Posts by Author: Rachel Kaufman

“Where’s My Bus?” Series Analyzes Miami’s Declining Bus System

The circuitous nature of some of Miami's bus routes.

Miami’s struggling bus system can’t catch a break.

Bus ridership in in the Florida city is down by 20 million riders since 2013, and in “Where’s My Bus?,” a five-part series that Transit Alliance Miami has been rolling out over the past four weeks, the transit advocacy organization lays out the problems of declining usage in stark detail—and points to a lack of investment in the system as a main culprit.

Miami-Dade County Transportation is “progressively dismantling the system…sending [it] into a death spiral of plunging ridership,” the Transit Alliance Miami writes.

Transit Alliance details the rise in “ghost buses”—scheduled buses that never arrive—and laments the cuts in service and increased headways that lead to riders abandoning the system. Some of the area’s “strangest routes,” the site contends, “appear to be inspired by modern art more…than practical design.”

The series also looks at the role dedicated bus lanes play in expediting travel time. Only one corridor in Miami has dedicated bus lanes, and successfully serves around 2.9 million trips a year, the site said. Three other corridors exceed this amount and a fourth matches it, but do not have dedicated lanes, leading to a situation where taking the bus is no faster than driving, and often much slower.

“Buses without dedicated lanes are like fish without fins,” says the Transit Alliance. “They can’t be faster than the current.”

The problems add up to a situation where people have little, if any, incentive to ride the bus, Transit Alliance says. “If you’re a bus rider, you walk to the bus stop, you wait there,” Azhar Chougle, the director of Transit Alliance, told WLRN Miami in late May. “There’s no shelter because most bus stops don’t have any shelter. It’s raining. It’s hot. And then on top of that the bus tracker doesn’t work. So it might never come.…Now compare that to your experience as a car driver. Your car is in your backyard or in your apartment building. And there’s excellent infrastructure—you have all these roadways, it’s fantastic, you can drive around, the speed limits are high and then when you get to your destination as a society we’ve decided that you must have a parking space so you will have a parking space.…Can we honestly say that people would choose the bus?”

The quality of transit is important. Nobody, especially in Miami, wants to sit outside for 30 minutes for a bus that might never come. But the city’s “continuous and haphazard” cuts to transit service—leading to fewer buses to ride—may be even more important. A recent study from McGill University (dug up by StreetsBlog) found that the more service a bus transit provider offers, the more people ride buses. Uber and bikeshare had no statistically significant impact on transit ridership, the authors said, adding that “These results suggest that the North American transit ridership decline cannot be explained merely by gas price fluctuations or the emergence of new mobility services—instead, it is best explained by declining bus services.”

Transit Alliance is not just focused on buses. In January, as Next City reported, the organization launched a tool to track delayed trains in real time, finding that a lot of trains are delayed.

Transit Alliance publishes its recommended policy solutions for the bus system next week, but Chougle laid out few of the group’s priorities in the interview with WLRN. Cities that have invested in their bus systems, such as Houston and Seattle, have seen ridership actually increase, bucking the national trend, he said. “Miami really can be a city that not only has excellent public transit but can be walkable and can be bikeable,” he said. “It can be a city where you can get around without a car, and it really comes down to the decisions that have been made in Miami over the past decades, that have made us into such a car centric and car dependent city. But it’s not the way it needs to be….This conversation is…just getting started[.]…[T]his campaign, the goal is to get everyone on the same page. Before we can have any sort of significant conversation…we need to start with here’s what’s going on.”

 

Data-Driven Project Aims to Kickstart the Conversation on Miami’s Struggling Bus System

The circuitous nature of some of Miami's bus routes.

Miami’s struggling bus system can’t catch a break.

Bus ridership in in the Florida city is down by 20 million riders since 2013, and in “Where’s My Bus?,” a five-part series that Transit Alliance Miami has been rolling out over the past four weeks, the transit advocacy organization lays out the problems of declining usage in stark detail—and points to a lack of investment in the system as a main culprit.

Miami-Dade County Transportation is “progressively dismantling the system…sending [it] into a death spiral of plunging ridership,” the Transit Alliance Miami writes.

