Category Archives: commuting

How To Buy A Home That Grows in Value

Continuing the transit theme from the past few days, here’s one way to ensure your house increases in value: make sure it’s located near a transit station.

That’s according to a study commissioned by the American Public Transportation Association. The study argues that people are willing to pay more for housing located near public transit:

Moving beyond the traditional arguments that good schools and neighborhood amenities impact hous- ing prices, emerging research has indicated that urban form and transportation options have played a key role in the ability of residential properties to maintain their value since the onset of the recession.

Studies have shown that consumers are willing to pay more for housing located in areas that exemplify new urbanist principles or are “traditional neighborhood developments.” These neighborhoods are walkable, higher density, and have a mix of uses as well as access to jobs and amenities such as transit.

I’m an example of this.

People, including me, are willing to pay more for housing located near transit.

People, including me, are willing to pay more for housing located near transit.

As I mentioned earlier this week, I just moved to Salt Lake to be closer to my job. I chose the location of my new home based on proximity to my office, but equally important was proximity to Frontrunner. We pay considerably more per square foot for housing in Salt Lake than we did in Provo and we’re willing to do that because it’s located three blocks from the Frontrunner station and one block from a TRAX stop.

The study goes on to mention that housing near transit was more resilient during the recession. (I haven’t finished reading the study yet but if I didn’t blog it now, I’d never get around to it. I’ll finish it Friday after work.)

On the other end of the spectrum, Grist reported earlier this year that there are 40 million McMansions that no one wants because they’re not located in walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods:

Only 43 percent of Americans prefer big suburban homes, says Chris Nelson, head of the Metropolitan Research Center at the University of Utah. That mean demand for “large-lot” homes is currently 40 million short of the available stock — and not only that, but the U.S. is short 10 million attached homes and 30 million small homes, which are what people really want.

Taken together, then, it’s pretty clear what kinds of housing will retain and increase in value: transit oriented ones. That should be helpful for people with a home purchase somewhere in their future; they just need to check potential sites’ proximity to public transit.

Homes without access to public transit don't retain value well. In some cases no one even wants them.

Homes without access to public transit don’t retain value well. In some cases no one even wants them.

For those already in a home, being along the Wasatch Front, and particularly in Provo, happens to be a good place because we have an expanding transit system and a growing population. However, it’s important to keep in mind that supporting transit — as well as transit-promoting development like density, mixed uses, low or no parking, etc. — is also a reliable way to improve home values.

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Transit Pays For Itself

Yesterday, I wrote that subsidizing transit is a better idea that subsidizing parking for transit users.

As it turns out, it’s hard to understate that case.

The Atlantic Cities reported earlier this week that Germany’s transit subsidies more than paid for themselves when externalities are considered:

Germany recouped its public investment in rail through environmental and public health savings alone. That’s before considering farebox revenue, and without even factoring in the time and money saved from reduced congestion. Simply put, the research underscores the fact that there are many ways to justify the public value of a transit project.

When all things are considered — those revenues, time savings and other things that weren’t factored in — the investment in transit makes even more sense.

A study in Germany showed that transit subsidies paid for themselves.

A study in Germany showed that transit subsidies paid for themselves.

That’s great news for those of us along the Wasatch Front, which has a rapidly expanding rail system.

Anyway, the reason reason this works is because driving imposes a whole set of costs on society; it isn’t just the cost of gas and time for the individual, it’s also the environmental costs, the costs of accidents, the inefficiency of traffic on the overall system, etc. After Utah’s particularly polluted winter, this idea should be easy to understand.

In this light, it makes sense to pay for public transit projects.

I’d argue this also means it makes sense to strongly incentivize transit use. So, again, give away free rides, as I called for yesterday and several months ago. Make up revenue in parking fees (at least until demand for parking dries up). And generally, do whatever necessary to move from costly, or less efficient forms of travel like driving, to cheaper, more efficient forms of travel like rail.

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UTA to Start Charging for Parking at Draper Station

Parking at a transit station in Provo.

Parking at a transit station in Provo.

A few months ago, I argued that UTA had its parking and riding situation backward; rather than give away parking and charge for transit, they should give away train rides and charge for parking.

And now it looks like at least half of that plan is coming true. A Twitter friend alerted me earlier this week to this story, which reveals that UTA plans to begin charging $1 a day for parking at the Draper station:

“The charges help defray the costs of maintaining the facility,” he said. “We want to keep the service as accessible as possible for people, so we try to keep the price down as much as we can.”

