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Cleveland’s Healthline Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Part 4

This is my final part on Cleveland’s Healthline Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). However, donations to offset the cost are still accepted here.

Earlier posts:

One of the articles that got me seriously looking at BRT was from Forbes in September 2013: Bus Rapid Transit Spurs Development Better Than Light Rail Or Streetcars: Study. Two parts stood out:

“Per dollar of transit investment, and under similar conditions, BRT can leverage more (development) investment than LRT or streetcars.”

For example, Cleveland’s Healthline, a BRT project completed on Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue in 2008, has generated $5.8 billion in development —$114 for each transit dollar invested. Portland’s Blue Line, a light rail project completed in 1986, generated $3.74 per dollar invested.

and…

The U.S. has seven authentic BRT lines in Cleveland, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Eugene Ore., and several in Pittsburgh. None achieve the internationally recognized “gold standard” of BRT like Bogota’s TransMilenio line. But one planned for Chicago’s Ashland Avenue might.

“There’s no gold standard BRT in the U.S. yet,” Weinstock said, “but if we continue with the Ashland project on the current trajectory, Ashland could be the first gold in the U.S.”

I’ll address Chicago’s Ashland Ave in a future post. BRT — more development return than LRT or streetcars?

Long-time readers know I love rail — especially streetcars. Public transit was often about real estate development, to get people to a new project, developers would build a streetcar line to get them there. Cities would lease part of the public right-of-way (PROW) so they could operate. Cities, including St. Louis, would have multiple private companies providing public transit. Eventually cities would increase the fees for the track & overhead wires in the PROW or even require the operators to repave roads where they operated. This quickly made streetcar operations unprofitable. One solution, of course, was to abandon the track and use rubber tire vehicles — the bus.

Eventually governments bought up all the private systems — remaining streetcar lines and those that had been converted to bus. Remember, their origin was rooted in the development of real estate. With land developed these lines became strictly about moving people to/from. We need to retuning to the days of the connection between transit and development!

Which brings me back to Cleveland’s Healthline, it had an amazing $114.54 dollars of development for every dollar spent on the BRT line. Below is page 9 from More Development for Your Transit Dollar: An Analysis of 21 North American Transit Corridors.

Click to open larger version
Click to open larger version

As you can see from the BRT, LRT, and streetcar limes above the return on investment is all over the board. In the top section (Strong TOD Impacts) we see the LRT cost more than the BRT or streetcar lines, but had significantly less development.  A return of $3,74 on every dollar looks good until compared to $41.68 or more. Kansas City’s MAX bus line doesn’t even meet the basics to be BRT — yet it has had a return of $101.96 per dollar!

The report begins talking about the Metro subway system in Washington D.C. — a long & costly undertaking:

A growing number of US cities are finding, however, that metro or subway systems are simply too expensive and take too long to implement to effect significant changes in ongoing trends toward suburban sprawl. As such, cities are turning to lower-cost mass transit options such as LRT, BRT, and streetcars. These systems, which frequently use surface streets, are much less expensive and can be built more quickly than heavy-rail subways or metro systems. Over the past decade, some evidence has emerged that some LRT systems in the US have had positive development impacts. Outside of the US, in cities like Curitiba, Brazil, and Guangzhou, China, there is copious evidence that BRT systems have successfully stimulated development. Curitiba’s early silver-standard BRT corridors, completed in the 1970s, were developed together with a master plan that concentrated development along them. The population growth along the corridor rate was 98% between 1980 and 1985, compared to an average citywide population growth rate of only 9.5%. However, because bronze-, silver-, or gold-standard BRT is still relatively new to the US, evidence of the impact of good-quality BRT on domestic development is only now beginning to emerge and has been largely undocumented. (p14)

A detailed look at the Corridors with Strong TOD Impacts begins on page 110:

The analysis shows that all of the corridors in the Strong TOD Impacts category had Strong government TOD support and either Emerging or Strong land potential.