Transit Alliance details the rise in “ghost buses”—scheduled buses that never arrive—and laments the cuts in service and increased headways that lead to riders abandoning the system. Some of the area’s “strangest routes,” the site contends, “appear to be inspired by modern art more…than practical design.”

The series also looks at the role dedicated bus lanes play in expediting travel time. Only one corridor in Miami has dedicated bus lanes, and successfully serves around 2.9 million trips a year, the site said. Three other corridors exceed this amount and a fourth matches it, but do not have dedicated lanes, leading to a situation where taking the bus is no faster than driving, and often much slower.

“Buses without dedicated lanes are like fish without fins,” says the Transit Alliance. “They can’t be faster than the current.”

The problems add up to a situation where people have little, if any, incentive to ride the bus, Transit Alliance says. “If you’re a bus rider, you walk to the bus stop, you wait there,” Azhar Chougle, the director of Transit Alliance, told WLRN Miami in late May. “There’s no shelter because most bus stops don’t have any shelter. It’s raining. It’s hot. And then on top of that the bus tracker doesn’t work. So it might never come.…Now compare that to your experience as a car driver. Your car is in your backyard or in your apartment building. And there’s excellent infrastructure—you have all these roadways, it’s fantastic, you can drive around, the speed limits are high and then when you get to your destination as a society we’ve decided that you must have a parking space so you will have a parking space.…Can we honestly say that people would choose the bus?”

The quality of transit is important. Nobody, especially in Miami, wants to sit outside for 30 minutes for a bus that might never come. But the city’s “continuous and haphazard” cuts to transit service—leading to fewer buses to ride—may be even more important. A recent study from McGill University (dug up by StreetsBlog) found that the more service a bus transit provider offers, the more people ride buses. Uber and bikeshare had no statistically significant impact on transit ridership, the authors said, adding that “These results suggest that the North American transit ridership decline cannot be explained merely by gas price fluctuations or the emergence of new mobility services—instead, it is best explained by declining bus services.”

Transit Alliance is not just focused on buses. In January, as Next City reported, the organization launched a tool to track delayed trains in real time, finding that a lot of trains are delayed.

Transit Alliance publishes its recommended policy solutions for the bus system next week, but Chougle laid out few of the group’s priorities in the interview with WLRN. Cities that have invested in their bus systems, such as Houston and Seattle, have seen ridership actually increase, bucking the national trend, he said. “Miami really can be a city that not only has excellent public transit but can be walkable and can be bikeable,” he said. “It can be a city where you can get around without a car, and it really comes down to the decisions that have been made in Miami over the past decades, that have made us into such a car centric and car dependent city. But it’s not the way it needs to be….This conversation is…just getting started[.]…[T]his campaign, the goal is to get everyone on the same page. Before we can have any sort of significant conversation…we need to start with here’s what’s going on.”

 

Dockless Scooters Face More Woes in Two Cities

Rider on a motorized scooter in San Francisco in April. (Credit: Jeff Chiu/AP Images)

As more and more cities are finding themselves inundated with dockless electric scooters, two cities—San Francisco and Denver—are pushing back.

San Francisco has ordered all dockless scooters off its streets until a legal framework can be put in place to regulate them, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

As of Monday, June 4, the city ordered that all three dockless scooter companies that operate in San Francisco—Bird, LimeBike and Spin—stop operations and not resume rentals until permits are issued, the Chronicle reported in a separate article. Permit applications are due Wednesday, and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will make a decision by the end of the month.

The companies so far appear to be following the law. On Monday afternoon, SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said the city checked for scooters left out on the streets, but found none.

Under the new permitting structure, up to five companies can get permits to operate, and the total number of scooters on streets will be capped at 1,250 for the first six months, with the possibility to double that for the second six months. Companies will be required to keep sidewalks clear of scooters, protect riders’ privacy, provide insurance coverage, offer access to low-income riders, and share data with SFMTA.

The moves were mostly hailed by some transportation advocates. ““It’s so typical of both San Francisco and Silicon Valley: The tech companies jumping out there and doing what they wanted, and then the city overreacting,” Daniel Sisson, a board member of San Francisco Transit Riders, told the Chronicle. He noted that the vehicle cap seemed like a bad idea: “As long as they’re being parked correctly, why? There’s no limit on the number of cars in San Francisco.”

