Thursday, July 25, 2013

Me and Dirk, Bros

Best Blog not by traditional media outletWalkable DFW

Urban planner Patrick Kennedy is driving a conversation in North Texas about our self-destructive addiction to roads. Posts on his blog regularly bubble up to traditional media such as the Morning News and, yes, this magazine. He’s a must read for anyone who cares about smart development and the growth of Dallas.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Austin I-35

Last night I was downtown in Austin to take part in a panel and discussion about the I-35 cut and cap proposal with Sinclair Black the Austin architect who proposed the idea, Peter Park former planning director in Milwaukee that removed a highway and Denver, and Alan Holt who directs the city of Austin's urban design division (which was pretty cool seeing a city with proactive planning and design dept. What?! Most do?!). You can find my presentation here:
A couple of quick thoughts: - So many people were there, it was standing room only. It also overwhelmed the air conditioning and wouldn't you know it, I get into my office today and our air conditioning is broken. Good thing we get no direct sunlight in our storefront office space.

 - The venue was a german biergarten in an area dominated by the state of Texas. In fact, the streets and thus the on-street parking was also controlled by the state. It was coin-fed meters. The rest of the city has smart meters. Locals joked that they forgot how to use them. I had to run to an ATM, then run to make change, then run back to my car all while hoping the area's meter maids were less diligent than Dallas's which jump out of the trees the moment your meter is a minute expired. Then the running joke became that Austin was in the 21st century and the state was still in the 1950's. Which works, when you think about it.

 - Whenever you're visiting other cities in Texas, the best way to ingratiate yourself in the audience is to bash where you come from. Pro tip. However, in small group discussions afterwards I mentioned that I had a comment in my presentation that I couldn't work in, but it was essentially, "the absolute worst insult I can think of saying to and about Austin, is that you're more like Dallas than you think."

 - One last thing and this was something I also wanted to bring up in the big group discussion, but only ended up tossing out this stick of dynamite in small groups. Rather than cutting and capping 35, why not look outside the city, and look to potential other corridors to, in effect, become 35? I see 183 as a loop road east of Austin with plenty of right-of-way for expansion, and only the odd nod to something that is not limited access. Since there actually is some housing in the vicinity, there might be some political pushback to that idea for, as Peter Park asked, "who wants a highway through their neighborhood?" The other option is 130, the toll road well to the east of Austin. From what I understand 130 has been downgraded in their credit rating and could potentially default. As toll roads financed on expected revenue from pigovian fees are wont to do, it's underperforming. They NEED drivers. They NEED it to be more difficult to drive through Austin. Why not shift 35 around the city with 130 serving as express lanes since 35's existing corridor can handle adding toll lanes? How ironic, highway builders as a potential ally for highway tear-outs. Who'da thunk it?

Monday, July 22, 2013

No Road Pays for Itself

Blogger is being a pain so we'll see how this post turns out, I'll keep it short. H/T to Andrew at Better Block for sending me this article on TxDOT admitting the painfully obvious but all too often obscured truth, that no road pays for itself. Here's the key passage:
Another way of describing this is to do a “tax gap” analysis, which shows how much the state fuel tax would have to be on that given corridor for the ratio for revenues to match costs. Applying this methodology, revealed that no road pays for itself in gas taxes and fees. For example, in Houston, the 15 miles of SH 99 from I-10 to US 290 will cost $1 billion to build and maintain over its lifetime, while only generating $162 million in gas taxes. That gives a tax gap ratio of .16, which means that the real gas tax rate people would need to pay on this segment of road to completely pay for it would be $2.22 per gallon.
It's not surprising that the article mentioned from TxDOT is no longer available (at least the link is dead). While at the same time, TxDOT is asking to double their budget. That gravy train means jobs (only in the short-term) even if that train's tracks run right off a [fiscal] cliff. It's very difficult for any transportation to pay for itself until you connect it to development patterns. Moreso, it really only counts when you look at the life-cycle costs of both that piece of infrastructure and its related development and tax base. The real question(s) we should be asking is what kind of infrastructure yields sustainable development patterns, reduced car dependence, and a tax base that can maintain its infrastructure. I promise you, it's not sprawl and auto-dependent. It's unfortunate that fiscal conservatives conflate the supposed "independence" provided by a car while ignoring the dependence and fiscal train wreck car-dependent infrastructure instills.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Austin, I-35, and $ Impact by Road Type

I'm preparing a pretty big analysis for Austin.  It's entirely unpaid, but I've been asked to come down for a panel as they explore "cutting and capping" I-35 through downtown.  I may not get it done by the time of the panel on Tuesday, but at least it might help inform me for then.  Then at some point when I do finish it I hope it will impact how we look at freeways and real estate value.

