Posts tagged with transit

Why I Voted YES For MAPS 3!

December 4th, 2009

maps3park

I heard an ad on the radio today explaining that a vote for MAPS 3 is a vote for: more jobs, healthy living, and public safety.  The ad was paid for by the YESforMAPS campaign, so I guess it makes sense that it seemed carefully engineered to convince people to vote yes. In the midst of a major recession, who doesn’t like more jobs. And when you live in America’s #2 Fattest City, supporting healthy living seems like a good idea.  And public safety, who could vote against public safety.*  But I didn’t like the ad.  In fact, I hated it.  Because in the midst of the calculated message they failed to focus on the primary reason people should vote yes for MAPS 3.  In fact, it is the only reason I voted yes (I voted early), and it is a major factor in me and my wife’s recent decision to move back to Oklahoma City.  That is – MAPS has improved and will continue to improve quality of life in Oklahoma City!

MAPS 3 will add streetcar transit to downtown

The original MAPS was an effort to enhance quality of life in Oklahoma City and it has been an overwhelming success.  The laundry list of development, investment, and improvements that have occurred as a result has been recounted so many times that it serves little purpose to create one more such list.  But let me sum up the impact like this: Everday my life in Oklahoma City is made better as a direct result of MAPS.  If you live or work near downtown, or enjoy attending sporting events, or own a house that has a appreciated as a result – MAPS has made your life better too.  And our improved quality of life has brought with it a new sense of community pride.  People all over the city are proud of what we have accomplished, are working each day to make our city better than the day before, and, like me, look to the future with a hope and optimism that only a few quixotic visionaries might have had 16 years ago.

maps3whitewater

MAPS3 can build upon this success and ensure that our hopes and dreams today become line items on tomorrow’s laundry list of accomplishments.  MAPS3 will – without a doubt – improve the quality of life in Oklahoma City!  MAPS3 could provide our city with a park capable of serving as a physical heart and a gathering place for the whole community, something which has been conspicuously absent since the hastily planned grids laid out 120 years ago.  And after enduring almost a half century of a over-engineered drainage ditch, and only just now beginning to appreciate the benefits of having a waterway with actual water, MAPS3 could transform the Oklahoma River into, not only an elite international rowing venue, but an incredible recreational playground for the entire city to enjoy – whether as participant or spectator.  Finally, MAPS3 could provide the beginnings of a meaningful transit system by making areas around downtown accessible sans automobile.  Hopefully the future will bring a regional system that provides broader service, but either way, a legitimate downtown transit system will be a necessary first step for making a more expansive solution possible.

That is why I am voting yes for MAPS3.  Do I like all of the projects?  No.  But this is not MAPSforBlair; MAPS is an exercise in successful community compromise and MAPS3 is the most aggressive test yet of this principle.  You might not like all of the projects either, or are perhaps insulted by the simplistic rhetoric being spewed by both sides, BUT if you believe the city should continue working to improve our quality of life, you should vote yes for MAPS3 on December 8th.

* ironically it seems the answer is – according to the radio ad – police and firemen.

Streetcars drive development.

June 23rd, 2009

More downtown housing creates more pedestrians, more demand for retail, and an altogether more vibrant downtown.  So what creates more housing?…a modern streetcar system for one.  In my opinion, this is the appropriate strategy for laying out the route of the (hopefully MAPS 3) downtown trolley system.  Existing proposals that attempt to be all things to all people – connecting every node of downtown with every surrounding center of employment – fail to consider the development generating power of streetcars.

From Speck’s Oklahoma City Walkability Analysis:

Oklahoma City is in the process of considering a downtown streetcar system, which is another way of describing a trolley on rails.  Many cities have built these systems, and some have been very successful while others have never caught on.  The key to creating a successful trolley system is to understand that these systems are principally useful not as a means of mobility but as a tool for increasing the value of real estate.  The story of Portland’s trolley in the Pearl District is the story of millions in public investment leading to billions in private investment, because the rail line was planned in conjunction with thousands of units of new housing, which was made desirable by its presence on a rail line.  The lesson learned there and elsewhere is that the path of a new streetcar must be carefully coordinated with planned housing if the transit investment is to pay off.

To add to what Speck said, consider this.  How great can the benefit of streetcars be in places that are already fully-developed for people traveling by car alone?  Now think of how many empty storefronts, underutilized buildings, and bare lots exists, in and around downtown, that might benefit more from the addition of streetcars.  Streetcars are not just for connecting active places, they are for creating active places.  Before the MAPS 3 streetcars system is implemented we need a plan that understands transit’s ability to catalyze new development and create density.

