Elmwood Station Area Plan, Town of West Hartford, Connecticut (top left); Holtzer Park, Boston, Massachusetts (middle left); Evan Station Lofts, Denver, Colorado (bottom left); NJ TRANSIT train at Newark Penn Station (right)
Article of the Week
Federal Relief Proposals Aren’t Enough to Thwart Some of the Worst Transit Cuts
Laura Bliss, Bloomberg CityLab, December 3, 2020
Officials at some of the largest public transit systems in the U.S. say that sweeping cuts to service and staffing are in store if a second federal pandemic relief package does not arrive soon. Among those most badly affected is the Washington, D.C. Metro, where rail ridership is down almost 90 percent and where WMATA faces nearly a half-billion dollar budget gap in FY2022. On Tuesday, senators on both sides of the aisle discussed a $908 billion stimulus package that would include $15 billion for public transit. This figure is less than half of what is needed, according to transit advocates, but looking to make some headway, Democratic leaders backed the proposal. However, it was rejected by Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, who is backing a version of a bill that he previously failed to pass—and that includes no transit funding. Without federal relief, the situation will be dire for public transit agencies—and for the people they serve. The impact of the proposed cuts would be difficult to overstate. In D.C. for example, one 2015 study estimated that 78 percent of the next 15 years in planned commercial, residential and retail construction would occur within a half-mile of a Metro station. Without public transit service, it is uncertain what parts of these plans will come to pass.
COVID-19 TOD News
NEW JERSEY—NJ Transit Hopes New Technology Can Combat Coronavirus
Eric Kiefer, Patch.com, December 1, 2020
Earlier this year, the Transit Innovation Partnership announced a COVID-19 Response Challenge to invite participants to display new technology to fight the spread of COVID-19 on public transit. On Tuesday, NJ TRANSIT announced its selection of four companies from among eight finalists whose solutions, if successful, may be chosen for a year-long pilot program. Of the selected companies, Vyv uses LED antimicrobial light to reduce bacteria on surfaces. Knorr Merak proposed a three-stage air filtration and purification system that will be tested on a light rail car and a passenger rail car. Piper will provide video analytics and collect real-time passenger counts on trains and platforms that will be piloted on the RiverLine. Lastly, Strongarm’s wearable technology will be tested on selected floors in NJ TRANSIT headquarters in Newark. This technology will emit physical distancing alerts and can be used to collect data for contact tracing.
NEW YORK—Subway Slowdown: Sleek New Train Cars Running Late in Pandemic
Jose Martinez, The City, November 29, 2020
In another pandemic-driven blow to the New York MTA, the agency, which anticipated delivery of 535 subway and Staten Island Railway cars in 2020, will now have to wait until the first quarter of next year. With features like open gangway design and expanded doorways, the new cars will increase capacity and passenger mobility, allow more room for social distancing, and reduce time spent at stops. As per MTA data, existing vehicles by the same manufacturer, Kawasaki, are among the most reliable in its fleet. MTA’s plans to purchase more of these cars are currently on hold, along with the agency’s proposed $51 billion five-year capital program. Some riders are concerned about the current financial crisis translating into ongoing impediments to modernizing the subway fleet. However, an MTA board member expressed assurance that these delays are temporary and are unavoidable due to the pandemic.
CALIFORNIA—SF Transportation Agency Faces Huge Layoff as COVID-19 Fiscal Crisis Deepens
Dan Brekke, KQED, November 30, 2020
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) officials warn that the agency may have to lay off 1,200 employees due to a COVID-induced financial crunch. In turn, this decision could translate to further cuts to Muni’s already reduced service and affect the city’s parking programs, taxi industry, and bicycle and scooter rental programs. Roger Marenco, president of Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, stated that the organization is formulating a multistep plan to deter or avoid layoffs. These steps include a freeze on hiring new bus operators, increasing parking citations to make up for the loss in revenue stream, and fare enforcement. Like other transit agencies across the country, SFMTA’s best hope to avoid massive layoffs and service cuts would be a new round of federal aid.
CANADA—Toronto Approves Plan to Create More Resilient and Safer Transport System
Smart Cities World, November 30, 2020
Toronto City Council approved the MoveTo plan to make the city’s transportation network more modern, safe, and resilient to the effects of COVID-19. The project proposes five key measures to reduce travel times, improve safety and reliability, and optimize the network for transit users, employers, and pedestrians. The proposals include smart traffic signals and intelligent intersections that will improve driver and pedestrian experiences on the city’s streets. Advanced Transit Signal Priority (ATSP) will detect buses running late and extend green signals where necessary. The Construction Hub Pilot Programme expansion will help manage traffic and reduce congestion caused by construction activity. Finally, the Transportation Demand Management Strategy will include measures to avoid congestion at specific times and locations, and on specific transportation modes. The plan builds on recent work by the city to reduce congestion and takes into consideration safer streets, reduced greenhouse emissions, and creating a more equitable transportation network in Toronto.