The new permitting structure was in the works before the dockless scooter companies launched in San Francisco, ABC 7 News reports. Preemptively launching before regulations were finalized frustrated some city leaders.

“They’ve kind of behaved like a bunch of spoiled brats,” city supervisor Aaron Peskin, who proposed the regulations, told ABC 7. “I think if they had worked collaboratively with the city, the brouhaha never would have happened.”

State Senator Scott Weiner, who represents San Francisco, has tweeted support of the scooters. In April, he wrote: “Scooter-geddon is upon us. Listen, these guys screwed up by not seeking permits. Riding scooters on sidewalks isn’t ok. Dumping them all over isn’t ok. But, the reaction to the coming of the scooters has also been extreme. Scooters are a good thing. Scooters are an affordable, easy way for folks to get around w/o using a car. They take up massively less space than other vehicles. Let’s get them permitted & avoid negative impacts. Let’s not have a knee-jerk ‘the sky is falling because something new is happening’ reaction.”

San Francisco is not the only city to find itself dealing with scooter backlash. LimeBike and Bird began operations in Denver in late May, and on June 1, the city ordered that both companies remove all scooters from the public right of way, the Denver Post reported. The city also added that “via city rules and ordinances, these scooters are not allowed to operate in the roadway except to cross the street at an intersection, nor are they allowed in bike lanes, on the city’s trail system, or in city parks.” The magazine 5280 added that as of now, the city is “not yet” working with Bird or LimeBike to develop regulations to allow them to operate legally in the city, but Nancy Kuhn, director of Denver Public Works’ communications office, told the magazine that they are “discussing next steps.”

Meanwhile, as Next City reported in May, officials in Nashville told scooter operators to remove their vehicles from city streets. Later that month Metro Councilman Jeremy Elrod filed an ordinance that would regulate and allow dockless scooters, the Tennessean reports. The proposed legislation would require companies to have a 24-hour customer service number and a physical, staffed operation center in town. It would implement permit fees of $40 per vehicle and $500 per company during a pilot period. (If enacted, the $40-per-vehicle fee would be among the highest in the nation; as Next City previously reported, other cities typically charge around $10 to $15 per bike or scooter.) The legislation goes to a first vote Tuesday, June 5.

 

St. Paul Arts Nonprofit Purchases First Home

Artist rendering of the converted Springboard for the Arts building in St. Paul. (Credit: 4RM + ULA)

Springboard for the Arts, which has spent the last 27 years promoting the role of art and artists in making vibrant cities, is buying its first permanent home, the Saint Paul, Minn.–based nonprofit announced in a press release.

The $5.1 million project—including $1.5 million for the purchase of a former car dealership in St. Paul—will give Springboard a new headquarters along University Avenue, where the organization has been doing work for years. The building will also include an artist market and community and event space.

“We are excited to make this move because of the opportunity to increase access to Springboard’s growing resources, to hold space for neighborhood activity and community development and to find new ways to support artists making a living and a life,” Springboard Executiver Eirector Laura Zabel said in a statement. “This opportunity is only possible because of the vital creative work and partnership of artists, neighbors and community organizations in Little Mekong, Frogtown, and Rondo and many others across the city and region.”

Springboard begins hosting workshops and markets in the space this month. Renovations start next year, and Springboard will move its offices by 2020.

Next City has previously reported on Springboard for the Arts’ earlier initiatives in “artist-driven development,” the idea that creative people are an essential part of building better communities. When University Avenue was torn up by construction of the city’s new light-rail line, for example, Springboard gave grants to local artists to encourage people to visit the businesses that remained open during the chaos. The organization has also held pop-ups to encourage people to think about their health differently, started a database that allows neighborhoods and businesses to rent artist-made, interactive tools, and developed national models for artist-driven development.

Springboard even once hosted a party in the parking lot of the building it just purchased.

“Ever since then, every time I drove by, I thought, ‘I love that space,’ ” Zabel told the Star-Tribune.

Springboard has rented space in St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood since its inception, but when the nonprofit’s board voted to look for a permanent space, Zabel immediately thought of the car dealership at 262 University Avenue. It wasn’t for sale, until it was—Springboard had almost purchased a different building, and when that fell through, Zabel Googled “262 University Avenue” on a whim. There it was. The organization purchased first, planning to fundraise next.