Public Transit: A Paradigm Shift?

October 7th, 2008

1986: “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself a failure.”

– Margaret Thatcher


2008: The Mayor in London proudly sent their red Buses to Beijing to receive the flag for the 2012 Olympics.

It appears to have shifted in London and many other major metropolises throughout the world. One can only speculate as to how perceptions are changing in OKC, as the current level of transit service is so poor that perceptions cannot be said to affect ridership.

So what do you think? If service was better would “successful” people – however you define it – be found riding public transit in Oklahoma City?


What Is the Future of Suburbia?

August 13th, 2008

Stephen Dubner (co-author of Freakonomics) invited seven leading thinkers on cities to weigh in on what the future holds for suburbia. Here is an overview of the important points, followed by some of my own thoughts on the subject. To read the full NY Times article, click here.


ARTICLE RECAP

James Kunstler, with his typical gloomy apocalyptic vision, describes a future in which both energy consuming suburbs and high-rise urban areas (described elsewhere as buildings over seven stories that necessitate elevators) will suffer greatly:

One popular current fantasy I hear often is that apartment towers are the “greenest” mode of human habitation. On the contrary, we will discover that the skyscraper is an obsolete building type, and that cities overburdened with them will suffer a huge liability — Manhattan and Chicago being the primary examples. Cities composed mostly of suburban-type fabric — Houston, Atlanta, Orlando, et al — will also depreciate sharply. The process of urban contraction is likely to be complicated by ethnic tensions and social disorder.

In Kunstler’s mind the cheap energy era is over and technology is not likely to save the day:

The automobile will be a diminishing presence in our lives, whether we like it or not. Further proof of our obdurate cluelessness in these matters is the absence of any public discussion about restoring the passenger railroad system — even as the airline industry is also visibly dying. The campaign to sustain suburbia and all its entitlements will result in a tragic squandering of our dwindling resources and capital…

…Sometimes whole societies make unfortunate decisions or go down tragic pathways. Suburbia was ours.

Jan Bruekner, professor of economics at the University of California, offers a more balanced take examining how the incentives that created the suburbs are shifting.

Urban economics tells us that cheap gas, lots of investment in highways, and rising incomes created the suburbs that we now see in American cities.

The first two forces made it affordable and convenient to commute from far out, and greater affluence made people covet big houses, which can be built for less on inexpensive suburban land. Lately, these suburbanization forces are being reversed by “gentrification,” with well-off, empty-nester households lured back to city centers by improving urban amenities (restaurants, museums, etc.) and the renewal of crumbling downtown housing stocks.

Over the next 40 years, these forces will continue to operate, with some new twists thrown in. Skyrocketing gas prices will lead some households to reconsider their long commutes, introducing an “anti-suburbanization” force that favors denser, more compact cities. Boosts in auto fuel economy will soften this blow, but the push for suburbanization will nevertheless slow. Urban densification will also mean a different look for some of our neighborhoods: single-story ranch houses, the hallmarks of past suburbanization, will increasingly give way to denser, two-story suburbs, as is already happening in many cities where land prices are high.

John Archer, chair of the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota, believes the suburbs will be resilient and able to survive by becoming more flexible, smarter, and hybrid.

Ideals of privacy, property, and selfhood…are splendidly realized in the single nuclear-family detached house, set in its private surrounding yard. And no matter the threats of global warming or energy shortages, the solutions that we pursue are going to adhere to those ideals.

Seemingly, at least in Archer’s opinion, the “new urbanist” are the first to attempt to cater to these ideals with a hybrid form.

As many “new urbanist” and “new suburbanist” projects demonstrate, suburbia is becoming a hybrid place that melds desirable traits of city living (activity, diversity) while still maintaining allegiance to primary suburban ideals of selfhood and domesticity (and, one might add, consumption).

Alan Berube, research director and fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, offers a compelling analysis that views the continued impact of transportation on the form of cities.

New physical forms. Just as America’s first suburbs sprouted up along the streetcar lines built in the early 20th century, the first half of the 21st century will see the growth of “light rail suburbs” (even in areas that don’t have the rail yet).

High oil prices and the imperative to address global climate change will help spur denser residential development along transit corridors outside of cities. We’d see more of it today, if supply kept up with demand. Chris Leinberger estimates that walkable suburban communities served by transit today command anywhere from a 40 percent to 200 percent price premium over conventional drivable suburban development.