Public Transit Agencies Slash Services, Staff as Coronavirus Keeps Ridership Low
Scott Calvert, The Wall Street Journal, November 28, 2020
The Coronavirus pandemic has taken a massive toll on ridership numbers and public transit agencies’ financial budgets across the country. In a bid to stay afloat, many of these agencies are resorting to service cuts and workforce reduction. San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency reports a plunge of 70 percent in bus ridership numbers and 93 percent in train ridership. The agency has cut service by half and is only serving essential workers with few other mobility options. Washington D.C.’s Metro system faces a 60 percent reduction in bus ridership numbers and anticipates a $182 million revenue stream compared to $825 million in 2019. New York’s MTA warned that it may have to cut subway service by 40 percent without further federal assistance. Transit agencies are collectively calling on Congress to approve a $32 billion aid package in the absence of which six in ten transit systems will need to cut service and lay off employees. Moody’s Investors Service predicted a gloomy future for mass transit in 2021 with only a 30 percent increase in ridership above this year’s slump. This prediction is made worse by an increasing shift to longer term remote working that could cause a permanent fall in ridership. Note: Access to this article requires a WSJ membership.
MASSACHUSETTS—Regional Rail Can Aid Pandemic Recovery
Tracy Corley, Ethan Finlan, and Matt Robare, CommonWealth, November 28, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered employment, residential, and transit patterns around the world. In this piece, Tracy Corley, Ethan Finlan, and Matt Robare weigh in on the possibility of transforming the current commuter rail system to an all-day, affordable, and frequent transit option as a means to aid recovery. The authors believe that the change from commuter to regional rail will expand networks and create opportunities for Boston and other municipalities in the Commonwealth. A regional rail system will also help to create more affordable and market-rate housing in walkable mixed-use developments. Such development can help foster a virtuous cycle of increased municipal tax revenues, create additional jobs, support local businesses, and activate streets. The authors conclude that Metro Boston’s post-pandemic future can be built better by sharing opportunities across regions, respond to today’s needs, and build wealth in a socially equitable way.
NJ TOD News
East Brunswick Introduces Ordinances Entering into Finance Agreement with Developer of Tices Lane Property
Vashti Harris, Central Jersey, December 2, 2020
The East Brunswick Township Council recently introduced an ordinance authorizing the municipality to enter a financial agreement with the redeveloper of a project at 110 Tices Lane. The project will involve constructing 520 residential units, 18,000 sq. ft. of retail space, and parking spaces. Mayor Brad Cohen indicated that this ordinance would use redevelopment law to replace functionally obsolete industrial space in the township with mixed-use transit-oriented development that will cater to the area’s residents’ needs. Financially, this project will increase the town’s tax base exponentially and ensure improvements in the town’s recreation, school, and infrastructure programs.
NJ Has the Most Affordable-housing Units Exposed to Sea-level Rise, Report Says
Jon Hurdle, NJ Spotlight, December 1, 2020
According to a new report by a Princeton-based research group, New Jersey has the largest number of affordable housing units exposed to sea-level rise among all coastal states. The state currently has 1,640 affordable housing units prone to coastal flooding at least once annually. This number is already the highest in the country, but by 2050, this number may increase to 6,825 and exceeds the number of similar units in New York (5,300) and Massachusetts (4,800), which have the next highest totals. In addition, five New Jersey cities feature in the top 20 cities nationwide with the largest number of affordable units projected to be flooded by rising sea levels—Atlantic City, Hoboken, Camden, Penns Grove, and Salem. These cities are home to many of the state’s poorest residents—the median income in each city is only half of the national figure—as well as a high proportion of people of color. Although coastal cities are at high-risk levels, inland areas may also be affected if they are low-lying and connected to coastal waters that move inland during flooding events. The report calls for resiliency planning measures such as elevating buildings and constructing sea walls to protect residents of affordable units whose economic hardships would be significantly worsened during flooding events.
Getting Back on Track: Why Investing in Nearly Empty Trains Now Is Smart Bet for Future
Tom Bergeron, ROI-NJ.com, November 30, 2020
If a post-pandemic world will involve returning to the workplace and using mass transit to do so, it may be worth investing in railways and doing it now. Amtrak officials agreed with this notion and noted that projects currently underway are being completed in record time. As a result, the agency asks for $5 billion for infrastructure improvements for projects in New Jersey, Washington D.C., New York City, and Boston. Representatives of other regional transit agencies like NJ TRANSIT, PATH, SEPTA, and PATCO agreed to focus on improving transit in the region as a means to plan for the present and the future of the network. The Gateway Tunnel Project that aims to add two new tunnels to New York City is a part of this approach focusing on infrastructure improvement. Infrastructure projects help create and preserve jobs in the long run and add to the state’s sustainability goals—a win-win situation.