Local architecture firm 4RM+ULA will do the work of converting the building into the space Zabel and the other Springboard staffers and supporters envision. That includes having the garage doors of the old dealership open into an artist’s market, and a rooftop event space with views of the State Capitol.

One thing Springboard is doing with the space that seems counterintuitive? Keeping the auto dealership’s parking lot. “You would be hard pressed to find an urban planner who would think it’s a good idea to put a 50-car parking lot here,” Zabel told the Star-Tribune. “But what if, accidentally, that preserved this open space?”

And in fact, in August, the parking lot will host the Little Mekong Night Market, a community event modeled on the night markets of Southeast Asia, going into its 5th year.

Springboard has also wasted no time in turning the building into an arts headquarters: It’s already put out an RFP for artists to decorate the building’s many windows.

 

Pop-Up Block Party Closes Part of Major Denver Interchange to Imagine Safer, More Connected City

Denver's cloverleaf interchange at West Colfax Avenue and Federal Boulevard. 

One of the most dangerous intersections in Denver—possibly in the entire state of Colorado—could be getting a makeover.

Led by a local business improvement district, the intiative known as Over the Colfax Clover is aiming to redevelop the cloverleaf interchange at West Colfax Avenue and Federal Boulevard, which the community says is unsafe for pedestrians and bikers and doesn’t get enough car traffic to justify its existence, the Denver Post reports.

An estimated 25 people walking and biking were injured by drivers around the interchange from 2012 to 2017, according to the Over the Colfax team, which includes the West Colfax Business Improvement District, WalkDenver and planning firms Michael Baker International and Critter Thompson Consulting, Streetsblog Denver said. Twenty-one pedestrians have been killed walking on Federal Boulevard in the same time period, and the area near the Colfax Avenue interchange has seen the most fatalities, the Post reported. Meanwhile, the cloverleaf carries 8,000 fewer vehicles on an average weekday than the nearby, at-grade intersection of Colfax Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, Streetsblog said in a separate post.

On Sunday, June 3, Over the Colfax shut down the southwest quadrant’s ramps for a pop-up festival featuring live music, food, and an opportunity for community members to vote on what they want to see happen to the interchange over the longterm.

“Having a fun event in the neighborhood—in the actual space—draws attention not only to the decision makers but also to the broader community so we can really boost how much influence we have and make a splash,” Anne Kuchenmeister, a planner with Michael Baker International, told Streetsblog.

Short-term options for the intersection include a raised sidewalk, speed humps or blinking pedestrian signs to make the road safer to cross, West Colfax BID director Dan Shah told the Post.

Long-term, the BID is still considering options: Demolish the bridge that elevates Federal Boulevard above Colfax? Turn the bridge into a one-way street? Any long-term solution is at least a decade, possibly two, away, Kuchenmeister told the Post.

Removing the cloverleaf interchange would also free up 29 acres of land, the BID said. Neighbors voted for that land to be turned into a community corridor, community center or new homes.

Both streets are state highways, but the Colorado Department of Transportation is open to the BID’s suggestions. CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford told the Post that “We are absolutely as an agency open [to the idea] and have started thinking about how we reimagine the Federal and Colfax interchange.” In fact, CDOT started its own thinking on the interchange a year or two ago, Ford said. Reconfiguring the interchange is projected to be very expensive (CDOT didn’t specify how much exactly), so it (and Over the Colfax Clover) is looking for a public-private partnership to help fund any future project.

The next steps, the BID said, are to fund any interim design solutions like speed humps, as well as invest in a long-term engineering study. If all goes according to plan, speed humps or pedestrian signs could be installed as early as 2019.

 

Solar Is Third Greatest Renewable Energy Source—What Does This Mean for Cities?

Solar-panel installers at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. (Credit: U.S. Air Force/Pascual Flores)

Solar has surpassed biomass to become the #3 renewable electricity source in the United States, according to CleanTechnica and data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Solar resources, including small- and large-scale photovoltaic (PV) installations and solar thermal, created 77 million megawatt-hours of electricity in 2017, outpacing biomass resources, which generated 64 million megawatt-hours in 2017. Hydropower and wind power were the only renewable sources of energy that outperformed solar, generating 300 million MWh and 254 MWh, respectively.

