Monday, November 30, 2009

You are paying more and more for Highways

By Ariel

A study recently released by Subsidyscope shows that highway funding relies less and less upon the Gas Tax and more and more upon a variety of other property taxes and bonds (which we as citizens are required to pay back through our taxes). Contrary to people who argue that highways pay for themselves, we have ended up paying for them more and more. I won't try and go into detail here, the study is very readable and I urge you to read it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Transit In-Equity

By Ariel

This came across my desk today and is worth reading, as Planetizen noted "“Wealthier transit riders demand more expensive rail services and commute at peak hours; the poor commute using all modes, at all hours. Eric A. Morris argues that the MTA's new policy of off-peak pricing would help even out the inequity”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Sustainable Future for Philadelphia

By Greg

For five years now I have chaired the board of The Ed Bacon Foundation, a nonprofit organization that for the past four years has hosted a student urban design competition. This competition challenges students across North America to focus on a site in Philadelphia that needs some innovative new ideas. This year we have taken the program to the next level through a partnership with the Philadelphia Center for Architecture, which co-hosted this year’s competition.

This year the competition was an urban sustainability design challenge. Titled "Brown to Green," it focused on a site in the Grays Ferry neighborhood of South Philadelphia that has been home to the DuPont Marshall Laboratory. DuPont recently vacated this massive piece of land along the Schuylkill River, creating the potential for an innovative new vision for this property's green future. Students all over North America have submitted their concepts for remaking this important site to have a productive and sustainable future. An expert jury recently assessed the entries, and selected some outstanding designs to receive $6,000 in prizes.

I am inviting you to join us in honoring the student winners at an awards ceremony on Tuesday December 8th. This event is always rewarding for me. It is rare that we can step back and look at big-picture ideas offered by young, creative minds from across North America. Once a year, this program gives us such an opportunity. In addition, it is about bringing the eyes of the nation’s top design students to Philadelphia. Speaking with the student winners in the past, it is clear that Philadelphia is not on many students’ radar screens outside the region; this program has been a venue for changing that.

Each year when we announce and honor the student winners, we also bestow the Edmund N. Bacon Prize on a national figure in urban development, design, or thought. This year the Prize recipient and keynote speaker will be
Maurice Cox, Director of Design at the National Endowment for the Arts and former mayor of Charlottesville, VA. Mr. Cox has been a dynamic leader at the NEA, and a champion for exposing elected officials to the importance of design issues. He is a speaker not to be missed!

I hope you will join us on December 8th, help us honor the student winners, spend an evening with Maurice Cox, enjoy a nice dinner, and celebrate the potential for building a bright future for our city. Full details are available here: Thanks for your support. I hope to see you on December 8th!

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Forum on the Future of Bus Shelters and Street Furniture

By Ariel

On Monday October 26th over 70 people attended A Forum on the Future of Bus Shelters and Street Furniture sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities. The forum began with a presentation on the City’s intentions to issue an RFP for bus shelters and street furniture by Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler. Joe Minott of the Clean Air Council and the Next Great City Coalition shared his perspective on how a well structured bus shelter and street furniture contract can increase transit usage and improve the visual appeal of the City. Mary Tracy, who leads SCRUB: The Public Voice of Public Space Spoke about limiting the role of advertising in public spaces. Representatives from the leading street furniture vendors: CBSOutdoor, Cemusa, JCDecaux and Clear Channel spoke about their work in cities around the world. All answered questions posed by the audience.

While various different types of street furniture have dotted city streets for centuries, the development of large scale “Street Furniture Programs,” (SFP) where cities install an array of bus shelters, benches and kiosks in a coordinated and strategic fashion is something relatively new. They are more important than they used to be too. Since the early 1990’s the City of Philadelphia has earned about $10 million from the advertising that is part of Philadelphia’s bus shelter contract. There are 260 shelters managed by CBS Outdoor on behalf of the city, 27 “Arts in Transit” shelters in Center City managed and maintained by the Center City District, 12 sculptural shelters along Chestnut Street in Center city and non-advertising shelters maintained by CDCs and private institutions.

The release of a Request For Proposals (RFP) for a bus shelter and street furniture program presents an opportunity to markedly expand the amenities offered and the revenue generated for the city. Boston, Chicago and Washington have made similar deals in the last decade. Boston (with Wall/Decaux) installed approximately 400 bus shelters and a variety of newsstands, information/advertising kiosks & automated public toilets (APTs) and is on track to receive an estimated $21.3 million dollars over a 20 year period (~$1 million per year). Chicago (with JCDecaux) has around 2,000 bus shelters, with assorted newsstands, information kiosks and the like and expects to bring in nearly $300 million over twenty years (~$15 million per year). Washington DC (with ClearChannel) is installing 700 bus shelters as part of a 20 year contract that is estimated to return to the district $150 million in revenue. Several factors influenced these SFPs and are important to keep in mind in Philadelphia.

