Fulton Street Subway Station, New York (top left); Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings (bottom left); Tokyo, Japan (top right); Rail bridge over Main Street, Metuchen, New Jersey (bottom right)
Article of the Week
Riders Haven’t Abandoned Transit During COVID—They’re Taking Fewer Trips: Report
Eve Kessler, StreetsBlog USA, October 15, 2020
While much has been made of the rapid decline in ridership on the nation’s public transportation systems, a new report from TransitCenter, A Transit Agenda for the COVID-19 Emergency, finds that many riders are making fewer trips overall, rather than replacing transit trips with those made by other modes, such as cars. In the second quarter of this year—during the height of the pandemic to date—overall transit usage fell by 75 percent. However, among those who ride transit at least a few times a week, usage fell by only 36 percent. While still a significant decline, this difference demonstrates that many people are using transit but are traveling less frequently—most likely several times a week rather than several times a day. Moreover, essential workers, and anyone unable to work from home, who took transit before the pandemic continue to use transit to travel to their places of work.
COVID-19 TOD News
The Need to Reboot and Rebuild Public Transit
Aaron M. Renn, Governing, October 15, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has taken a heavy toll on public transit systems around the world. Loss of ridership has resulted in financial deficits for these systems, especially for larger ones like New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Transit analyst Alon Levy notes that it may be worthwhile to look to global best practices to improve ridership, service quality, and cost control in the American public transit system. An important consideration in this process may be the overhaul of the funding system for public transit agencies and, particularly, elimination of dependence on fares. This is especially important at a time when the pandemic is forcing transit agencies to look to Washington to bail them out of the death spiral that they are increasingly experiencing.
State Officials Plea for Stimulus Aid to Save Transit Systems
Courtenay Brown, Axios, October 15, 2020
With falling ridership numbers, transit systems around the country are facing massive financial challenges as a result of lower fare and tax revenues. Transit agencies in cities such as New York, Boston, and Washington D.C. fear service cuts and workforce reductions as funds that Washington provided in March are quickly drying up. A facility set up by the Federal Reserve for mass transit systems to borrow money may be the last route out. However, transit analysts warn that this option may bleed transit agencies dry in the long run. For instance, if MTA borrowed up to the $10 billion limit from the reserve, one-quarter of every dollar it earned would go to debt repayment.
ARGENTINA—COVID-19 and Buses in Buenos Aires: Kick-Starting Reform?
Veronica Raffo and Francisco Jijena Sanchez, World Bank Blogs, October 14, 2020
The Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires relies heavily on its public transportation system to provide residents with an affordable and efficient way to move around the city. Restrictions during the first few weeks of the city’s lockdown severely lowered both supply and demand of the bus network. While supply has gradually returned to a normal level, demand remains at only 20 percent of pre-pandemic levels. Inefficiencies in the bus system design have led to widely different spatial outcomes for transit use in the city. Areas with higher socioeconomic levels have reported a greater decline due to work from home opportunities and access to cars. Overall the pandemic has led to a 74 percent decline in the total number of passengers, resulting in a four-fold increase in the cost of transporting a single passenger. This serves as a reminder that transit agencies need to find the right balance between limiting passenger numbers on transit systems and maintaining efficiency in the system.
CALIFORNIA—‘Game Changer.’ How COVID-19 Will Change Our Commutes around the Sacramento Region
Tony Bizjak, Sacramento Bee, October 13, 2020
The increasingly popular work-from-home trend may have a lasting impact on commuter patterns, air quality, pollution, and a flight to the suburbs in California. In Sacramento, freeways freed up dramatically during the initial weeks of the lockdown. However, the number of long-distance trips during COVID has increased by about 37 percent over the same period last year, seemingly due to people opting for pleasure trips in place of commuting. Anecdotal evidence suggests that young Bay Area workers are moving to the Sacramento suburbs—which may contribute to an increased dependency on already clogged freeways in the region. Mike Luken, head of transportation planning for Placer County, points to increased demand for road projects as housing starts increase in the area and traffic volume increases on Interstate 80.