Overall, about 17 percent of the electricity generated last year was from renewables, the EIA said. Solar’s contribution to the total electricity generated, while growing, still is around only 1 percent.

The EIA tracks three types of solar power: solar thermal, which uses sunlight to boil water to produce steam, which in turn produces power; and two sizes of solar photovoltaic. PV installations with capacity lower than 1 megawatt are considered “small-scale.” Since these are typically capable of supplying about 200 homes and take up multiple acres, “small” here is relative. Meanwhile, PV installations with capacity greater than 1 megawatt are considered utility-scale.

Solar is an attractive option for cities looking to reduce their carbon footprint. The systems can be pricey to set up—the National Renewable Energy Lab estimated a cost of around $2.80 per watt for residential systems and around $2 per watt for commercial systems—but the price is dropping. PV module costs have fallen 75 percent since 2009, Computer World reports.

Traditional solar—PV panels placed in a wide-open, sunny field—hasn’t historically been a great fit for cities, thanks to land-use requirements and other complications. Billing rules mean that homeowners can’t always get credit for the power they generate, which reduces the incentive to install solar; and renters are left with nothing.

But that is changing. Companies such as Brooklyn SolarWorks have developed solar canopies specifically designed for small, flat rooftops. Many states have adopted net metering policies, which allow—or require—electric utilities to offer a credit to homeowners if their solar panels generate more energy than they use. (Most states have adopted requirements that only apply to certain utilities—often investor-owned.) And community solar project structures are now allowing renters to get in on the action. By “subscribing” to a solar farm that may be next door or across town, renters receive a credit on their energy bill. In a pioneering model in Washington, D.C., a law firm installed solar panels and is gifting the energy credits to low-income subscribers across town, a feat the Washington Post called “a bureaucratic Rube Goldberg machine that demands more paperwork than photosynthesis, but is workable nonetheless.” Low-income residents in two housing complexes now receive lower energy bills—and sometimes no bill at all.

It’s not all rosy—the 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels imposed by the Trump administration in January has halted, by some estimates, billions of dollars of solar projects. But the EIA expects another 5,000 megawatts of utility-scale PV to come online by the end of 2018, and the Solar Energy Industries Association reports that PV capacity is projected to double over the next five years.

 

Massachusetts House, Senate Agree on $1.8 Billion Housing Bond

Legisation to boost affordable housing was passed by lawmakers in the Massachusetts State House and delivered to the governor. (Credit: Schnatz/Flickr)

Massachusetts lawmakers have sent a $1.8 billion housing bond bill to the governor, the State House News Service reports. If signed, it will provide $400 million for the state’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, $600 million for Department of Housing and Community Development projects, and millions more for housing for people with disabilities or mental illness, workforce housing, mixed-use projects near “main street areas” and after-school programs.

The funding could help create at least 17,000 new housing units over the next five years in the commonwealth, according to Rachel Heller, CEO of Citizens Housing and Planning Association, speaking to the Boston Business Journal.

“There are developers who are eager to build more affordable homes, more mixed income developments, and the passage of this bill is what is needed to move those projects along,” she told the Business Journal.

Massachusetts, like most states, is struggling to produce enough affordable housing as costs and home prices have risen. More than 60 percent of low-income families pay more than half their income to housing, according to the Center for Social Policy, as reported by local news channel WWLP. Boston, the state’s capital and largest city, has aggressively built new housing units, with permit issuance up 12 percent in the greater Boston area in 2017. Although rent increases in the area are slowing, according to a report last year, new rental buildings are “increasingly concentrated at the high end of the market.”

The bond bill is based on legislation introduced last year by Gov. Charlie Baker (R) and at the start of the two-year session by Rep. Kevin Honan (D-Brighton) and Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Suffolk), who left the Senate earlier this year.

The legislation “is essential for us to be able to continue to make progress toward making Massachusetts affordable for all our residents,” Jay Ash, Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, told lawmakers in February. The bond bill also includes $25 million in low-income housing tax credits.

“Huge win for low income residents who desperately need affordable housing,” Aaron Gornstein, president and CEO of the Boston-based nonprofit developer Preservation of Affordable Housing, tweeted Wednesday.