Lawrence C. Levy, executive director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, offers similar findings, but admits it is largely dependent on political leadership and cost of energy

The energy price crisis, which is battering suburbia harder than other areas because of its dependence on the car, has hastened a trend toward building higher rise housing in village downtowns near commuter rail lines — aka “transit oriented development.”

The units are more affordable because builders can acquire land in depressed village downtowns more cheaply than in other areas and because they are usually allowed to build more units per acre. The affordable apartments in hipper, walkable urban-style neighborhoods become a magnet for young, well educated workers that many suburbs have been losing. Independent elderly couples, who no longer need or want a big single family house, also are drawn to these cheaper, more interesting neighborhoods.



DEFINING THE OBJECTIVE

I should note, that in addition to the repeated forecast for denser, walkable, and transit-oriented development, many of the respondents spent time discussing the shifting demographic trends which are sure to reshape the suburbs we know today. This is certainly something we will see happen and I generally agree with the insights offered on this point.

What I am more intrigued by however, is the view echoed by almost all of the respondents that the cost of energy will be a major determinant suburbia’s future. This may seem like an obvious point for them to make, but I have always been one to believe that as soon as the cost of gasoline rose to a point that invited competition, the market would respond with innovations that softened the effect of energy cost. What has actually always concerned me more is the debilitating urban form that has arisen as a result of the personal automobile – a form that necessitates tons of parking, hinders community, and makes active living difficult. Ultimately, I find that we can embrace both the personal automobile with the exceptional freedom of mobility that it offers, along with an urban form that provides a high quality of life for everyone, including those that do not own a car. But quality of life must be the priority!


WHERE IT WENT WRONG

Cars are certainly a contributing factor to many peoples overall quality of life, but too often I find that American cities have failed to view the use of automobiles as a means to achieving a greater quality of life and have instead viewed the use of automobiles as the the objective itself. Once we lost sight of the true objective, it is not wonder it all went so wrong. In my opinion, suburbia’s golden era took place when early, wealthy suburbanites were able to benefit from all that suburbia offered in the form of “privacy, property, and selfhood” and yet remained a quick car ride away from a vital urban center that offered the best of a city in the form of community, shopping, culture, and people watching. This ideal combination that truly offered “the best of both worlds” was eventually sought out by everyone – and for good reason – but when all of the people left for the suburbs so did the amenities that were provided by now depleted urban center. The suburbs were no longer “the best of both worlds” and for many were no better than what a city by itself had offered in the first place.


TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT

Perhaps this is the idea that we are returning to with transit-oriented development. This was repeated in different ways by a number of the respondents and I believe their assessment is on target. Transit-oriented developments (or TODs) offer a hybrid of suburban and city living; and in a infrastructural form that contributes to the sustained vitality of a major urban center. What many cities currently have is a transportation system that is exclusively automobile oriented, which is detrimental to the sustained vitality of a city’s downtown and will diminish the aggregate quality of life for all residents. A diversity of transportation options with a diversity of related forms should be appealing to everyone. I certainly don’t want people that hate living downtown to be forced to live there; I want everyone to have the freedom to choose where they live and be held responsible for paying the full cost of that decision. Cities that can provide the overall best quality of life to a diverse population with varying taste will win out in the long run. This can only be done if we allow different parts of the city to serve different functions, but all in a way that contribute to the vitality of the city as a whole.

One way OKC could make downtown more functional for people both with and without cars is to improve parking accessibility and transit downtown – for more on this proposal, check out Bricktown Parking: Killing Two Birds with One Streetcar!

Its not a Segway, its a Winglet!

August 6th, 2008

Last Friday Toyota showed off their new Winglet personal-transporter. Apparently, it will only go 3.7 mph, barely faster than the 3.0 mph walking speed of a typical pedestrian. While it seems odd that people would pay for something that requires them to stand up and still only travel at a walking speed, there is certainly a cool factor here. Also, persons with mobility problems could benefit greatly from such a device. Either way, this is only the first generation we are talking about; I am sure they will increase the speed in the future.

Not sure what the price is yet, but it did get me thinking. What if we made these available all over downtown like a bike sharing program. You know, so that people that have to park far away from Bricktown, would be able to Winglet it instead. I know I would park at the Galleria for the chance to buzz through downtown on one of these things. In fact, for the $21 million we discussed spending on a downtown trolley, we could provide personal transporters for all of the disgruntled parkers instead. I expect the Winglet to be cheaper than the Segway, but even if we were to spend the $4,500 it costs to buy Segways, we could afford to put over 4,600 of them spaced throughout downtown. It would definitely be fun to watch on Friday nights when the bars let out – that is for sure!