Fear of Crowds May End Up Haunting U.S. Transit Agencies
David Zipper, Bloomberg CityLab, October 12, 2020
In a bid to encourage the use of public transit during the global pandemic, transit agencies throughout the country have imposed limits on the number of passengers on board and offered real-time crowding estimates on buses and trains. Crowd control has become the proxy for public transit safety in a situation where mask mandates spark political polarization. Public transit received criticism early in the pandemic from those who hypothesized that buses and trains act as a catalyst for the spread of the virus. Though recent research has debunked this belief, the impression of danger around public transit lingers. Experts fear that a continuing focus on limiting numbers on public transit may backfire and add to the financial woes of transit agencies.
NJ TOD News
Newark’s Own High Line Will Connect the City, But Raise Commercial Parking By 3.5%
M.E. Cagnassola, TAPIntoNewark, October 14, 2020
Newark is set to move forward with its own version of the High Line. The walking bridge will begin at Mulberry Commons Park, run above McCarter Highway, connect to Newark Penn Station, and branch off to the Ironbound. A new parking tax will fund the construction of the bridge, per a bill signed by Governor Murphy in 2019 that allows municipalities with more than 100,000 residents to levy a 3.5% parking tax for public and private facilities. The tax funding will also contribute to the creation of a new homeless shelter, 100 units of transitional housing, and 100 units for the city’s chronically homeless. Mayor Ras Baraka expects the new bridge to connect the central and eastern parts of Newark and spur millions of dollars’ worth of development around it. Natasha Rodgers, Chief Operating Officer, emphasized increased levels of connectivity and walkability that the new bridge will bring to Newark’s neighborhoods.
Clifton OKs Plan to Tear Down Black Prince Distillery and Replace It with 300 Apartments
Matt Fagan, NorthJersey.com, October 12, 2020
The Clifton City Council approved plans to redevelop the former Black Prince distillery and to build 300 new residential units. After Black Prince ceased its Clifton operations, the city designated the site as an area in need of development. The site’s proximity to Clifton train station supports plans for a transit-oriented village, which call for a potential developer to demolish the existing building, complete site improvements, and prep the site for the new residential units. The project also calls for the construction of a pedestrian walkway to allow better access to the neighboring station. However, Councilwoman Mary Sadrakula and local activist Ann Schnakenberg question requirements for 432 new parking spaces as part of this development and instead point towards the need for sustainable green infrastructure. The city has not yet identified a purchaser for the property, but as the redevelopment entity for the project, the city will require the redeveloper to conduct traffic, fiscal impact, and environmental impact studies before proceeding.
Infrastructure Improvements for One-Mile Stretch of Metuchen’s Main Street in Preliminary Design Phase, Public Comment Accepted through Oct. 30
Kathy Chang, CentralJersey.com, October 11, 2020
The Borough of Metuchen has received a $9.3 million grant from New Jersey Transit Planning Authority (NJTPA) through its 2017-18 local safety program that the borough will use to improve public safety, pedestrian safety, traffic signals, and to reduce the number of truck crashes at the Main Street Amtrak (Northeast Corridor) railroad bridge. As part of this project, the borough will see the implementation of an overheight vehicle detection system, upgraded traffic signal infrastructure, new flashing pedestrian beacons, curb extensions, and the addition of railings, retaining walls, sidewalk, lighting, and storm drainage to the underpass itself. All the upgrades will be made following the Americans Disabilities Act (ADA)/ Public Rights-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG) standards.
MASSACHUSETTS—Fixing Greater Boston’s Housing Crisis Starts with Legalizing Apartments near Transit
Sarah Crump, Trevor Mattos, Jenny Schuetz, and Luc Schuster, Brookings, October 14, 2020
Analysts at the Brookings Institution examine the impacts of restrictive zoning on the supply of housing, especially affordable housing, in the greater Boston area. Three issues arise out of this zoning regime: high housing costs that impede the regional labor market; limited housing development near job centers and transit that increases the need for long, single-occupancy car trips; and exclusionary practices that increase racial and economic segregation and limit access to high-opportunity communities for Black, Latino, and Hispanic families. While land near the region’s transit facilities is expensive, changing housing density and building types can help ameliorate costs and have the added benefits of providing better access to public transportation and job opportunities and promoting more inclusive communities.