The two-level Draper garage, which opened in December along with the Draper FrontRunner station, currently has capacity for 300 vehicles but will eventually expand to 600, Allnatt said.

UTA is charging far less than needed to cover the costs of the parking. And the cost of rides on transit aren’t going down, so this isn’t really what I had in mind.

But this new policy still demonstrates that “free” parking is not actually free. Right now transit riders and tax payers fund the parking. You and I literally are paying for people to park their cars at transit stations. This new fee, which is comically small, means that the people who actually use the parking will bear a small responsibility for funding it. I just wish the fee was higher and the cost of riding the train was going down.

Prepare to pay for parking at all transit stations, because that's certainly the future.

Prepare to pay for parking at all transit stations, because that’s certainly the future.

But in any case, this is the future: paid parking at transit stations. We should expect this type of policy at all Frontrunner stations, especially in the bigger cities along the Wasatch Front, in the future. And that’s a good thing because subsidizing parking for transit riders is vastly inferior to just subsidizing transit outright.

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“This is stupid growth”

One of the more depressing things about reading Jane Jacobs is learning how her community rose up to stop massive projects that would have disrupted the city. That’s great for them, but it makes it all the more depressing when our communities along the Wasatch Front do nothing — or, worse, cheer on — massive boondoggles like freeway and interchange expansions.

But that isn’t always the case.

Recently in Layton a group of concerned citizens came together to oppose a proposed highway expansion in their county:

“We don’t want Utah to build a road through Farmington Bay,” Kalt said to the crowd of more than 100, citing the harm to wildlife, the increase in pollution, the cost and the community disruption. “This affects all of us.”

Hundreds of people demonstrated against plans for theWest Davis Corridor, a 24-mile, $600 million highway proposed by the Utah Department of Transportation.

Residents in Layton recently protested a highway expansion in their county.

Later, a UDOT spokesman is quoted as saying that the real question is what route the highway will take. I know the individual people at UDOT are well intentioned, but I’m left wondering if it has occurred to them that conventional highways are not the only, or even best, way to move goods and people. Or, as one of the sources in the story puts it,

“This is not smart growth,” Ingwell told the Saturday crowd. “This is stupid growth.”

 The entire thing is reminiscent, at least to me, of stories I’ve read about communities actually rising up and stopping destructive mega-projects.

I also wondered why this doesn’t happen more often. The I15 Core project, which widened the freeway, was a massive incentive for more driving. Why didn’t we all protest that? Provo’s Center Street interchange came down like a hammer on west Provo; why wasn’t there more outcry?

One reason is probably that it’s hard for any of us, myself included, to realize that there are alternatives.

But another reason is that it may also be hard to imagine that these projects actually go through our communities; the people in Layton took action when they realized that there was something very real at stake.

However, all of these projects do have a real impact on our communities. A widened freeway, for example, creates larger dead zones on either side that can’t be developed into much. I struggle to envision a scenario in which parts of west Provo recover from the interchange, and that will have lasting, negative repercussions on the entire city.

In other words, we all have something at stake when it comes to the infrastructure decisions that impact communities along the Wasatch Front. In that light, the protest in Layton will hopefully be the first of many aimed at stopping car-centric, anti-human projects.

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The Ongoing Tragedy of Unwalkable Streets in Ogden

In the aftermath of a fatal auto-pedestrian accident in Ogden last week, Fox 13’s Ben Winslow followed the story as people became “outraged” over the lack of walkability in the area.

Ben’s story from Tuesday also identifies one of the primary problems:

“The lighting isn’t necessarily the best,” [Ogden police Lt. Chad] Ledford said of Wall Avenue. “You couple that with the five lanes of traffic and the speeds and there was a collision.”

Thobe is the second man to die while crossing Wall Avenue in two months. Peterson said Thobe’s best friend, David Saures, was killed on Christmas Eve while crossing Wall Ave.near Binford Street, about 300 feet away. The person who hit Saures and left him to die in the street has never been found, police said.

Apparently UDOT is studying the need for some sort pedestrian safety device in the area. However, as my original post pointed out, this is a classic stroad and the underlying design is the biggest problem. I’d love to see more safety devices in all of these places, but ultimately they’re going to need some radical fixes to really bring about much improvement. It’s sort of like trying to make a bomb safe; in the end, the best way to render it inert is to dismantle it.