Anyway, don’t get too excited about the Winglet yet, they won’t hit the market until around 2010.

Here is the video:

If you want to read more about the Winglet, here you go:

First Ten Posts in Review

July 31st, 2008

First Ten Post in Review



Or, a more vertical version…

First Ten Posts in Review


Only goes to show you, you can’t talk about development in this city without talking about parking!

-b

Bricktown Parking: Killing Two Birds with One Streetcar

July 29th, 2008

Bricktown has a parking problem. I am apparently very lucky, as I have never had to deal with this problem myself, but people have now talked about this “problem” or “perception of a problem” for so long that it really must be true. According to Steve Lackmeyer, the city is now considering “fixing” the problem by purchasing the Power Alley parking garage and offering free or reduced-price parking spaces. Before we talk more about the garage, lets check out the current parking situation in Downtown.

DOWNTOWN PARKING

Downtown OKC, Inc. has tried to ameliorate the parking issues by distributing information on the amount and location of parking in Downtown and Bricktown. On their website they provide this map showing all of the parking spaces in Downtown along with the route of the downtown trolley.

As you can see there is actually a ton of parking available in Downtown – over 20,000 spaces! Bricktown itself has over 4,000 and that is without including the 750 spaces located on the north lots. It appears the point of contention is not the availability of spots but the cost. “Wal-mart has free parking, so why not Bricktown?” This may explain why people continue to proclaim a lack of parking, while the consultant hired to study the issue stated that even during peak hours 1 out of every 3 parking spaces is available, with over 1,000 total available spaces (it appears my good fortune wasn’t luck afterall). So the idea of purchasing the Power Alley garage and subsidizing the parking costs ostensibly tackles the problem head on – we don’t need more parking, we just need cheaper parking…or better yet free parking!

FIXING THE PROBLEM

The Power Alley parking garage (located on Sheridan, just north of the Bricktown Ballpark) has 538 parking spaces (according to the Bricktown Association website).

The owner of the garage is Marsh Pitman. And while Marsh is actually a good friend of mine, I haven’t asked him about anything related to this deal, so I don’t know how much the City would spend to acquire Power Alley from him. Still, we can probably estimate the price pretty close ourselves. According to the County Assessor’s website the property is worth approximately $4.2 million. Typically you would want to price a structured parking garage in terms of the cost per space or with an operating garage you could cap the operating income. I don’t have any clue what the income is on the garage, but we do know the number of spaces. If you take the $4.2 million figure and divide by the 538 spaces, it works out to around $7,800 per parking space without including the cost of land. Generally, new structured parking spaces cannot be built today for less than $12,000 per space, and that is the minimum. So we can definitely throw out the assessor’s number as being far too low. My best guess is that the City could not buy the Power Alley garage for less than $16,000 per space total – so we are talking about approximately $8.6 million.

So spending $8.6 million for the Power Alley garage, and providing 538 more subsidized parking spaces in Bricktown, is one option for the City. But I beleive there is another – better – option that will take care of the parking problem while providing some added benefits to the entire Downtown area.

THE GREEN LINE

As you likely already know, I am a huge proponent of improving and expanding our transportation options in Oklahoma City. I think the rubber-tired trolleys are great, but we can all agree that they have always been more of a novelty than something you can actually depend on to regularly get around Downtown. Knowing what we know now, we probably would have scraped together enough money to get the MAPS streetcar system up and running even without support from Washington. Well this is our opportunity to right the wrong and fix our parking troubles in the process.

The proposed Green Line consists of a modern fixed-rail streetcar system running straight along Sheridan for three-quarters of a mile from N. Stiles Ave. on the east end of Bricktown to Hudson Ave. in Downtown. Four stops are proposed, spaced approximately one-quarter mile apart, putting most of Downtown and Bricktown within a five minute walk. The short route and limited stops will allow for consistent and expedited service – likely less than five minutes between trains during peak periods. And the straight-line route and bi-directional service would make navigation a breeze for locals and tourists alike.

Perhaps the best thing about the Green Line is that is will solve all of our parking troubles as well. As we saw before there are a ton of parking spaces in the Downtown area and the Green Line will provide easy access to some of the largest parking structures. Instead of adding 538 spaces we can provide access to the 1,696 spaces at the Galleria garage – not to mention the other garages that are also close to the route. And almost all of these spaces are likely empty most nights and weekends during Bricktown’s peak business hours.