Regional and National TOD News
MASSACHUSETTS—Groundbreaking of Grace Apartments in East Boston Celebrated and Holtzer Park Project in Jackson Square Under Construction
City of Boston, December 3, 2020
Boston is all set to add two new affordable housing developments to the city. The first, Grace Apartments on Summer Street in East Boston, is located adjacent to the Maverick MBTA station. This project will add 42 units of supportive transit-oriented affordable housing units for adults aged 55 years or older. The construction will create a seven-story building in Maverick Square that will comprise one-bedroom and two-bedroom units that will be 100 percent affordable for a range of income levels. Five of these units will be set aside for formerly homeless individuals.
Additionally, Boston Housing Authority’s (BHA) 125 Amory Street redevelopment will add 62 new affordable rental units at the Holtzer Park housing development in Jackson Square. This redevelopment is a joint venture between The Community Builders (TCB), Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC), and Urban Edge to renovate and preserve 199 public housing units as affordable housing, repurpose BHA administrative offices into 12 affordable units, and build 133 affordable housing and 214 market-rate units in three new buildings. The Holtzer Park development will include 41 affordable units for households with income below $76,740 for a family of 4 and is supported with Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). Twenty-one of these units will have project-based vouchers to ensure deeper affordability for households with an income lower than $38,350 for a family of 4.
CALIFORNIA—Developer and Church Collaborate on Housing Development
Donna Kimura, Affordable Housing Finance, December 1, 2020
St. Paul’s Commons, a public/private/faith community partnership, has added affordable housing options in the expensive housing market of Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area. The development provides 45 affordable housing units, 40% of which are supportive permanent homes for residents with special needs or who have experienced homelessness. The project is home to Trinity Center, an organization that operates a program for the homeless and those living in poverty. St. Paul’s Commons is located close to transit, schools, and other amenities. Part of the project’s funding included Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) equity and a $1.4 million loan from Bank of America.
COLORADO—It’s Time for Equitable Transit Oriented Development
Deya Zavala, StreetsBlog Denver, December 1, 2020
The Miles High Connects (MHC) coalition, formed in 2011, aims to create high-density development near transit stations. While this approach initially helped preserve housing affordability, increasingly transit-oriented development (TOD) projects have targeted a more affluent population. However, with affordable housing becoming more unattainable as low-income communities need increased access to public transit, equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD) may be a viable option forward. The equitability aspect of eTOD ensures that growth around transit translates to transit-supportive land use and addresses users’ needs. In October 2020, Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) proposed policy revisions after recognizing the benefits that affordable housing brings to transit service. The proposals include steps to reserve 35 percent of housing for low-income households, share parking services between transit users and residents, make the development process faster and easier to attract affordable housing developers, and discount land value for affordable housing in exchange for station-area improvements or other contributions.
CONNECTICUT—9-Month Moratorium Intended to Encourage Transit-Oriented Development in West Hartford
Ronni Newton, we-ha.com, November 30, 2020
The Town of West Hartford approved a nine-month moratorium in the New Park Avenue corridor on uses that do not align with the town’s vision to encourage transit-oriented development in the area. The moratorium will apply to business and industrial lots located within a quarter-mile of the Elmwood or Flatbush CTFastrak stations and on lots fronting several roadways in the township. This will be the first step in engaging property and business owners to promote transit-oriented development opportunities around the stations. The moratorium will not impact existing properties unless they expand their operations in a use that is not supportive of transit-oriented development. However, business owners in the area expressed concerns about the length of the moratorium and the sweeping changes that transit-oriented development will have on the area’s characteristics.
International TOD News
PAKISTAN—Pakistan’s First Metro Train Line, China’s Gift or Debt Trap
Devdiscourse, November 30, 2020
Despite a raging pandemic, Pakistan has started commercial operations of its first metro service in Lahore. The service has been a big hit with commuters who are flocking in large numbers to get a first-hand experience of the light-rail transit system. The Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) is designed for nearly a quarter-million passengers a day in Pakistan’s second-largest city. China Railway, Norinco International, Guangzhou Metro Group, and Daewoo Pakistan jointly developed this project that took six years to complete with a total cost of over $2.2 billion. However, the new metro line is wrapped in several controversies. The existing ruling party alleges that the funds allocated to this project would have found better use elsewhere, while accusations that the project endangered UNESCO heritage sites and demolished low-income housing along the route have also gained traction.
CANADA—$550 Million in Federal Funding Requested for SkyTrain to Reach Langley
Kenneth Chan, Vancouver Urbanized, November 27, 2020
Tako van Popta, MP for Langley-Aldergrove, asked the federal government for a $550 million funding commitment to extend the Vancouver-area SkyTrain from Fleetwood in Surrey to Langley Centre. The extension is part of the project’s second phase, with the first phase focused on the section between King George Station and Fleetwood. Federal, provincial, and municipal funding commitments to the first phase are critical to its development. Still, the additional funding request will make or break the decision to extend the SkyTrain to Langley. Van Popta pointed to the many benefits of the extension, including high transit ridership fueled by high density, transit-oriented developments around stations, limited growth sprawl in the region, and using the extension to catalyze more affordable housing options. TransLink, the organization responsible for constructing the extension, prefers to continue building the second phase of the project along with the first to activate economies of scale and lower overall construction costs.