And in case you forgot, here’s what this area looks like:

Screen shot 2013-02-25 at 9.40.18 PMA follow up story further explains the problem:

“I’ve been here for a little over five years and we’ve had a dozen people hit and killed in this area,” said Jennifer Canter, the director of St. Anne’s Center, a homeless shelter where both men were headed when they died. “It’s a staggering statistic, and it’s not just at night — during the daytime, too.”

The problem area is a stretch of Wall Avenue between 25th and 29th Streets. There are unmarked intersections, where police say drivers should stop for pedestrians. But because there are no crosswalks, the people who cross the road to head to the shelters say hardly anyone stops for them.

People do jaywalk, and the street lighting at night is terrible. The danger is increased as the homeless make their way from the downtown area to the shelters to find a bed at night.

It’s rare that the media gets a chance to report on these issues because they’re fairly wonkish and hard to cover without turning to advocacy. So it’s exciting to see Ben’s ongoing and excellent coverage.

A few points emerge from that coverage:

• The people being hit in this area are walking out of necessity, not choice. That’s key; with better design there would be more voluntary pedestrians, which would increase safety for everyone. As it is, it’s tragic that the people with the fewest options are also being killed.

• Even a casual bystander can pick out the major problems here: too many lanes, fast speed limits, insufficient lighting, etc. How is it, then, that some traffic engineer was not able to see these problems? Or, perhaps the better question is why traffic engineers refuse to account for people in their designs.

• Accidents along stroad are shouldn’t be surprising and won’t end on their own.

I could go on, but the point is really very simple: bad design leads to carnage.

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Not So Super Streets

One of the most popular posts ever on this blog discusses the “interchange boondoggle,” or the many failings of Provo’s new I15 on-off ramp on Center Street (click here for a second post on this topic).

The post is popular, I think, not because it’s particularly great but because the onramp is so obviously horrible and everyone hates it. It’s like a nightmare, except that it’s real and cost more money than most of us will make in a lifetime.

And yet despite the absurdity of this piece of built environment, Provo may get another highly questionable, computer-generated intersection that promises to be a disaster for pedestrians, cyclists and humans generally.

The new intersection is called — ironically I hope — a “super street” and is being considered for an intersection in north Provo:

Utah Department of Transportation officials told legislators Wednesday they are considering using that new design — sometimes called a J-turn, or a restricted crossing U-turn — in Provo at the intersection of University Parkway and 2230 North.

The idea is to increase traffic flow and cut down on driving time for most people. Fair enough.

But it’s also so complicated that I had a hard time figuring out what was going on — other than more driving:

The Super Street design would force all traffic on 2230 North to turn right. Motorists who wanted to go straight or left could make a U-turn a few blocks down on University in a provided spot. Those who wanted to go straight could return to the intersection and turn right onto 2230 North.

Luckily, The Atlantic Cities also recently reported on “crazy intersections” that are designed to make us safer. That article included this illustrative video:

That intersection seems needlessly complex just at first glance, but the real problem is that like all of these other exotic projects UDOT likes to put in — things like diverging diamonds — this makes the street far more hostile to people. As The Atlantic Cities puts it:

In theory – i.e., in conflict-point diagrams – these intersections should be safer than more traditional ones. But there are two caveats to that promise: Sangster is really talking about safer intersections for cars. Pedestrians and bikers aren’t figured into any of these models, and Sangster has yet to encounter designs that do a good job of incorporating them (or transit). There also isn’t much hard data on the safety of these designs because so few of them have been built (and even accurately modeling them on a computer can be tricky and expensive).

The article goes on to note that these ideas are best for times “when a local road outside of town has grown so congested that it needs to be converted into a highway.”

That point about hard data is also worth emphasizing. The Center Street I15 interchange almost certainly looked good in a diagram, but there was so many accidents that they had to alter it with a stop sign. I still see accidents almost every time I use it and, again, it’s widely hated. So diagrams aren’t necessarily a good indicator of how people will actually behave.

UDOT is considering a confusing new kind of intersection for this already bad spot. Instead, this space needs to be more pedestrian-friendly.

UDOT is considering a confusing new kind of intersection for this already bad spot. Instead, this space needs to be more pedestrian-friendly.

The intersection in question is certainly bad as it currently stands, but it’s is not a highway outside of town. It’s also a prime candidate for the kind of parking lot infill that I advocated in this post — though a bigger, ugler and more dangerous intersection wouldn’t promote infill. And in any case, it’s the type of place that we need to make more pedestrian friendly and more bikeable. It needs to be more human.