What I'm doing is taking three 7-8 block segments in three areas, 1) Immediately east of I-35 2) in between I-35 and Congress Ave and 3) west of Congress.  For each of the blocks I'm tabulating all of their land value, built value, density via FAR, etc., while keeping track of each blocks a) distance from Congress and b) distance from 35.  I'm doing this to decipher what has greater impact on real estate value, proximity to 35 or Congress, by how much does each influence value, and what impact 35 has, whether positive or negative.  I'll also be inputting local and global integration values from both BEFORE cut n cap and AFTER cut n cap, as I've created both maps in DepthMap already and seeing what kind of correlation that information has and whether it can be used as predictor of value gained from the decking of the freeway and improved local connectivity.

I've got three of the nine data sets of blocks done so far.  The following charts are in draft form straight out of excel.  As I finish everything up, I'll begin crafting it in sketchup so it's more visual in 3-D and geotagged to blocks in axonometric views of the city aerial map.

Here is a taste of what the data is starting to show:

This is some fun stuff.  So far this is showing the average of two rows of blocks on the west side of 35 and the 1 set of blocks on the east side that I've finished tabulating.  The vertical y-value shows Total Value per square foot of land area.  The x-axis shows distance from Congress Ave.  I've also highlighted Congress at 0 and where I-35 falls.  As you can see there is a very strong curve present with a solitary spike immediately adjacent to 35.  This happens to be due to a hotel that strategically placed itself between highway and convention center.

That's all well and good, you could take from this info that the highway has no negative value and only positive value since it led to a spike with the hotel development.  Perhaps not...

Above is a land value arc over a built value arc (both on the y-axis) with the distance from 35 on the x-axis.  This is only on the downtown or west side of 35.  The built value is the deep U-shape while land value has a much steadier, more linear effect based on distance, which as you can tell is more affected by proximity to Congress than anything.  And by Congress, I'm saying that's a proxy for "center of town".

What is interesting here is that, in the red area, is showing the gains which you could attribute to the highway.  However, the deep U in comparison to land value's steady gradient, you might say that the highway is negatively affecting more blocks than it is having positive impact on.  I'll have to dig more into the exact values as I get more block data inputted and tabulated.

Lane Miles per Capita to Population Ratio

I forgot to post one.  That is, Lane Miles per Capita to Population Ratio in order to find out which cities might run into the most trouble (perhaps only politically) in order to find the will and capital from the suburbs to support the city.  Theoretically, you might say this is where Detroit is really hurting.  So let's find out who could hurt more when suburbs decide to stick a fork in their host body.  For this data set, the numbers are less important than the curve in which they sit:

Atlanta - 145.80
KC - 65.47
STL - 59.35
Dallas - 52.04
Detroit - 36.29
Houston - 26.13
Seattle - 22.94
Portland - 14.75
Austin - 14.48
Manhattan - 12.64
Paris - 4.44
Stockholm - 3.34
Barcelona - 1.78
Vancouver - 1.20
London - 0.43

Amongst the US cities on this list, there are a couple of constant threads running throughout all of these data mash-ups.

  • Manhattan is always at the bottom, or the top, depending on your perspective.  Predictably.
  • KC is always in a very bad spot.
  • Portland, Austin, and Seattle tend to be in the 2-4 range behind Manhattan, but generally nowhere close to Manhattan statistically and far closer to those cities 5-10 than to Manhattan (except the one list above where Manhattan comes back to the field a bit because of their very low population to all of the NYC metro ratio)
  • Detroit is rarely the worst.  That spells bad news for those cities finding themselves on the wrong side of Detroit in any of the tables let alone all of them (sideways eyes at KC again and to a lesser extent Atlanta, and even lesser extent, Dallas).

Burdensome Highways

With the news that Detroit joined the growing list of municipalities to declare bankruptcy, I wanted to take a look at the role perhaps unnecessary infrastructure played in Detroit's implosion as well as what indicators might portend trouble for other municipalities around the country.

It's been well- if not overly-documented the role that a monoculture of industry has played in disrupting Detroit.  I'm also on the record suggesting that the negative impact of the car industry on Detroit was more indirect than direct.  That it was the suburbs that are more to blame for Detroit's implosion than the competition from other cities through non-union auto industry workforce.  The metropolitan area has diversified its economy and it has continued to grow while Detroit declined over the last 50-60 years.

