Friday, August 17, 2012

Is Demand for Student Housing Driven By Light Rail or Something Else?

There is new student housing development happening in Minneapolis next to the University of Minnesota and near the soon to open light rail line. The StarTribune says the housing demand is because of the light rail. Here is the headline:
Light rail attracts more student housing on the U of M campus
Here is the story:
More new student housing is headed to the University of Minnesota's East Bank campus. OpusDevelopment Corporatio said this morning that The Station on Washington will be a six-story building with 11,200 square feet of retail space on the ground-level and five floors of apartments with 97 units and a total of 156 bedrooms. The company closed on the land this week and plans to start building this week with completion slated for August 2013.

The project is at the corner of Washington Avenue and Walnut Street across from a new rail station and will replace Mercil's Campus Auto Repair.

Rental housing development on and around campus has been more than robust over the past year, with hundreds of new apartments aimed at student renters. Opus, for example,recently completed Stadium Village Flats, which is just down the street from the The Station on Washington and is now fully leased with a CVS pharmacy, Noodles & Co. and Dino's Gyro. Dave Menke, senior vice president and general manager at Opus, said that the goal of the project is to offer convenience of campus-living with easy access to the light rail transit.
Over the past decade very few apartments were built in Minneapolis, so with the housing market still recovering and household growth expected, developers are planning to build thousands of new rental apartments in Minneapolis. Most of that activity is happening in the North Loop, Uptown and Stadium Village/Dinkytown neighborhoods.

In the grand scheme of things my money is on the presence of the University of Minnesota driving demand for student housing rather than light rail transit.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

More Hidden Auto Biases: Street Assessment Edition

Last week the Minneapolis StarTribune reported on Edina, Minnesota's new street assessment policy. The assessment
"requires property owners to pay the entire cost of road reconstruction.
Starting with projects that got underway this year, homeowners will get 15 years instead of 10 to pay for projects in their property taxes. Interest rates charged by the city will be cut in half, and the payment formula will be standardized so homeowners pay the same principal amount each year.
Together, those changes approved Monday by the City Council would save someone with a $10,000 street assessment about $730. Annual payments would drop from $1,375 over 10 years to $868 over 15 years."
So far, so good. But here is what Edina did to placate homeowners:
"The city also will assume the costs of sidewalks, trails and lighting associated with projects, paying for those improvements with new franchise fees paid by utilities. Depending on the project, that could save residents money."
 The problem here is what value do sidewalks and streets have for homeowners and the city? I think Edina is getting the association wrong, and the homeowners should pay to maintain the sidewalks and the city should have responsibility for the streets. New York requires property owners to maintain sidewalks because of threats of lawsuits. Many cities are being sued under the ADA because sidewalks are impassable. The city has little incentive to maintain sidewalks, and in many cases cities will fail to do so. Here is a paper by Donald Shoup that suggests one way to maintain sidewalks.

Beyond maintenance, requiring homeowners to maintain streets over sidewalks is a bias toward cars over pedestrians (and cyclists and kids and other who might use these suburban sidewalks).

Joe Urban makes related points over at here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"The Great Parking Spot Switcheroo" Should Be Encouraged

Transportation Alternatives has a brief news item in their new Reclaim magazine highlighting what they call "the great parking spot switcheroo." Here is a link to the latest issue and the news item (scroll down). Here is what they say:
Local business owners, Transportation Alternatives volunteers and the City DOT have been working to convert car parking spots into bike parking spaces at select sites around the city. Thanks to an innovative program called “Street Racks,” motor vehicle parking spaces in front of particularly popular cycling destinations are being transformed into bike parking facilities capable of storing upwards of eight two-wheelers. You can try out these new bike parking places in front of Mud Coffee in the East Village and Gorilla Coffee in Park Slope. More are coming to Kinfolk Studios in Williamsburg, the corner of Court and Pacific in Cobble Hill and, if a group of neighborhood activists and the owners of Queens Kickshaw have their way, the corner of Steinway and Broadway in Astoria too.
Here is a link to the city's webpage that explains the program. The way it works is a partner (usually a business but this is not clear) petitions to convert a car parking space into a bike parking space. This is good! The partner is responsible for clearing snow and trash, and can add planters if they wish. While I think this is progress, I have two points:
1) the city should maintain the bike spaces just as they do all auto spaces. Placing the onus on partners to clean spaces just because they are bike spaces shows clear favor toward autos. Why should bikes be held to a greater standard of private responsibility?
2) New York City is admirably allowing businesses to take over curb parking for non-auto uses. Here is a report from 2011 that explains the effects of restaurant seating in curb spaces. The competition for curb spaces in parts of the city suggests that planners and business need to be thinking more broadly about what curb spaces are worth. Their value as spaces for cars is low, but parking spaces are extremely valuable for goods movement, food trucks, bicycle parking (which is a major headache in many parts of the city), emergency services, restaurant seating, etc. Perhaps one way to manage the conflicts that arise is to let businesses and residents manage all of the parking spaces locally. Even the latest RFQ from the city to enter a contract for management of all of the city's parking meters only considers that one company will run the whole show. Why not let curb parking be a flexible (or "programmable" in planner's lingo) land use that is controlled by the building or block? Dense urban areas need these types of flexible spaces more than they need cheap parking for cars, not to mention dudes like this guy. You can't make the argument that cities have been managing curbs spaces successfully under centralized control. Very local control may prove a better option. It is at least worth considering.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Taxi Links August 14, 2012

What do taxicabs say about a city? Witold Rybczynski suggests that the quality of taxis is indicative of a city's success and proposes a "taxi index" for ranking cities. Robinson Meyer at the Atlantic Cities makes a similar point and argues cities should have distinct taxis. While there are advantages for individual cities to brand themselves with distinct taxis, I think there are also benefits for travelers when they recognize similar services in multiple cities. For instance, yellow is a popular color for taxis in all US cities (though there are other colors) and people recognize yellow cars as taxis. This is an advantage for taxi service even though yellow taxis are just copying New York's color scheme.

The "Data Evangelist" for Uber compares neighborhoods the company serves in this piece.*

This was a couple weeks ago, but Jalopniik had a great Q&A with a New York cabbie.

Marketplace has a story about smart phone apps that help hail taxis. More here and here. ZapKab seems to have a good publicist. These apps mostly focus on the NYC market, but I suspect they will be more useful in other markets and in the boroughs of NYC other than Manhattan.

Samsung has filed a patent on a service that lets passengers put out an SOS call to alert police when their driver in dangerous.** Perhaps Apple already is working on this.

*I hate the title "Data Evangelist." If you are evangelical you do not need data, and you certainly don't conduct robust research because being an evangelist suggests you want to convert other people to your view, nevermind the evidence. Just call yourself the Director of Research or something.

**This is a stupid patent. Good idea, dumb patent.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Protect Florida from Driverless Cars and Toll Roads, Says the Committee to Protect Florida

Jeff Brandes is a Republican running for state senator in Florida. He also wants to use driverless cars to kill old people using walkers and supports road tolls to pay for infrastructure. I learned this from the attack ad below that highlights some of Brandes' work as a state Representative.