PAYING FOR IT

These are the most current figures being used by the City of Albuquerque:

The cost to construct a Streetcar is approximately $28 million / mile. That cost includes all aspects, including steel rail, concrete, pedestrian friendly stops, traffic signals, maintenance facility, power source, utility reconstruction, roadway reconstruction, and vehicles.

So our three-quarter mile system would cost approximately $21 million. If we used this option instead of purchasing the Power Alley garage, then we would save that $8.6 million, bringing the total extra cost down to $12.4 million. For this bargain amount we would really be solving Bricktown’s parking “problems” while laying the foundation for an urban transportation system that would greatly benefit both Downtown and Bricktown into the future. This is a senseable and relatively inexpensive way to get public transit off the ground OKC! It will mesh perfectly with the forthcoming Devon Tower; lighten the parking demand in Bricktown, allowing for some of Bricktown’s surface lots to be developed; and the energy created would serve as an impetus to make something happen with the Stewart Metal buildings on the east end of Bricktown. This is just the start, when the time is right the line could be easily expanded to provide service to the fledging Film District or even the American Indian Cultural Center. We could sit here and name the benefits of this all day, but instead we should just do it!

Brandon Specketer: A Native Talent

July 17th, 2008

The other day I happened upon the online design portfolio of Brandon Specketer. Brandon is a fellow alum of both P.C. North and the University of Oklahoma. He graduated two years ahead of me and I always knew him to be a stand-up guy and an incredibly fast runner. While at OU, he studied under Hans Butzer – the award-winning designer of the Oklahoma City National Memorial – and has also previously worked as an intern for Elliot + Associates here in Oklahoma City. Unfortunately, Brandon is currently living in New York, continuing his architecture career with Cook+Fox. Hopefully he will make it back to OKC soon so that we can experience his design work firsthand, but in the meantime he has given me permission to highlight some of his work.


OKLAHOMA CITY METRO STATION

These designs for an old class project exploring the possibility of commuter rail in Oklahoma City caught my eye immediately. As a huge proponent of improving and expanding our transportation options (a position becoming increasingly popular these days), it is interesting to consider this straight-forward design that utilizes the existing rail infrastructure.

Specketer design for OKC rail station

Specketer design for OKC rail



THE FLATIRON

Another project from his days at OU focuses on 131 Harrison, the building referred to as ‘The Flatiron’. Many of you know that this property is currently being developed by The Humphreys Company, where my older brother Grant serves as CEO and father Kirk as Chairman. Jim Hasenbeck and the gang at Studio Architecture have put together an absolutely terrific design that – in my somewhat slash completely biased opinion – will be the exemplar urban mixed-use development in Oklahoma City (you can check out some renderings at OKC Central). That said, it is always fun to see another person’s vision for the city and what Specketer offers is pretty cool.


Conceptual sketch of circulation and conceptual model of structural system.









INTERIOR DESIGN

Brandon had the opportunity to show off his interior design capabilities when HGTV.com showcased his NYC ‘bachelors’ pad‘. His apartment is cool, but what I really like are the designs for the London offices of Ackerman McQueen, an Oklahoma City based advertising firm. Brandon contributed to the project as an intern alongside Jay Yowell and the firm’s principle Rand Elliot. The project won an AIA 2005 Interiors Honors Award and a Merit Award in Interior Architecture in a competition of the Central States Region of the American Institute of Architects. They say that it is “The illusion and abstraction of London fog carries the project” and you can certainly see what they mean:





All photos of Ackerman McQueen © Robert Shimer/Hedrich Blessing





SKETCHES

Finally, check out these sketches. I am envious of anybody that can create such beauty with only pencil and paper.







Wrapping Up

As you can see, Brandon Specketer is a great talent. I wish him the best with everything, even if life doesn’t lead him back our way. But my guess is that at some point Brandon will move back to OKC, because I believe that the paradigm has shifted, that the tremendous renaissance currently being experienced by our City has caught the attention of Brandon and many others like him. As the quality of life in our city improves and the opportunities for creative professionals increase, Oklahoma City is likely to experience a rush of talent like it hasn’t seen since 1889. Because all else being equal – the familiar places, friendly people, and absolutely beautiful sunsets are hard to pass up!

If you would like to see more of Brandon Specketer’s work you can check out his portfolio at ryecroft.net!

Oklahoma City Gas Counter

July 17th, 2008
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