The only two transit corridors in our study that rate above bronze — the Cleveland HealthLine BRT and the Blue Line LRT — both fell into the Strong TOD Impacts category and were in Emerging
land markets. The Blue Line LRT leveraged $6.6 billion in new TOD investments, and the Cleveland HealthLine BRT leveraged $5.8 billion, making them the two most successful transit investments in the country from a TOD perspective. Portland achieved this over a much longer time period and in a stronger economy than Cleveland did.

In the Strong TOD Impacts category, three corridors with below-basic-quality transit had Strong land development potential and Strong government TOD support: the Portland Streetcar, the Seattle SLU Streetcar, and the Kansas City Main Street MAX.

In each of these cases, local developers and development authorities did not feel that the transit investment was all that critical to the TOD impacts. Thus, we can conclude that if the land market is strong enough, and the government TOD efforts strong enough, a below-basic transit investment might suffice; but a higher-quality transit investment could have even greater impacts.

Not all of the investment along Cleveland’s Healthline is urban. We visited this CVS  — built right after the line opened. The building is set back behind a fenced parking lot.

A typical suburban CVS is among the new development along Cleveland's Healthline
A typical suburban CVS is among the new development along Cleveland’s Healthline. Click image to view in Google Maps.
Like most newer CVS stores, it has an ADA accessible route out to the public sidewalk.
Like most newer CVS stores, it has an ADA accessible route out to the public sidewalk. In this view from the entry pedestrians must go left to the intersection to reach the EB & WB stations. If the entry were at the corner less walking would be required.

As I noted previously. a lot of the new development was on college & hospital campuses — it would’ve happened anyway — but it faces the street rather than looking internal (like SLU, BJC, etc).

I’ve got to read the full report a few more times so absorb it all — while recognizing it was written with a pro-BRT viewpoint.

Any TOD effort is most successful when land-use planning and urban development efforts are concentrated around a high-quality mass transit corridor that serves land with inherent development potential. Assistance from regional and city-level agencies, community development corporations, and local stakeholders can help create more targeted policies to direct development to such transit corridors. Local foundations can be critical to the process of funding redevelopment and providing capital and equity for projects. Local NGOs, which can communicate the projects to the public to help broaden support, are also important.

Although cities in the US are still far from fully transforming their declined urban neighborhoods into high-quality, mixed-use urban developments, they are well on their way. Gold-, silver-, or bronze-standard BRT, when combined with institutional, financial, and planning support for TOD, is proving to be a cost-effective way of rebuilding our cities into more livable, transit-oriented communities.

Regardless of their bias, the above is true — we’ve invested hundreds of millions in light rail and have little TOD to show for it because of poor land-use planning.

Like streetcars & LRT, I think BRT is a great option to consider in the St. Louis region, We can argue about the mode, but we need to take action to have land-use planning that will strongly support transit-oriented development!

— Steve Patterson

 

Developing Vandeventer & Forest Park: IKEA — Exception Or New Rule?

Big box stores with surface parking lots don’t fit in urban contexts — they’re sub-urban. For example, the Menard’s in O’Fallon IL I drove past on Saturday, a MetroBus stop is right out front but there’s no accessible pedestrian route to get to the entrance. See it on Google Street View here.

Decades ago the big boxes were the downtown department stores, but those days are long gone. However, a few big box retailers have taken over some of the vacant space left behind by shuttered department stores.

Taget in Chicago's former Carson Pirie Scott department store designed by Louis Sullivan. February 2014. Click image to view the Wikipedia entry on the building
Taget in Chicago’s former Carson Pirie Scott department store designed by Louis Sullivan. February 2014. Click image to view the Wikipedia entry on the building

More often, big boxes have been trying to fit into walkable urban neighborhoods; they’ve been concealed by smaller liner storefronts, stacked, etc. The Target at Hampton & Chippewa is built over parking, but it still has surface parking facing Hampton & Bancroft, with docks & garage facing Chippewa. Inevitably someone says “it’s better than what was there” or “It’s better than the location in [insert any suburban municipality.”  Sorry, but new development will be around for 20+ years, so standards should be higher than simply doing marginally better than  awful suburban development or old derelict properties. Which brings me to IKEA St. Louis, located on the SW corner of Forest Park Ave & Vandeventer Ave.