States and municipalities have issued $894 billion in bonds over the last two years, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association says. Austin, Texas, is considering a $161 million housing bond as part of an $816 million bond package also funding transportation, parks and rec and stormwater management; and Californians will vote in November on a $4 billion housing bond.

 

New York City Debuts Regional Mapping Tool

The NYC Department of Planning's new tool includes this map showing new housing units permitted from 2010-2016, revealing that new housing has been heavily centralized in the NYC region. While in line with population growth and shifts in the region trending toward the center, new housing production has not kept pace with population.

New York City’s planning department has launched a new mapping tool that harnesses population, housing and economic data and makes it available for exploring by the general public.

The Metro Region Explorer offers trending data on the city’s greater metropolitan region: the five boroughs, upstate New York and Long Island, as well as parts of New Jersey and Connecticut. Collectively, the region is home to 23 million people and the largest foreign-born population in the nation.

In a release, the city said that the Metro Region Explorer “will help New Yorkers understand the City’s relationships, including interdependencies, to areas outside our borders. It enables the public, planners and policy makers to examine the regional context for shared planning challenges. It is the only mapping resource that combines municipal population, housing and economic data across our region.”

The map doesn’t propose policy solutions, but the data it provides will be helpful for planning policy in the years ahead. “It is extremely important when planning for our individual municipalities that we look at the entire region,” Annisia Cialone, director of the Division of City Planning for Jersey City, said in a statement. “Key issues such as housing and affordable housing specifically, transportation, and economic development have impacts beyond our borders.”

The map tracks population density and in/out-migration, housing trends, and changes in the labor market since 2000. It uses all publicly available federal datasets “that have been processed and/or analyzed” by the Department of City Planning, according to the site. The app has data going back to the year 2000, but focuses on 2008-2017, the Gotham Gazette reports.

The population trends show that while New York’s suburbs have typically operated as a “relief valve” for the city’s housing supply, fewer people are leaving the city, which accounted for 60 percent of the region’s population growth since 2010, according to the map. All five boroughs have added jobs faster than they’ve added housing; the city added nearly half a million jobs post-recession. Meanwhile, suburbs such as those in New Jersey have more housing, but fewer jobs in some places.

“We don’t think that can continue forever,” Carolyn Grossman Meagher, director of regional planning at the DCP, told a business group Tuesday, according to the Gotham Gazette. “In other words, as a New Yorker, it is becoming less of an opportunity for me to avail myself to economic resources outside the city because the job growth just isn’t there.”

​In addition to shining a light on the need for additional housing in the city, the trends also underscore the importance of maintaining transportation infrastructure, both in and outside the city.

The regional planning division of the Department of City Planning was formed at the recommendation of Mayor Bill De Blasio’s OneNYC plan. One of the goals of the plan was for the city to think regionally. The city “has, and is dependent on, a regional ecosystem,” Grossman Meagher said.

 

New ParkScore Rankings Show How Cities Stack Up for Green Space

Loring Park, Minneapolis. (Credit: Doug Kerr/Flickr)

Minneapolis, Minnesota, has the best park system in a major city in the U.S. for the third year running, according to the Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore index, released Tuesday.

It outscored rival city St. Paul by just a few points, ranking higher on both park access (the percentage of residents within a 10-minute walk of a park) and park acreage (the percentage of city area dedicated to parks). St. Paul outscored Minneapolis on amenities but it wasn’t enough to push it to first.

Close behind the Twin Cities were Washington, D.C., in third place, and Arlington, Virginia, in fourth.

At the bottom of the list was Charlotte, North Carolina, where despite its boomtown growth only about 30 percent of the population has close access to a park. Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, Indiana, which tied for last place in the ParkScore 2017 rankings, “declined to participate” this year and were not ranked, TPL said.

The Trust for Public Land has been running its annual ParkScore rankings for seven years, ranking cities on park access, amenities, acreage and per-capita spending on parks. This year, the Trust updated its algorithm to include splashpads and restrooms as amenities, and added volunteer hours and charitable contributions to its calculation of parks spending. This provides “a ranking boost to cities whose residents strongly support their park systems,” TPL said.

“I’m thrilled that our park system continues to earn accolades,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “We have world class parks and the world is taking notice.”