Just from comparing Chicago and Boston we can see several of the factors affecting their respective SFPs. It is little wonder that with 4.2 times more bus shelters and back-lit information /advertising panels, Chicago makes far more ad revenue than Boston. However, there is no direct relationship between the number of shelters in a city and the amount of revenue made. Chicago makes around 14 times more money than Boston because its market is worth more. Research by PriceWaterhouse Coopers suggests that more money is made and consumed in the Chicago metropolitan region ($460 billion) than in the Boston region ($290 million). Philadelphia does slightly better than Boston, with a regional GDP of around $312 billion, but does not come close to Chicago. The market, however, does not determine everything. Cities may require different levels of maintenance or the distribution of shelters in neighborhoods that do not draw in as much advertising revenue. These demands come at a cost. Companies do not measure their profit in simply the amount of money they earn, but the percent return on the investment, and the more they invest in both the short and long term, the less the amount of their profits they are willing to share with the City.

Perspectives Heard at the Forum
Joe Minott and Mary Tracy (SCRUB) both emphasized that a new Street Furniture Program must, in fact, increase the number of bus shelters in low income neighborhoods, have a proactive maintenance schedule, be well integrated into SEPTA and be well designed. This approach met with little resistance from the attending vendors (CBS Outdoors, Cemusa, Clear Channel and JCDecaux). JCDecaux noted that 30% of their bus shelters earned 75% of the revenue, and it was clear that vendors have experience providing street furniture in all kinds of neighborhoods. More importantly almost all vendors noted that the cleanliness of their shelters was in their own best interest. Vendors, in the end, cared most about clarity in the RFP and making sure that all rights and responsibilities were clearly articulated.

The public who attended were concerned about three different issues, all of them specific to Philadelphia. Many who showed up cared deeply about supporting the arts through discounted advertising. The Deputy Mayor for Transportation and Utilities, Rina Cutler, noted that the City is committed to continue what is popularly known as the Arts-in-Transit program. There will be new guidelines and local non-profit arts organizations will be able to continue to promote their shows at

A representative of the Newsstand Association noted the concern of newsstand owners to keep the revenues from full-scale exterior ads on their stands. Newsstand owners frequently pay mortgages on their newsstand. The association requests that newsstands not be part of the RFP, but if they are to be included, the association wishes to work with the administration. The Deputy Mayor noted that she would be happy to meet with the association. The outcomes of such discussions will have real consequences on the value of other advertising in the city, and how much vendors are willing to pay. In fact, currently the City’s contract has a non-compete clause. If the City must compete with newsstand advertising, the value of the City’s advertising is likely to diminish and less revenue will come to the City.

Several noted that cities across the US have used SFP’s to fund bicycle amenities and bike sharing programs. These audience members hope that the upcoming Philadelphia SFP would provide an opportunity for the same in Philadelphia. Additional amenities such as bike racks and benches come at a cost and require additional revenue or a reduction in the revenue returned to the City. The addition of a bike-share system is even more complicated. In Montreal, each bike must generate over $1,000 of revenue per year to cover its costs. In Boston, each advertising panel brings in $888 dollars of revenue to the city per year. A bike share system in Philadelphia is not impossible, but the questions of how big must it be to work and how much less revenue the City is willing to accept, still looms large. The City has a study underway that outlines the market for a bike-share system in Philadelphia. It should be completed by the end of the year. It is not expected to be part of the street furniture RFP at this time.

So far the City has received over 1,000 responses to our online survey regarding street furniture and what respondents would like to see in the next contract.

• A majority of respondents suggested that real-time / next arrival schedule information should be an integral part of the next generation of bus shelters, followed by route maps and clear panels to be ale to see what is around the shelter. We will work with SEPTA in order to provide this information.
• Over 91% of Philadelphian’s think it is important to generate advertising revenue to support the City’s general fund and 66% are willing to add more advertising to generate additional revenue.
• Philadelphians are most excited to see Bus Shelters, Bike Shelters and Benches

As the integration of a Bike-Share system reveals, providing the amenities that citizens want within the context of a public-private partnership is complicated. The City sees an opportunity to inject non-tax revenue into the General Fund. All of the other issues such as low cost add space for arts and culture related non profits, a bike share system, and allowing advertising on privately owned newsstands has a cost to the city. Finding the right balance between revenue and amenities will largely dictate the amount of revenue the City will realize from this program.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Food Access Event a Success

By Greg

Last night's forum on Food Access and Community Development, hosted by the Philadelphia Committee on City Policy was a success! We filled the room, had a fascinating discussion about important policy issues, and enjoyed wine and local cheese. What more could you ask for? Many thanks to the panelists Tracey Giang, Vanessa Briggs, Don Hinkle-Brown, and Beth Miller.