But this “super street” doesn’t look promising. Instead, it looks like more car-oriented infrastructure that is increasingly out of tune with a city striving for a high standard of living. And ultimately, Provo doesn’t need another disastrous boondoggle.

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Filed under commuting, construction

Closing Streets Can Be A Bad Idea

In my second post on BYU’s upcoming campus redesign, I mentioned almost as an after thought that closing streets leads to more driving.

To understand this idea, imagine trying to get from the southeast side of campus to the northwest side — say, from J Dawgs to the Marriott Center. Right now, you can drive through campus:

According to Google Maps, this route is 0.9 miles long and takes three minutes.

According to Google Maps, this route is 0.9 miles long and takes three minutes.

After Campus Drive closes, however, drivers will be forced to chose from other, longer options.

This route is 1.3 miles long and takes 5 minutes.

This route is 1.3 miles long and takes 5 minutes.

This one — which will probably be the most commonly used alternative — is 1.4 miles and also takes 5 minutes.

This one — which will probably be the most commonly used alternative — is 1.4 miles and also takes 5 minutes.

Though the start and end points will vary, this problem will arise for anyone traveling from these regions of the city. Even if I’m going from, say, Memorial Park to somewhere on the northwest side of campus, the redesign offers fewer options that require slightly more driving.

In other words, closing this street produces a net increase in the number of car miles traveled. That wouldn’t be the case if demand for car routes was significantly declining; the longer distances would be offset by fewer car trips. But I haven’t seen any evidence that car traffic is actually decreasing on Campus Drive, nor has BYU suggested that that was a factor in its plans.

Campus Drive. This area is slated to become a pedestrian only space. That may be nice for this one spot, but cars will be forced to drive longer distances to circumnavigate it.

Campus Drive. This area is slated to become a pedestrian only space. That may be nice for this one spot, but cars will be forced to drive longer distances to circumnavigate it.

Closing streets might also make sense if demand for pedestrian space increased beyond supply to the point that cars and people were in immediate conflict. Times Square comes to mind as an example of that scenario, as do a number of European plazas. But as I argued last week, supply for pedestrian space on BYU campus is likely oversupplied right now.

In any case, the point is that diverting constant levels of traffic onto fewer streets doesn’t really improve overall pedestrian conditions because it produces more driving. Sure, one little slice of BYU campus might be prettier or easier to walk on, but 9th East, 8th North and other streets will likely be less pedestrian-friendly. I call that an overall failure.

In the past, I’ve argued that we need small blocks with a lot of little routes. It’s an idea championed by people going all the way back to Jane Jacobs and others. I’ve mostly focused on pedestrian routes in these posts because it’s easier to cut a pathway through a block than it is to carve an actual street.

But if we’re going to have cars — and be pragmatists — we need something similar for drivers. After all, forcing more cars onto bigger, faster stroads is what makes so much of our cities awful in the first place. This idea apparently is obvious to some people, as I’ve seen a fair amount of complaining online about potential increases in traffic on streets surrounding BYU.

So what should we do instead of closing streets?

Rather than completely close this road, why not just make it narrower?

Rather than completely close this road, why not just make it narrower?

The best option I can think of — short of simply outlawing cars — is to reduce the size and speed of streets while still keeping them open. So, rather than plant grass over Campus Drive, cut it down from five lanes to two (one in each direction). That keeps it available to cars, while also freeing up land for development. It also would slow down cars and be inherently more pedestrian friendly. And as I’ve expressed before, narrower streets are really fantastic.

In this case it’s probably too late to suggest changes. But the idea that closing streets to cars can actually make a place less pedestrian friendly is an important one to remember; many people in Provo and elsewhere, after all, favor making all of downtown pedestrian-only. Though that idea seems wonderful, the supply and demand conditions are even less favorable for it than they are for BYU’s new pedestrian project.

Campus Drive is destined for closure.

Campus Drive is destined for closure.

Ultimately, I look forward to the day when we have no more cars. I wish every street was a pedestrian-only zone. And we definitely need to make our cities easier for people to experience on foot.

But as long as we have some cars driving, the best practical solution I can think of is to try to reduce the miles they travel, slow them down, and keep their concentrations relatively low. Permanently shutting down streets accomplishes the opposite.

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