Thursday, March 25, 2010

I want to ride my bicycle...

By Ariel
Full disclosure, I work for Philadelphia's Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities. The following does NOT reflect any official policy of the City and only my own personal analysis.

Last month, the Philadelphia Bikeshare Concept Study was released. The study was commissioned for the City, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and the William Penn Foundation. On its release it was met with great fanfare, the advocacy group Bikeshare Philadelphia proclaimed “YES to bike share! The study verifies the viability of a Public Use Bicycle Program for the City of Philadelphia.” It is worth it to take a much closer look at this excellently researched study for yourself; not only because the study actually answers a slightly different question than the advocates claim it does, but because viability means something different for institutions than it does for advocates.

The study answers two interrelated questions, is there a market for bikesharing in Philadelphia, and if someone were to build a Bikeshare system, what would it look like? It starts by building a map of where bikesharing could work in Philadelphia based upon the density of people, jobs and retail activity as well as the presence of tourist attractions, parks and transit stops. It is no surprise that the Central Business District (i.e. Center City and parts North and South) and University City constitute this core market.

While this mapping exercise describes what parts of the city would best support bikesharing it does not tell you how big such a program should be. To do that the study reviews three surveys done in Paris, Lyon and Barcelona, big dense cities with significant Bikeshare programs. In each of these cities surveys were conducted that essentially asked, “Without a shared bicycle how would you have completed your trip?” In Lyon 1.4% of the people surveyed would have taken a bus or a subway, while 4.6% of Parisians surveyed gave up transit to use bikeshare (far fewer people gave up their car to use Bikeshare, only .06% surveyed in Lyon and .18% in Barcelona). The study then applied these percentages to kinds of trips people take in Philadelphia within the aforementioned market area. They found that within the core market area, anywhere from 5,900 to 18,200 people might ride Bikeshare on any given day.

This means that for Philadelphia to build a Bikeshare system it would need to have 50 to 160 bike stations with anywhere from 770 to 2,370 bicycles, costing anywhere from $2 to $6 million to set up (the final recommendation is for a $4.4 million dollar initial program that would deploy 1,750 bicycles in only the initial phase).

The issue of money is a big one. Advocates point to the success of the Parisian system, suggesting that bikesharing systems must be built into street furniture contracts with the advertising companies that build bus shelters, etc. But they miss a very important fact: J.C. Decaux only offered to build a Bikeshare system so as to win the contract and Paris must now pay $1 million a year to subsidize the program. With ad revenues as an unpredictable source of funding, and with the city scraping every penny, bikesharing looks less and less attractive from a municipal standpoint. While in Barcelona they pay for bikesharing through a parking fee and looking at the Parking Authority as a “home” for a bikesharing system may be initially attractive, there are serious ramifications for it. The PPA contributes money not just to the City but the School District. Moreover, raising the cost of parking in the City is not an attractive option, just look at the pushback over the soda tax.

The study also notes other issues that must be addressed for a bikeshare program to work in Philadelphia. The City would of course need to “upgrade… the bike-lane/path network throughout the core area to provide safe circulation options for both expert and novice riders. [The City would also need to provide] aggressive levels of education and enforcement to minimize conflict among bikes, cars, and pedestrians on the city’s constrained streets and sidewalks.” It is here where a difference in perspective, between that of the advocate and that of a municipality further diverge.

So far all the easy bike lanes in Philadelphia have been set, more bike lanes, which would make it easier and more attractive for people to ride in Philadelphia, require taking away parking. If anything that would make drivers angrier at bicyclists, and we don’t need more of that. The number of people who park is far larger than those who bike, walk or take transit. And they vote.

In other words, the implementation issue is not simply a financial one, it is a political one. Are we as the City willing to make the trade-offs necessary, and even some of the sacrifices necessary to make bikesharing work? Are we willing to reduce the amount of money that goes to different programs to fund bikeshare? Unfortunately that is not a decision that just the advocates can make. In the end, the most significant challenge is the education one, not simply because the tension between bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers in Philadelphia is untenable, but because all Philadelphians need to see the benefit of bikesharing, not just the bicyclists.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Homelessness: New Approaches to a Changing Problem

Remember that very successful food access and community development forum in the fall? Well the Philadelphia Committee on City Policy is hosting another panel discussion, this time focusing on the topic of homelessness. It should be a fascinating discussion on an important issue. I hope to see you there!

Homelessness: New Approaches to a Changing Problem
A Panel Discussion Hosted by The Philadelphia Committee on City Policy (PCCP)

Wednesday April 14, 2010
6:00-8:00 PM
The Center for Architecture (1218 Arch Street, Philadelphia)
Free for PCCP members, $5 for non-members
Light refreshments will be provided

The face of homelessness has changed over the decades. Oftentimes, people sleeping on the street are the most common reminder of the thousands of Philadelphians who lack shelter and food on any given night. However, many of us rarely see the true spectrum of homelessness – the hidden population of men, women and children who are struggling to break the cycle, or are just a paycheck away from homelessness. The city has recently seen an alarming increase of homeless families with children. Each year, thousands of individuals arrive in Philadelphia and lack the means to return to a place where they have a support system – leaving these “stranded travelers” in the City’s shelter system.