I'm certainly not of the belief that any one thing killed Detroit, but rather a convergence of factors compounding their problems.  What I'm suggesting is what might be MOST to blame.  Or at least, what no one's talking about, that actually translates to other cities.  As I pointed out this morning, many of the cities that have declared bankruptcy, Harrisburg, Stockton, etc., have very high rates of driving amongst the citizenry.  And in HBGs and Detroit's case even higher metro population to city proper pop. ratios.  Point being, the weight of the surrounding suburbs is what can implode the city burdened with the infrastructure to support a much larger area, with a surrounding population loathe to pay for that infrastructure not directly in their jurisdiction.

Others like Streetsblog are starting to pay attention, noting that Detroit is planning $4 billion worth of new highway expansion despite highways that are by no means at capacity.  And even if they were, we have to start asking ourselves if new capacity, which then induces more driving, meaning more need for infrastructure and greater cost to the households in terms of gas and car ownership, is actually the direction we should be heading.  Particularly a place that has already hit bottom.  I guess MDOT and Detroit Metro Planning hit bottom they think the only way out is to keep digging.  /sigh

The truth of the matter is the only way to reduce congestion is to get people out of cars and to re-localize with emphasis on alternative modes of transportation which benefit from density, thus diluting the costs while increasing mobility through proximity.

All of this brings me to some new data I've put together.  Highway capacity per capita is pretty easy to find and assemble (or at least getting easier) for metropolitan areas, but rare for within actual city boundaries.  So I've slowly but surely begun adding data to this table since it's pretty time consuming.  I actually measure out all of the highways within a city's boundary in 1 mile segments and create multipliers in the table based on lanes within that 1 mile segment (excluding on/off ramps).

Detroit is sort of middle ground here, but you could argue it's also the oldest in terms of its enthusiasm for highway/car-based infrastructure and thus, the furthest down the life cycle of construction, decay, reconstruction, and population dispersal.

Today, I added Atlanta.  Since I have so many Sun Belt and Rust Belt cities, I couldn't possibly leave out Atlanta, particularly because it has such a high metro to city population ratio.

I've also added median income and population ratios to this table.

The numbers are grim and perhaps illuminating, like a lighthouse in the fog demarcating the edge of a rocky shore straight ahead.
Let's go through some of these Rankings shall we.

In the Chart above, I'm showing the following highway lane miles per capita within the city proper.  The numbers break down into pretty similar groupings.  Also, if your city falls on the worse side of Detroit in any of these, there could be a rocky landing in the future of S.S. YourCity.

KC: 147.74

Dallas: 96.38
Houston: 91.41

StL: 67.54
Austin: 66.53
Detroit: 59.31

Portland: 38.83
Seattle: 37.27

Manhattan: 10.83

Stockholm: 13.72
Paris: 8.15
Barcelona: 5.38
Vancouver: 3.13
London: 2.37

Where is Atlanta?  I'll tell you.

118.55.  Yikes.

This number puts Atlanta in between the Texas giants and Kansas City.
There are other factors I thought necessary as density, income, and population ratio within metro will all be important when considering a city's ability to support this infrastructure per capita number as highways life spans end and they must be replaced.  Over and over again, whilst generating no new economic development besides some temporary jobs, but further undermining tax base.

Let's look at metro to city ratio:

Atlanta: 12.30
Manhattan: 11.67 (to entire MSA, not just NYC - so there is an intermediate jurisdiction)
StL: 8.79
Seattle: 6.15
Detroit: 6.15
Paris: 5.44
Dallas: 5.40 (this probably should be even lower since Fort Worth is within DFW MSA, but a secondary center)
KC: 4.43
YVR: 3.83
Portland: 3.80
BCA: 3.32
Houston: 2.86 (which annexes most of its growth)
Stockholm: 2.43
Austin: 2.18
London: 1.81

In terms of median income (I had to leave out international cities to standardize data to US Census), Detroit is by far the lowest at 27,862.  Only St Louis is approaching that number with 34,402.  As we mash-up income with various factors like Density, Lane Miles per Capita, we start to get a clearer picture of city's facing some seriously uncertain futures (provided they think they can highway-build their way out of the problem of highway-building.  Which is hilarious if you think about it.)

