Groundbreaking TransitCenter Survey: Americans Want More Compact, Mixed-Use Neighborhoods

It’s widely accepted at this point that Americans are driving less and the country overall is shifting towards transit to get around — but you may be surprised to learn that it’s not just due to young people favoring transit or a recovering economy. A recent study by TransitCenter, “Who’s On Board: 2014 Mobility Attitudes Survey,” goes beyond previous studies that only look at commuting trends and ridership figures by including travel attitudes and behaviors.

The big takeaway from this groundbreaking report is that transit-oriented development plays a big role. The type of neighborhood is the top predictor of whether or not people in that neighborhood prefer transit: suburban, residential neighborhoods are the most common types of neighborhoods that respondents live in, but many reportedly prefer to live in mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods. The report states that “the attractiveness of mixed-use neighborhoods is a major part of what drives people onto transit.”

Respondents across all age groups largely desire suburban, mixed-use neighborhoods. | Chart: TransitCenter

Respondents across all age groups largely desire mixed-use neighborhoods. | Chart: TransitCenter

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A Renewed Focus on Downtown Stamford’s Streets

Mixed-use development in downtown Stamford with street-level commercial space is an essential element of an attractive, walkable downtown, but Washington Boulevard -- seven lanes wide here -- is designed for vehicular throughput. | Photo: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

Mixed-use development in downtown Stamford with street-level commercial space is an essential element of an attractive, walkable downtown, but Washington Boulevard — a wide, multi-lane arterial — is designed to maximize vehicular throughput. | Photo: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

Stamford is one of the fastest-growing cities in Connecticut, and a big part of that growth has been concentrated in mixed-use, multi-family developments built in and around downtown Stamford in the last decade.

Along with new residents, downtown Stamford has also attracted jobs. Unlike many stops along the Metro North New Haven Line, Stamford is not a bedroom community, but “an edge city with corporate and media spillover from New York”  that draws an ever-increasing share of reverse commuters to downtown job centers within walking distance of the McKinney Transportation Center.

But being within walking distance only takes you so far. Downtown Stamford is a short walk from the Transportation Center, but that doesn’t mean it’s a safe or attractive walk. Walking between the train station and major employment hubs like Landmark Center and office buildings along Tresser Boulevard requires passing under Interstate 95, crossing wide, multi-lane arterials, and walking along streets lined with blank walls and parking garages (more examples in photo gallery below).

With all the new mixed-use development happening downtown, it’s clear that Stamford has figured out the land use side of smart growth. What’s needed now is a renewed focus on downtown streets, especially in light of two recent pedestrian fatalities and the fact that Stamford has the highest per capita pedestrian crash rate in Fairfield County with 240 people struck by vehicles between 2010 and 2012. On Monday, Tri-State partnered with Stamford’s Downtown Special Services District to conduct a walking audit of the east-west Main Street corridor and identified plenty of streets and pedestrian crossings in need of improvements; future audits will focus on other areas downtown, including the streets around the Transportation Center.

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Land Banking: A Tool to Facilitate Equitable TOD

Vacant and abandoned properties present a variety of challenges to municipalities: they degrade the aesthetic appeal of neighborhoods, pose safety risks and lower the value of surrounding properties. Communities burdened by vacant property also miss out on considerable revenue — while local governments face increased maintenance costs. And more often than not, attempts to redevelop these properties are thwarted by complicated tax foreclosure processes.

To help alleviate these headaches, some communities are enacting legislation to create land banks, which would acquire and manage abandoned properties so they can be saved for development and returned to productive uses.

One such productive use that land banks can help cities achieve is equitable transit-oriented development (ETOD). When municipalities establish land banks with the goal of creating ETOD, they’re not simply collecting underutilized land; they’re taking the first steps toward improving access to economic opportunity and housing choice for low-income people.

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Advocates Tour CTfastrak Bus Rapid Transit System

ctfastrak-tour-6

Representatives from transportation and environmental advocacy organizations (including Tri-State) joined the Connecticut Department of Transportation for a tour of the CTfastrak bus rapid transit (BRT) system on Thursday. The tour was organized by Transit for Connecticut and led by ConnDOT’s Mike Sanders and Maureen Lawrence.

Here are a few photos from Thursday’s tour:

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NACTO State Transportation Departments Walk the Walk

State transportation departments in Massachusetts and California -- which have adopted NACTO's Urban Street Design Guide -- happen to be located in highly walkable, bikeable, transit-accessible locations. | Image: WalkScore

State DOTs in Massachusetts and California — which have adopted NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide — happen to be located in highly walkable, bikeable, transit-accessible locations. | Image: WalkScore

As MTR reported earlier this week, Tennessee became the sixth state to formally endorse the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Street Design Guide.

The NACTO Guide is considered “a blueprint for safe, multi-modal streets,” but 44 states (including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) still rely on the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) less progressive design guidelines for urban streets.

That got us thinking: What, if anything do the states that have endorsed the NACTO guide (California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Tennessee, Utah and Washington) have in common?

Back in March of 2013, we used Walk Score to see if there was any correlation between a state transportation department’s priorities and where the people who staff those departments go to work each day.

Tri-State looked to see if — and to what extent — state departments of transportation lead by example. Specifically, how walkable are the locations of state department of transportation (DOT) headquarters, and what does this tell us about that state’s transportation priorities?