Here are some photos:

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Dangerous Precedent

The following is from a guest blogger, Matt Crespi and is an interesting perspective on the transit strike.

With hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians affected by the TWU 234 strike, it’s not hard to find good reasons to be angry. Traffic jams, expensive cab rides, and other delays are irritating; hourly workers struggling to make ends meet being kept from work is heartbreaking; and students from kindergarten through college being kept out of school is appalling.

The disruption to daily life is rightfully getting a lot of attention, but there’s a larger, though less personally urgent, issue raised by the SETPA workers’ surprise strike, and it deserves consideration by both ordinary citizens and our highest ranking elected officials: a crippling transit strike took the city by surprise four hours before the polls opened.

This is no small matter. How many fewer votes were cast because of the strike may never be known, but it’s hard to imagine the number was not substantial. Though some voters rely on SEPTA to get to their polling places, they’re not the only ones were prevented from voting because of the strike. Major disruptions to routines and plans certainly make citizens less likely to vote, and the lack of warning ensured that creating backup plans would be as difficult as possible. Any parents who rely on SEPTA to get the kids to school and themselves to work woke up to two enormous problems, and any intention to vote would have taken a back seat to the immediate concerns of daily life.

Thankfully for the integrity of the election, most of the races were won in landslides, and it seems likely the strike made little difference. Were any of the major races close, the city might have seen apoplectic candidates tossing accusations of election tampering at union leaders, even demanding criminal investigations (perhaps not without cause).

Nine years ago, a few dozen inconvenienced voters here and there in Florida raised suspicions. A few hundred turned into court cases and questions of legitimacy. A transit strike on a busier election day could prevent thousands, even tens of thousands, of voters from getting to the polls. We shouldn’t wait for a transit strike on the eve of a closer election for a more visible office to realize this is a problem; public officials should eliminate that possibility immediately.

The citizenry wouldn’t stand for a strike designed to keep voters from the polls, but how is unintentional election tampering significantly better? And what’s to stop potentially immoral union leaders of the future, in Philadelphia or elsewhere, from orchestrating strikes for hidden political reasons? The current union leaders are already seen by some to be exercising too much power on their union’s behalf.

Police and firefighters aren’t allowed to strike because it would be a threat to public safety. Transit strikes on Election Day, especially surprise strikes, are a threat to democracy itself. Keeping voters from the polls undermines our entire political system, and doing so purposefully on a massive scale should be unconscionable to any American.

Transit strikes on Election Day should be made illegal, and the irresponsible union leaders who orchestrated such a strike this week owe the city a huge apology, if not their resignations.

Monday, November 2, 2009

How Goats came to LA

By Ariel

Len Betz of the Community Development Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles (CRA/LA) first thought of using goats to manage the undergrowth of a vacant property on Bunker Hill based upon an NPR story he heard, where goats helped manage marshy waterways in Vermont. The animals were able to operate in a delicate environment, manage vegetation, and they had the added benefit of hooves that can gently break up the soil, plus droppings that are good fertilizer. Bunker Hill is not a marshy environment; it used to be a premier residential location in the 1800s and is now a thriving downtown office core. This dense cluster of office buildings is the result of the efforts of the CRA/LA and its redevelopment of a previously ‘blighted’ urban core. However there is one empty lot left, a 2.5 acre parcel of land which the CRA/LA maintains, and which Betz’s office over looks.

Betz’s project falls under the purview of the property management department for the CRA/LA with support by the CRA/LA chief executive officer, Cecillia Estolano, because it coincided with goals of investing in sustainability and clean technology. It didn’t hurt that as Betz puts it, the “setting was a pretty spectacular view.” The project, which utilized a goat herder an hour-and-a half outside of Los Angeles, was a significant public relations win, with five channels covering the project, one even from Japan. The goat herder, Ranchite Tivo Boer Goats, came with recommendations from Caltrans who used them to manage hilly land around their tracks.

Ranchite Tivo brought in 100 goats for a contracted five nights, though the work was done in two days. In addition to the permanent fencing surrounding the CRA property, portable electric fences were added as a precaution to kept the goats safely penned up. To that end a guard spent the night, and the local area Business Improvement District patrol kept a special eye out for the goats. But nothing happened, and this year no one is even spending the night.

Generally, Betz spends approximately $7,500 on clearing the lot, a price that is a function of how many weeds and how many people it would take to clear those weeds. It usually “takes a crew about 2 to three days to clear the hillside,” but the goats did it in just under half the cost and had the added benefit of being a hit with the office crowd. Not only were the goats very easy to get along with, “they [just] eat and sleep... and follow the leader” but they left it (having trimmed 98%) looking like “someone has manicured the property.” All the CRLA had to do was sweep off their droppings from adjoining sidewalks and staircases. They were so popular that neighboring Angelus Plaza senior citizen center hired them shortly thereafter to clean up their community garden.