Shannon Orem (cc)
Atlanta's Arts Center MARTA transit station, where new development may be allowed on top thanks to the agency's willingness to allow 99-year ground leases.
In the Loop is your round-up of what’s going on in the transportation world, posted in conjunction with Talking Transit.
The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) is buzzing with transportation-related activities. MPC’s Logan Square Corridor Development Initiative wrapped up last month with a final meeting that attracted more than 200 attendees, who came to share their thoughts about potential transit-oriented development on and around the plaza at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Blue Line station.
MPC released the results of its study of the economic impacts of Chicago’s People Spot program, which is bringing new spaces for relaxation and leisure to neighborhoods across the city by replacing parking spaces with places for sitting. People Spots, the study found, is increasing foot traffic for 80 percent of businesses nearby, as emphasized by a recent article in CityLab.
Similar economic impacts are likely for the shared street planned for Argyle in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, where traffic will be slowed and pedestrians will be invited to enjoy the entire right-of-way. Construction in Uptown is expected to wrap up next year. The experience thus far in Batavia, Ill., which pioneered the shared street concept in our region, indicates that the intervention will work well.
MPC is hosting two major events to discuss transportation issues in the coming weeks. Jaime Lerner, the former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, is speaking at an MPC “Think and Drink” on Oct. 21 to describe what he did to help make his city more livable—notably by making streets more active through pedestrian ways and bus rapid transit. And MPC will be hosting a roundtable on Nov. 18 featuring Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle to describe the impact of an entirely different type of transportation investment: the CREATE package of investments in the regional railroad system.
After years of tough negotiations, CTA, Metra and Pace have finally agreed to move forward on a fare-payment system they can all accept. A new smartphone application, which will roll out entirely in 2016, will allow customers to use their mobile phones as tickets on services operated by all three agencies.
CTA and Metra also announced major new investments in their trains. CTA is asking manufacturers to offer bids to produce 846 train cars for introduction beginning in 2018. These “7000 series” trains are likely to cost some $2 billion to purchase in total. Metra, too, is hoping to buy 400 new train cars and rehabilitate another 367 in order to upgrade some of its aging fleet. These purchases will be made possible in part thanks to a planned fare hike.
The City of Chicago is also investing in new transit infrastructure, particularly downtown. The City announced a total of $150 million in offerings for the construction of the Union Station Transit Center, a new El station at Washington and Wabash and the construction of the Central Loop bus rapid transit line, one of MPC’s top priorities.
That bus rapid transit investment may be particularly helpful in reducing the scale of bunching on CTA’s bus services, which WBEZ recently artfully illustrated and described on its “Curious City” podcast. Speedier routes will also improve access to jobs. A recent national study ranked the Chicago region fifth in the country in terms of jobs access by transit, after New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. It’s a reasonable position to be in, but the region certainly has room to improve.
Transit improvements, in fact, are top of mind for the Millennial generation, which is increasingly shifting away from car use and toward transit. A report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group shows that the share of high school seniors with drivers licenses has declined from 85 percent in 1996 to just 73 percent in 2010.
Yet more funding is likely required to make those improvements possible. In the Salt Lake City region, a local group called the Utah Transit Riders Union is pushing to increase the sales tax dedicated to transit to one cent per dollar, which would be a 45 percent increase over current levels. Similarly, in Alameda County, California (just outside of San Francisco), Measure BB on the ballot this November would increase the sales tax by half a cent to pay mostly for transit improvements. A similar measure received a majority of votes in 2012 but fell just 721 votes shy of the California-required two-thirds majority for a tax increase.
Other regions are considering other approaches to raising funds for transportation. Atlanta’s MARTA transit agency is planning to allow 99-year ground leases for construction above several of its major central-city rail stations. These leases will bring in immediate revenue, but also increase local property and sales taxes over the long term and increase the number of riders on the transit system—a win-win-win proposition.