MINNESOTA—Council Awards Grants for Housing Near Transit
Metropolitan Council, October 14, 2020
The Metropolitan Council has awarded grants totaling $4.5 million for transit-oriented developments in Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and St. Louis Park, as well as to support the renovation and expansion of the Minneapolis American Indian Center. In all, the grants will support the construction of 332 new homes, most of which will be affordable to households earning less than 60 percent of the area median income (or $62,040 for a family of four). The grants are part of the Council’s Livable Communities program, established in 1995. The four transit-oriented development grants are expected to result in an increase in net tax capacity of nearly $500,000 and leverage nearly $107 million in other public and private investment.
MARYLAND—Montgomery County Launches a New Rapid Bus Service This Week
Jordan Pascale, WAMU, October 13, 2020
Montgomery County recently launched its first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line, which runs on one of the region’s busiest transit corridors between Burtonsville and Silver Spring. The BRT line offers high-frequency service and operates in dedicated right-of-way, both of which should support reliable service and help combat issues of congestion in the area. The service will reduce trip time by 16 minutes by incorporating features such as off-board fare collection, priority at intersections, and platform-level boarding. Upgraded vehicles with higher passenger capacity, multiple doors for boarding, and an automated wheelchair secure system will also contribute to the reduction in trip time. Transportation Committee Chair Tom Hucker hopes that the two new routes under the BRT system will address transportation equity issues in the county, and benefit lower-income and immigrant communities who have long relied on the bus system to travel from affordable housing in Burtonsville to the transit center and to connect to jobs in Silver Spring and D.C.
CALIFORNIA—Sacramento’s Affordable Housing Deficit Gains 140 Units
Lisa Brown, GlobeSt.com, October 12, 2020
EAH Housing recently purchased a 1.27-acre site at 1901 Broadway in Sacramento and plans construction of an infill transit-oriented multifamily development. When completed, the project will comprise 140 permanently affordable rental units. Units will accommodate renters with incomes at between 30 and 80 percent of the area’s average median income. The developer is currently looking to secure funding and hopes to begin construction in late 2021. Established in 1968, EAH Housing is a nonprofit developer working in California and Hawai‘i. Note: free registration may be needed to access this article.
International TOD News
CHINA—SOM Envisions a Vibrant, Diverse, and Ecological Urban Community in Guangming District, Shenzhen
Christele Harrouk, ArchDaily, October 15, 2020
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) has proposed a master plan design for the Central Area of Guangming District, Shenzhen, China that highlights urban design, natural elements, and technological advancement, and that integrates new open spaces into the existing topography and surrounding urban environment. The proposed project is to be located adjacent to two new metro stations and will mix residential, commercial, retail, and cultural uses, and will focus on health and wellness. The project seeks to optimize the flow of pedestrians and maximize connections between transit, living, and working, thereby promoting livability for residents.
CANADA—CF Unveils 5M-sq.-ft. ‘Downtown’ in Montreal’s West Island
Danny Kucharsky, RENX.ca, October 14, 2020
Cadillac Fairview plans to build a new development in West Island, Montreal, centered around a new REM light-rail transit station and bus terminal. The project will include offices, residential units, a seniors’ residence, a boutique hotel, parks, and retail, and aims to create a downtown area for West Island. The developers intend to create a dense, multi-use center for the West Island community. Phase one of the development plans will start with the redevelopment of a former Sears store, phase two includes the construction of offices in the Secteur Centre-Ville of the project along with hotel and residential development, and phase three will involve the construction of a mix of different housing typologies in the Secteur du Parc.
VIETNAM—Vietnam’s Biggest Bus Station Opens in HCM City
VNA, Vietnam Plus, October 12, 2020
After repeated delays due to COVID-19, Ho Chi Minh City’s Mien Dong Bus Station, the largest in Vietnam, opened for service this week. The new station can serve about 52,000 passengers and over 1,800 buses at peak hours, and connects inner-city public bus routes, inter-city provincial bus routes (including more than 71 long-haul routes), the city’s Metro Line No 1, and serves as a hub for passengers going to Long Thanh International Airport. The multi-functional complex includes a commercial center, entertainment area, restaurants, and other service areas. Tran Quoc Toan, General Director at Saigon Transportation Mechanical Corporation (SAMCO), stated that the station’s location supports urban development, specifically a transit-oriented development model for the area, as well as the development of the proposed Thu Duc smart city to be located within Ho Chi Minh City.