IKEA's blue & yellow big box set behind a surface parking lot at Forest Park & Vandeventer. View from the point where the two public sidewalks meet.
IKEA’s blue & yellow big box set behind a surface parking lot at Forest Park & Vandeventer. View from the point where the two public sidewalks meet.

Opening day I ran into an acquaintance at IKEA — she also arrived via MetroBus — she hadn’t yet seen my post on the pedestrian access points. Upon arriving at the corner pictured above how would a pedestrian know where to find accessible routes to the entry? By big box standards, IKEA St. Louis did an excellent job providing pedestrian access routes from each go the three adjacent streets, but the massive setback from the sidewalks

The big question now is what will happen at development sites around IKEA St. Louis? Other buildings, old & new, within a block of the intersection are all urban — built up to the public sidewalk.

Two other corners contain urban buildings a historic firehouse and a new apartment complex built around a parking garage
Two other corners contain urban buildings a historic firehouse and a new apartment complex built around a parking garage
The 3-story building on the NW corner was razed 4+ years ago. At right you can see the South end of the historic Gerhart Block that I posted about on Friday.
The 3-story building on the NW corner was razed 4+ years ago. At right you can see the South end of the historic Gerhart Block that I posted about on Friday.

In July 2011 I posted about the building on this very same corner being razed. The Southeast corner, except for the firehouse, is to be retail.

The firehouse is supposed to remain, will help "hold" the corner. But how will everything else relate to the street & sidewalk?
The firehouse is supposed to remain, will help “hold” the corner. But how will everything else relate to the street & sidewalk?
Behind the firehouse is largely an old industrial site
Behind the firehouse is largely an old industrial site
But even the old industrial office is urban in form
But even the old industrial office is urban in form
The urban form continues across Spring Ave
The urban form continues across Spring Ave
nnn
And across Forest Park Ave more urban form. Will the new retail to the South respect the urban pattern?

One of the most critical development parcels is immediately to the West of IKEA, at 4052 Forest Park Ave.

Looking West from the IKEA property line. The other three sides are bounded by Forest Park Ave, Sarah Ave, and Duncan Ave
Looking West from the IKEA property line. The other three sides are bounded by Forest Park Ave, Sarah Ave, and Duncan Ave. The former Ford plant in the background is now lofts
Looking South across Forest Park. IKEA is to the left, just out of view. The development parcel straight ahead will ideally be of similar massing as the lofts on the right, with storefronts at sidewalk level.
Looking South across Forest Park. IKEA is to the left, just out of view. The development parcel straight ahead will ideally be of similar massing as the lofts on the right, with storefronts at sidewalk level.
Looking East on Duncan Ave, from Sarah Ave. The CORTEX master plan wants Duncan to be a pedestrian-friendly spine through the district. The form of new building(s) on the parcel on the left will matter greatly.
Looking East on Duncan Ave, from Sarah Ave. The CORTEX master plan wants Duncan to be a pedestrian-friendly spine through the district. The form of new building(s) on the parcel on the left will matter greatly.

This site could be developed similar to new apartments at Forest Park & Vandeventer — a parking garage concealed on all sides by habitable buildings. The difference here is it should have storefront spaces on the ground floor. A boutique hotel, like one of these chains, should occupy part of the upper floors.

Hopefully IKEA St. Louis will be the exception, not the rule.

— Steve Patterson

 

Buildings on Locust Street Have Needed Massing

September 25, 2015 Downtown, Featured, History/Preservation, Planning & Design, Zoning Comments Off on Buildings on Locust Street Have Needed Massing

Though not always easy, I like to end the week on a positive note. Today’s post is positive in that something bad hasn’t happened, hopefully won’t.

The first two buildings remain threatened with demolition. I'm not attached to them, I just want buildings not a circle driveway.
June 2013: The first two buildings remain threatened with demolition. I’m not attached to them, I just want buildings not a circle driveway.
Still standing...but still threatened, Massing here is better than yet another void.
Still standing…but still threatened, Massing here is better than yet another void.