Manhattan blows the box on showing this data graphically, so lists will have to suffice:

Dollar Density (which is millions of $ per km-squared):

Manhattan: 1,829.77
Seattle: 176.78
Portland: 84.76
St. Louis: 68.24
Houston: 66.42
Austin: 65.00
Dallas: 57.40
Atlanta: 56.55
Detroit: 55.31
Kansas City: 25.51

The irony of this list is that the cities with the most dollar density, or capability of sustaining infrastructure, would be the least likely to support highway and car-based infrastructure because of 1) the disruption to their existing density, and 2) clout via dollars.  I'd gander that any under Portland here are in some trouble.  KC, really not looking good.

Let's make it worse.  And mash Highway Lane Miles per Capita with Total Income Dollars as proxies for car-based infrastructure with ability to pay for it.  We'll call this data set "Burden."  Lower number the better because we're dividing infrastructure by income, meaning a low number would have low infrastructure and high income.  Drum roll for the most burdened cities of this particular cross-section of ten US cities:

1. KC - 704.93
2. StL - 617.04
3. ATL - 581.42
4. Detroit - 303.46
5. Dallas - 183.76
6. Austin - 153.03
7. Portland - 128..35
8. Houston - 95.87
9. Seattle - 94.96
10. Manhattan - 9.95

Most interesting here, besides just how much higher ATL, KC, and StL are than Detroit (/shudders), is Houston.  Even though it has one of the highest Highway Lane Miles per Capita number, it also is one of the most capable of affording their infrastructure from this list.

However, there may be another way to look at it.  And that's per capita infra over median income.  The previous was per capita infra over total income.

Looking at it this way, where population is, in effect, controlled looks something like this (again, don't be above Detroit):

1. KC - 3.27
2. ATL - 2.58
3. Dallas - 2.28
4. Detroit - 2.13
5. Houston - 2.07
6. StL - 1.96
7. Austin - 1.29
8. Portland - 0.77
9. Seattle - 0.60
10. Manhattan - 0.16

Put it this way, KC.  At least each of you own the most amount of freeway!  Go out, and plant your flag!  Set up a homestead.

The primary point I'm trying to make is that Detroit isn't an anomaly.  It's just ahead of the curve.  And considering its boom and peak was about 30 years ahead of much of the Sun Belt, the Sun Belt must 1) learn from Detroit, 2) don't repeat Detroit's mistakes and 3) plot a different course for a different, less car-dependent future.

However, the Sun Belt does have something in its favor:  population bubbles and timing.  Detroit collapsed before Millennials and retiring boomers sought out cities as places to live, which just might be the saving grace of our cities.

Now it's time to start building an infrastructure for them.  Not for the generations prior.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

CNU Urban Retail Panel

Last night the Congress of New Urbanism North Texas Chapter held a panel on the topic of urban retail.  The panelists included Jack Gosnell of UCR Urban who represents virtually all of downtown retail space, David Levine of Urban Partners, who put together West Village and CityPlace, and Jason Clauchner of Catalyst Commercial.  I live tweeted the highlights of the event which you can see below.

I also asked a few questions during the Q&A and I swear they were not rhetorical questions but either A) issues I go back and forth on and could argue either side, or B) was honestly interested in their opinion.

The first two questions were primarily for Jack as he was the surrogate representative of downtown.  One was, "was it worth compiling all of the necessary subsidy/public investment to Forest City and the Mercantile area or could that $$ have been more effective split into several areas of downtown?"  Long story, short Jack's answer was that it was best invested in one place.  I think I agree with him, but again, I'm of two minds on that.

As I wrote yesterday, the danger w/ Keynesian "urban defibrillation" is that if you don't get over the tipping point where the market is then profitable on its own, you risk the public side having to be an overly large participant in private development again and again.  This could be underscored by one of the tweets below where Clauchner said they actively look for deals with at least 15% public participation, be that in infrastructure, public improvements, or some form of financial partnership.  There is not an overarching qualitative statement to be made about that as each of those component parts that the public side can participate in can be wise and executed well, or very very misguided.

The second question revolved around Tim Headington's development in and around Main Street.  That was, "since you mentioned median incomes are trending down in downtown, is Headington's super high-end retail play missing the market and is it sustainable?  Furthermore, does his investment badly skew the market expectations with regard to land value?"  Again, Jack said it can only be a good thing that somebody is willing to invest in downtown.  Others chimed in and said they hoped Headington was willing to subsidize in perpetuity.  /shrug

My last question was to the entire panel.  This one could be construed as rhetorical since I know how I would answer, but I was interested in their take.  I asked, "you've spoken quite a bit about luring national credit retailers and the fundamentals that it takes to get them into deals.  What competitive advantage do small, local businesses have, if any?"