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Groups Call on New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation to Reconsider Tappan Zee Bridge Loan

UPDATE: EFC Board of Directors approves loan with 5-0 vote. Yesterday, Tri-State and eight other environmental and good government groups sent a letter to New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation Board of Directors calling upon them to reject, or at least postpone a vote on, a $511 million no-interest and low-interest loan for the New NY Bridge construction project. The […]

How to Convert New York’s Urban Freeways

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner | Photo: @SBRWA/Twitter

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner | Photo: @SBRWA/Twitter

Non-profit leaders, agency employees, elected officials and their representatives came together in Albany this week to discuss the experience of four cities trying to convert urban freeways to more city-friendly boulevards.

The Urban Freeways to Boulevards Summit, co-hosted be the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance (SBRWA), of which Tri-State is a member, and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, brought together the cities of Albany, New York, Rochester and Syracuse to talk about lessons learned and possible strategies for making urban freeway conversion projects a reality.

Assemblyman Crespo kicked off the meeting by talking about the importance of the urban freeway conversion project in his district – the Sheridan Expressway – to improve health, quality of life and the economic vitality of the area. He was followed by representatives from each of the four cities:

The discussion that followed covered several points centered on the idea that New York State needs a new paradigm for how transportation projects are planned and evaluated:

New York State needs a process or protocol for the conversion of underutilized urban freeways: Cities across the state are re-imagining existing transportation infrastructure and exploring the ways to address changing mobility needs, lack of green space, housing needs and economic development. Yet, despite five cities (Buffalo’s Skyway/Route 5 is also exploring a conversion) exploring the conversion of freeways to boulevards, there is no clear state guidance on how to proceed with a planning process, what data to gather, the funding commitments needed, nor the tools available. Participants expressed a desire to remain connected to other cities to share information and to have a strong partnership with regional and central DOTs to advance such concepts.

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Downtown Hartford’s Future Hinges on Reducing the Oversupply of Parking, Leveraging Investments in Transit

Hartford parking circa 2000. Source: "Losing Hartford, Transportation policy and the decline of an American city"

Downtown Hartford parking circa 2000. Source: “Losing Hartford, Transportation policy and the decline of an American city

The downtown Hartford campus of the University of Connecticut gained final approval this week, a move that UConn President Susan Herbst expects will bolster the city’s economy by attracting “a huge influx of visitors studying and working daily on the new campus.” Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra echoed that sentiment, citing the 2,500 students, faculty and staff that he expects “will generate an infusion of activity” in the capital city.

It was also announced this week that the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats baseball team will also move to downtown Hartford, bringing up to 9,000 fans to a yet-to-be-built stadium on the northern edge of downtown 75 nights each year (and potentially more for concerts and other events).

Minor-league baseball is great entertainment, and it would be lovely to have it in Hartford. Downtown residents and workers could walk to the games… it would undeniably bring more feet to the street and more jobs and tax revenue to the city. Along with a UConn campus opening on Prospect Street in 2017… a top-of-the-line baseball stadium would give Hartford the vibrancy it needs.

Having more people downtown could mean more foot traffic and an economic boost for local businesses. And it’s easy to imagine that “shops, restaurants, a bar or two” and more could spring up near the new stadium, or that new retail and dining establishments geared toward college students might set up shop near the Hartford Times Building, the centerpiece of the new UConn campus.

But in order to revitalize downtown Hartford, the City will need to do more to address a street network that is disjointed and congested largely because of one reason: an oversupply of parking. Unlike nearby mid-sized employment centers like Stamford and White Plains, Hartford isn’t served by frequent inter-city transit, so just about everybody drives to get there. On top of that, many Hartford streets “were progressively re-engineered to accommodate more private vehicles at ever higher speeds” at the expense of the pedestrian and cycling environment, leaving a downtown that suffers from “underpopulated sidewalks [that] appear unwelcoming and even forbidding.”

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The Health Consequences of Being Dangerous by Design

Communities that are "Dangerous by Design" are problematic because it's unsafe to walk, and it's unhealthy to not walk. | Source

Unsafe streets are a threat to those who walk — and those who don’t.

Since the release of Smart Growth America’s Dangerous by Design 2014 report earlier this month, people have been wondering what characteristics the regions with the most dangerous roads have in common. It’s no surprise that the metro areas that topped the Pedestrian Danger Index are primarily automobile-oriented, “Sunbelt communities that grew in the post-war period,” or that the safest metros tend to be centered around denser cities where driving isn’t the only way of getting around.

But that’s not all these places have in common. Metro areas where streets are “dangerous by design” aren’t just a threat to pedestrian safety. They may also be a threat to our health.

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5 Reasons Why Connecticut Should Rethink Spending $400 Million to Widen 3 Miles of I-84 in Waterbury

The 2.7-mile stretch of Interstate 84 between Exit 23 and Exit 25A east of downtown Waterbury, Connecticut is considered “one of the state’s most notorious commuter bottlenecks.” I-84 narrows to four lanes in this section (two in each direction); to the east and west there are three lanes in each direction.

We don’t doubt that this temporary decrease in roadway capacity plays some role in creating a bottleneck. The question is how big of a role, and whether a $400 million widening project is the only solution. Here are five reasons why Connecticut leaders may want to reconsider the decision to widen Interstate 84:

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