The corner building, 923 Locust, didn’t always have that fake half-timber look. The second, however, is mostly original. As I’m not a preservationist, I have no problem razing one or both of these. As an urbanist, the only acceptable solution would be new buildings of equal or greater massing.

This is one reason why the Downtown Neighborhood Association is looking to add a form-based zoning overlay. I think Thursday October 8th is the date for the first public meeting on the subject. I’ll have details before then.

— Steve Patterson

 

Two Sites Seeking Zoning Changes In Frontenac, Pushback From Residents

Currently there are a couple of interesting zoning issues in the affluent St. Louis suburb of Frontenac. First, some background:

Frontenac is a wealthy inner-ring suburb of St. Louis, located in St. Louis County, Missouri, United States. The signature landmark is Plaza Frontenac, a high-end mall featuring many prominent retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and Tiffany & Co., among others. The population was 3,482 at the 2010 census.

The community name is inspired by the Château Frontenac of Quebec City. Benjamin and Lora Wood, who laid out the community’s core called Frontenac Estates, that consisted of 26 two-acre estates, had made frequent trips to Quebec. The community was incorporated as 217 acres (88 ha) in 1947 and annexed another 967 acres (391 ha) in 1948. The community still consists mostly of houses on one-acre lots. French architecture is encouraged in design. (Wikipedia)

From the same Wikipedia page:

The median income for a household in the city was $119,508, and the median income for a family was $136,972. Males had a median income of $100,000 versus $47,344 for females. The per capita income for the city was $64,532. About 0.8% of families and 1.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 0.6% of those under age 18 and 1.0% of those age 65 or over.

The majority of residences in Frontenac are large single-family detached homes on at least a one-acre lot. At Lindbergh & Conway there are a few blocks of smaller homes on small lots. The biggest exception to the single-family one acre norm is off the I-64 service road West of Spoede — the Daniel Boone Trailer Park. But this 1.31 acre site at 11130 S. Forty Dr isn’t involved in the two zoning issues.

The first is the nearby site of the former Ladue Early Childhood Center at 10601 Clayton Rd., Frontenac is in the Ladue School District. The second is the former Shriner’s Hospital for Children at 2001 S. Lindbergh, on June 1st their new hospital opened in the City of St. Louis.

10601 Clayton Rd

The vacant school  has 420 feet of frontage on Clayton Rd
The vacant school has 420 feet of frontage on Clayton Rd
Closer view of existing building
Closer view of existing building
Some in Frontenac oppose a developer's plan to build a senior residence & villas on the site
Some in Frontenac oppose a developer’s plan to build a senior residence & villas on the site

Though zoned for one acre lots, this site and a few others West to Spoede Rd. are shown as “Single Family Residential – Planned (Overlay) ” on their future land use map. From page 8 of their 2006 Comprehensive Plan:

“Single Family Residential–Planned” is proposed as an overlay land use category. The intention of this is to recognize that the demand for housing options in the area is dynamic and to allow a degree of flexibility for the City of Frontenac to meet this demand. This district identifies areas within Frontenac where the type of residential development described below could easily fit into the fabric of the community. As an overlay, this district is only intended to be an acceptable alternative to the existing land use or the Future Land Use Plan. In addition to the specific areas identified on the map, land adjacent to and fronting on North Outer Forty Drive and South Outer Forty Drive has also been identified as appropriate for Single Family Residential– Planned.

Defined on the following page as:

Single family detached homes or 2-unit attached villas, clustered to maximize open space and allow for flexible home siting and property maintenance arrangements. Requires the creation of a new Planned Residential District as an Overlay District within the City’s Land Use Code of Ordinances.

More detail at the Frontenac Planning & Zoning Commission, see the latest revision to the proposal here.

2001 S. Lindbergh

When the Shriner’s moved their hospital to Frontenac in the early 1960s much of the small town was still undeveloped. Since then, McMansions on one acre lots have closed in on the 14.87 acre site with more than 600 feet of frontage on Lindbergh Blvd.

In 1962 the Shriner's built a new hospital on a large site in Frontenac
In 1962 the Shriner’s built a new hospital on a large site in Frontenac

With the new hospital open the old site can now be sold for redevelopment. From last month.