While the homeless population has changed, so have solutions to deal with this complex issue. Today, having individuals end up in a shelter is no longer considered a positive outcome. The City of Philadelphia and array of innovative nonprofit organizations are practicing solutions that work to develop long-term housing stability, address social and health issues, and help people work toward self sufficiency. Recent policies focus on targeting the systemic roots of homelessness, working to break the cycle. PCCP will host an expert panel to focus on innovative policy and programmatic solutions to address this critical and complex issue.

Panelists include:
Sr. Mary Scullion, Executive Director, Project H.O.M.E.
Roberta Cancellier, Deputy Director for Policy and Planning, Phila. Office of Supportive Housing
Ted Weerts, Ph.D. Executive Director, Travelers Aid Family Services of Philadelphia
Joe Willard, Vice President of Policy, People’s Emergency Center

Moderator and opening speaker: Elaine Fox, Vice President of Specialized Health Services, Public Health Management Corporation and director of Philadelphia’s Health Care for the Homeless Program

Welcome remarks by Lynne Kotranski, Ph.D., member of PCCP’s Board of Directors and Vice President for Research and Evaluation, Public Health Management Corporation

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Urban Agriculture Workshops

By Greg

On the topic of urban agriculture, here is an upcoming program that looks promising!

Income Opportunities in Urban Agriculture Workshops

Penn State Extension and The Enterprise Center will present two workshops on March 17, 2010: How to Write a Farm Business Plan (5:30-6:30PM) and How to Price Products for Market (7:00-9:00 PM). The workshops will be held at The Enterprise Center (4548 Market St., Philadelphia, PA 19139). Each workshop costs $10. For more information, please contact Nicole Sugerman.

Public Conversations and Public Art

By Ariel

Penn Praxis recently released a study called Philadelphia Public Art: The Full Spectrum. Commissioned by the William Penn Foundation, it examines the state of public art in the city and the opportunities for the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE) to better promote the creation and preservation art in the public sphere. All too often we look at public art, when we deign to pay attention to it, from an artistic standpoint and not from the perspective that shows how it gets built, installed and maintained. The study is notable for its historical examination of public art and for highlighting how Philadelphia’s policies for funding, managing and maintaining public art have not evolved along with the times, arts themselves and the living city. Praxis suggests that public art often gets short shrift from city agencies due to both budget pressures and from a lack of perceived value for the departments’ own missions’. They call for the OACCEE to “meet with representatives from all relevant departments and agencies for exploratory conversations and look for collaborative opportunities. Frame the OACCE and the Percent for Art Program as a resource instead of a requirement, offering to assist in that department’s work.”

This is a far more important recommendation than one might initially presuppose because it hints at a new way the city, communities and developers can interact when it comes to negotiating the impact on the community. Before I explain what I mean, a short digression is necessary to explain some of the problems with the process of community participation in planning and development. Be it a private developer who needs the community support to appear before a zoning commission, or a Streets/Highway/Transit Department that must complete an environmental review process before building a road or transit system, the builders of our cities must sit down with the communities who will feel the brunt of the impact of their project. The fact that developers and project builders must sit down with their community is not the problem, in fact it is rightly part of the whole development process. The benefit of such a process is two-fold, it is an opportunity to educate the public about a project, and it provides the developer (private or public) the political cover for some of their decisions. Problems arise can arise however when a community makes unfeasible demands or impractical demands and expectations are created for project aspects that are simply unable to be acted upon. It is one thing to ask for a place to sit, or a set-back in the highest portion of a tower, and it is another to expect a developer either not to go as tall as financially feasible or that they will fund the ongoing maintenance of a youth center. Out of such meetings, delays, costs and acrimony arise.

This is where public art comes in. At the crux of many communities’ complaints and demands is the sense that their community, where they have grown up and raised their children, is changing and that they have no voice or place in the future of their community. However Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program has created a tried and true method of transferring the collective aspirations and values of a community and expressing it visibly on the vacant walls of the city’s many neighborhoods. By using the public art process as the main venue for public outreach during the building process developers (again, public or private) not only make the public a meaningful part of the development process, but they can act as partners to bring new identify, beauty and sense of identity to a place and project. The community sees themselves as a partner and the developer sees an added layer of investment in their project. Bringing in the OACCEE to the development process, to help encourage and steer the development of public art “tangible commitment to the public environment.” Ultimately a commitment to public art is an expression of our collective values, both for art in general and more importantly for its contributions to the city we live in.