The consensus from the panel was that the competitive advantage of small business is market differentiation. That's true, but a bit vague.  If I were to summarize my thoughts on the subject, it would be that small, local retailers primary advantage is in the relationship with their customers and the ability to thrive as a third place, primarily due to their nature (the successful ones) as places of both economic and social exchange.  Think Cheers.  Relationships are established between proprietor, their staff, and their customer base.  And this dynamic really only works in walkable, neighborhood environments.  A lesser competitive advantage could be that smaller businesses are more willing to go into more unusual, less formulaic buildings and spaces.

However, this implies one of the bigger elephants in the room that wasn't specifically addressed.  That's the differentiation between neighborhood-scaled retail (which we don't have enough of) and regional retail (which we have way too much of and is highly competitive, cannibalistic, and unstable).  More specifically this duality is an issue facing downtown.  Is it a neighborhood or do we envision it as a regional draw?  Can it exist as both without one negatively affecting in some way the other?  On a much grander scale, think of Times Square, which isn't just a regional center of gravity but a global one.  New Yorkers hate it and avoid it at all costs.

Tweets in reverse order.

  1. Peanut gallery, aka me and , "nothing in Dallas is complete. Ever."
  2. Gosnell responding to Q about Cowboys: "Mixed blessing, Dallas took political heat, but it would've sucked all the TIF dry."
  3. We're guessing we've got 50-60 people here including some influential real estate types standing room only
  4. Levine: "you can't apply suburban formulas to urban development." - he couched that saying density is overrated
  5. but then he said downtown Denver is less vibrant than downtown Dallas. I think he contradicted himself.
  6. Levine: "downtown Denver is stuck in the 80s. We're pulling tenants from 16th street and Cherry Creek to Larimer."
  7. Levine: "In Denver we were more willing to be venturous with our non-national credit tenants than in Dallas."
  8. Levine: "our sales at Larimer Square in CO are 300% of what they were 17 years ago."
  9. Levine: "if you're a regional tenant, you've gotta be really special when somebody drives by." (pressure comes from lender)
  10. Levine: "we learned that retail and residential above had to be under centralized leasing."
  11. Levine: "West Village (Dallas) is not a lifestyle center, it's a walkable urban place."
  12. good point, Golden Rectangle in Milan is in between centro and main train station
  13. Gosnell asks, "what's the in between lesson for Dallas." Levine: "none of these areas are downtown, mile away from downtown."
  14. Levine: "I was just in Bucktown Chicago. Tenant list rivals SoHo. It's a wishlist."
  15. David Levine: "retailers are getting bigger, and they're getting smaller."
  16. Regarding my last tweet (not directed at Celeste), emphasizes my point that public policy and infrastructure is the invisible arm.
  17. ed. note: too many developers and brokers are following data and inertia inherent, exasperating entropy, rather than leading it.
  18. Clauchner: "we look for 15% in public money in projects, whether that's infrastructure, pub improvements, PPPs, etc."
  19. Clauchner: "however we're conservative when it comes to parking, we like our floating rows and parking out front."
  20. Clauchner: "too many projects don't incorporate complete streets and walkability."
  21. Clauchner: "and we need some residential component, as a [life raft]"
  22. Clauchner: "we look for a single direction, whether that's a single owner, a BID, or a form-based code..."
  23. Side note: if you have any inclination to ever ride Arlington's foray into mass transit, follow
  24. Clauchner: "80% of your retail is driven by the residential w/in a 1-mile ring."
  25. Gosnell: "the Continental bldg is signing leases as fast as they can print them. And we have good signs on the ground floor"
  26. Gosnell: Levy said, "I want a ton of money from the city, I want a development district, and a one-stop shop for retail."
  27. Gosnell: Asked Forest City pres how he liked Dallas, "how do I like it, it's like a Fellini movie, there's no GD people!"
  28. Gosnell: Forest City had no interest in Dallas, "everybody is a developer there."
  29. Gosnell: I became interested in downtown when area around Neiman Marcus looked like Beirut
  30. Three panelists are David Levine of Urban Partners (cityplace), Jack Gosnell (UCR urban - downtown retail), and Jason Claunch (Catalyst)
  31. Former president Alicia Winkleblech is giving the intro (I'm current president but buried in audience)
  32. That's like most marriages too
  33. Jack Gosnell VP of UCR urban told me something I wrote recently was 90% exactly right, 10% drove him crazy. I think that's a bullseye
  34. Going to live-tweet this urban retail event (if it's interesting of course).