John Gloss, hospital administrator, said the property in Frontenac attracted 17 offers, which were then narrowed down to four and now one.

The buyer and the hospital are in a “due diligence” period with the buyer, which Gloss declined to identify, citing a confidentiality agreement. 

Robert Shelton, Frontenac’s city administrator, however, told the Post-Dispatch Wednesday “the buyer is DESCO.” (Post-Dispatch)

DESCO is the development company of Schnucks Markets, behind developments like Loughborough Commons and the 9th Street Garage — after razing the historic Century Building. My assumption is they’d like to build a new Schnucks to replace the old/small location at the NE corner of Lindbergh & Clayton in the City of Ladue.

Schnucks at 10275 Clayton Rd. in the Ladue West Shopping Center was built in 1959. The shopping center site is only 5.44 acres.
Schnucks at 10275 Clayton Rd. in the Ladue West Shopping Center was built in 1959. The shopping center site is only 5.44 acres. Click image for map.

Like the former school on Clayton Rd, the nearly 15 acre former hospital site is zoned one acre residential. However, Frontenac’s future land use plan shows it as Regional Commercial, the same as abutting Plaza Frontenac. Their 2006 Comprehensive Plan defines this as:

 Retail, office, and/or other commercial uses at a scale of regional service. 

I’ll be interested to see DESCO’s proposal for this site.

— Steve Patterson

 

Top-Down Auto-Centric Thinking Continues In Ferguson, Still Time To Change

We all know the phrase: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”  Those living in low-income areas, especially those of color, have been sent this message for decades: Mill Creek Valley, Pruitt-Igoe, etc. In other words, we know what’s best for you so just accept what we decide to give to you. In the near term the gifts seemed like a good idea, but in hindsight they were ill-conceived and corners were cut. Pruitt-Igoe:

As completed in 1955, Pruitt–Igoe consisted of 33 11-story apartment buildings on a 57-acre (23 ha) site, on St. Louis’s lower north side. The complex totaled 2,870 apartments, one of the largest in the country. The apartments were deliberately small, with undersized kitchen appliances. “Skip-stop” elevators stopped only at the first, fourth, seventh, and tenth floors, forcing residents to use stairs in an attempt to lessen congestion. The same “anchor floors” were equipped with large communal corridors, laundry rooms, communal rooms and garbage chutes.

Despite federal cost-cutting regulations, Pruitt–Igoe initially cost $36 million, 60% above national average for public housing. Conservatives attributed cost overruns to inflated unionized labor wages and the steamfitters union influence that led to installation of an expensive heating system; overruns on the heating system caused a chain of arbitrary cost cuts in other vital parts of the building.

Nevertheless, Pruitt–Igoe was initially seen as a breakthrough in urban renewal. Residents considered it to be “an oasis in the desert” compared to the extremely poor quality of housing they had occupied previously, and considered it to be safe. Some referred to the apartments as “poor man’s penthouses”.

Despite poor build quality, material suppliers cited Pruitt–Igoe in their advertisements, capitalizing on the national exposure of the project.

The people were expected to adapt to the solution, rather than the solution adapt to the people. Locally and nationally little has changed since the 1950s.

Early residents were thankful, those displaced not so much. Within a decade what had seemed like a great solution turned out to be an expensive nightmare. Most of the site remains vacant four decades after being cleared.

The players today are different — non-profits and the private sector in place of the federal government. The attitude, however, is the same: ‘we want to do something to help you — why should we ask for your input?’ The unintended consequences of the well-intentioned were huge. Eventually the federally government realized the folly of this way of thinking — changing to rules & regulations to require environmental impact studies, public input, etc. This is not to suggest these will avert all unintended consequences — they won’t — but the results are better than those designed in isolation. Which brings me to Ferguson.

As I wrote about a week ago two community plans intersect at former ferguson QuikTrip site. Rather than QuikTrip officials quietly talking with the St. Louis Urban League for six months I think they should’ve empowered the local residents by getting them involved in the process of determining what to do with the site. The Urban League’s slogan is “Empowering Communities. Changing Lives.”