Ninety-seven percent of Minneapolis residents and 96 percent of St. Paul residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park. San Francisco is the only city where all residents live that close to a park, but its relatively small median park sizes pushed it to fifth place.

TPL uses a relatively sophisticated algorithm to measure park access. If a park is physically close to a neighborhood but cut off by a highway or other obstacle, it isn’t counted.

“We want to make sure that people can get to a park on foot, because what we’ve seen in terms of health studies done at both the national as well as local levels is that if people can walk—versus ride a bike or get into a car or take the bus—the usage rate for parks goes up pretty heavily,” Charlie McCabe, director of the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence, told Fast Company. “People stay longer, and people exercise more.”

The ParkScore also ranks cities on their park acreage. But since land is often limited in cities, improving this metric is challenging. Fast Company explains how Chicago, which rose from 11th on the list in 2017 to 8th in 2018—its first time in the top 10—increased its park acreage by working with school districts to redesign school grounds into green areas with gardens and play spaces. The city is planning to build 34 schoolyards by 2019. The revamped spaces capture stormwater to reduce flooding, serve as outdoor classrooms for students and are open to the public outside of school hours.

Other interesting factoids from this year’s rankings: Boise, Idaho, is still the best city for dogs, with 6.7 dog parks per 100,000 residents. Norfolk, VA, has the most basketball hoops, and Cleveland, Ohio, has the most splashpads and water features.

Explore the rankings and data yourself here.

 

New Orleans Considering Curbing Short-Term Rentals

The New Orleans City Council is proposing a freeze on permits for short-term vacation rentals, including those in historic neighborhoods like the French Quarter. (Credit: Mike Defelippo/Flickr)

Just a year after New Orleans legalized short-term vacation rentals such as those that use Airbnb in many parts of the city, the incoming city council is considering a temporary freeze on such rentals, the Times-Picayune reports.

A zoning change that would “push pause” on rentals, the freeze would be a dramatic reversal of current regulations, according to the Times-Picayune. The proposal, introduced by councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, would stop the city from issuing permits to short-term rentals in historic core areas where the owners don’t live on the property. Rentals with current permits would be allowed to continue operating until their licenses expire, but no new permits would be issued for at least a year. The ban could come to a vote as soon as Thursday, the New Orleans Advocate said.

In April 2017, New Orleans began issuing permits for legal short-term rentals. An accessory permit, which costs $200, allows a permitholder to rent out rooms inside a home in which she lives, for as many days of the year that she wants. A temporary permit, which costs $150, allows a person to rent out an entire home for up to 90 days per year. The 90-day cap was supposed to incentivize local property owners to rent out their spare rooms while disincentivizing real-estate investors from buying up housing stock and turning the units into full-time short-term rentals.

Critics said that the 90-day cap was too generous; an investor could still rent out a New Orleans home nearly every weekend a year. Plus, as Next City reported last year, one operator could list a unit on Airbnb for 90 nights a year and on a competitor like VRBO for another 90 nights. Next City reported that at the time, the city was aware of the loophole and was “hoping to outsource some of the technical work to companies that have figured out how to catch bad actors.”

To hear Palmer and her new council colleagues say it, the city has not managed to do so. Palmer, who rejoined the council this month after a four-year absence, ran on a platform partially dedicated to curbing short-term rentals.

“We (new council members) all ran on this (in our campaigns) because we saw how short-term rentals were affecting our neighborhoods. Not all of them, but some,” Palmer told the Advocate. (The Times-Picayune says that three of the five new council members made short-term rentals a campaign issue.) Five council members in all are listed as sponsors of the measure, the Advocate wrote.

Neighborhood groups, the newspapers reported, have found a lot to complain about since Airbnb’s legalization. Short-term rental homes have pushed out longtime residents, they say, and former mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration had difficulty enforcing the city’s rules including the rental cap.

Palmer has also introduced another measure that, if approved, would require the City Planning Commission to add to a study it is conducting on short-term rentals. It would extend by another four months the deadline for the commission to make final recommendations; the study was scheduled to be completed later this summer.

In a statement, Airbnb spokesperson Molly Weedn said that the company “would hope the city would wait to consider any changes to the rules—which the council spent more than two years developing and which have been in place for just over a year—until a study looking at short-term rentals is expected to come out in early July.”

 



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