-riding SUVs and workhorse pickups are regaining favor as U.S. consumers grow more confident and fuel prices remain below the $4 a gallon level that triggered a shift away from larger vehicles.
The rebound was clear Thursday as U.S. auto sales in November hit a 13.6 million annual pace, the strongest in more than two years, with sales of trucks and SUVs surpassing cars at many auto makers. The results are boosting Detroit auto makers that suffered when gas-guzzlers got the cold shoulder in 2008.
There are two distinct trends in these stories. The first is that there is a shift away from auto ownership for many people, not just in Japan, and primarily younger people. We do not know precisely why this is occurring, but it likely has more to do with the cost of autos than the provision of transit. Cars are expensive, especially for a generation whose income has not increased much over the past twenty years. The other trend is that there really isn't much evidence that US consumers are turning toward small cars when they decide to buy cars. I've posted about this before. Americans may be driving less, and fewer may be buying cars, but when they do buy cars they still like big ones.