This was an opportunity for Ferguson’s residents to have a say in their future — to have a seat at the table. Empowerment through engagement.

Rendering of the Empowerment Center of Ferguson shown on March 16, 2015
Rendering of the Empowerment Center of Ferguson shown on March 16, 2015

The speakers for their presentation was exclusively top-down players:

  • Michael P. McMillan President and CEO, Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis
  • Michael Johnson Board of Directors, QuikTrip Corporation
  • Warner Baxter Chairman, President & CEO, Ameren
  • Patrick J. Sly Executive Vice President, Emerson
  • Thomas J. Irwin Executive Director, Civic Progress
  • Kathleen T. Osborn Executive Director, Regional Business Council
  • Susan Trautman Executive Director, Great Rivers Greenway
  • Steven Sullivan President and Executive Director, Provident

The proposed new building would be built in the same spot as the old QuikTrip — not up to the sidewalk to make the area more pedestrian-friendly as suggested by the Great Streets Initiative. Great Rivers Greenway said they’d hire some who complete the 4-week jobs 101 course to be Gateway Rangers to bike the North Riverfront Trail — the planned trail next to the site wasn’t mentioned.

Today’s buildings are more disposable than those build 100 year or more years ago, this QuikTrip opened in 1989 — it lasted 25 years until burned following the shooting of Michael Brown. As I said in the comments on Monday, the building had been fully depreciated. Yes, the St. Louis County Assessor still said it had value, but the business view is different — for tax purposes you want deductions: a facility you can depreciate or lease payments.

QuikTrip just razed their 2851 Gravois location built in 1991 — to be rebuilt. QuikTrip sold this property two years ago in a 15-year sale leaseback.   The two-year older Ferguson location wasn’t sold to an investor, so no deductions. The 1.14 acre site was too small to build a new QuikTrip.  So they opened a new location a mile and a half north at 10768 W. Florissant Ave. on 3+ acres.

It was either the night of the shooting, August 9th, or the next night when the older QuikTrip was burned that QuikTrip Board Member Michael Johnson called the Urban League’s Michael McMillan to offer to donate the property. I can’t blame them — they probably had wanted to close the location anyway. So began the six month process involving corporate CEOs and heavy hitters collectives like Civic Progress.

A few misunderstood my point a week ago — involving the public or at least respecting the plans the public helped draft  — isn’t an “either or” situation. They could’ve done exactly as they did but announced this building will represent the new W. Florissant Ave with a up to the sidewalk design to respond to the needs of the high pedestrian population. Instead they just decided to put the new building where the old building was.

St  Louis County records list the irregularly-shaped property as being 1.14 acres.
The building was located on the East edge of the site, set back from W. Florissant and Northwinds Estate Drive
QuikTrip never made added an accessible route to the entrance, as required by the ADA
QuikTrip never made added an accessible route to the entrance, as required by the ADA
The North side is the easiest to meet the one route minimum, but most pedestrians will come from W, Florissant.
The North side is the easiest to meet the one route minimum, but most pedestrians will come from W, Florissant.

Locating the building at the street corner would make access from the sidewalk easy. Keeping the building at the back will require a circuitous route(s) — not pedestrian-friendly. Bare minimum — not empowering!

Additionally, if the Urban League builds at the back of the lot behind parking it’ll be difficult to convince others along W. Florissant Ave  to rebuild in an urban manner — effectively killing an important part of the plan. The St. Louis region is known for developing plans that sit on the shelf and collect dust — now we’re killing plans through willful ignorance.

When I asked during the press conference about why the building wasn’t up to the sidewalk Mike McMillian, said “remediation.” I guess that means QuikTrip isn’t remediating the contamination enough to build over the old tank location, but even that doesn’t make sense.   To remediate the site enough for residential use would be onerous — but a commercial building should be able to be constructed after the tanks are removed and basic remediation has been completed. I think they simply failed to consider the pedestrian population of Ferguson.

Nothing is built yet — the site isn’t ready yet. I hope they’ll do the right thing and work to set a good example for future buildings this stretch of W. Florissant.

— Steve Patterson

 

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