Monthly Archive: September 2016

Las Vegas Rolls Out Downtown Bike-Share

A Las Vegas bike-share station (Credit: RTC) 

Las Vegas launched its first bike-share system Friday with 180 bikes at 21 stations across downtown in a soft opening, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. The official start date will be in October.

The program is overseen by BCycle, the same company that operates bike-share systems in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Houston. The bikes will cost $4 for 30 minutes, $8 for 24 hours or $20 for a monthly pass, payable at one of the solar-powered kiosks with a credit card or through the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada’s new transit app. The app, RideRTC, also shows kiosk locations and the number of available bicycles.

A $1 million federal grant covered 95 percent of the costs for the bicycles, equipment and payment software, and RTC paid for the rest. It will cost about $63,000 monthly to maintain the program. David Swallow, RTC’s senior director of engineering and technology, told the Review-Journal that those costs will be covered by membership fees and business sponsors.

Many of the kiosks are along or near downtown’s new green bicycle lanes. Swallow says the bike-share will help with first mile/last mile connections to public transit. The bike-share aligns with the goals outlined in the city’s Master Plan released in April, which calls for more public transportation options, as well as a denser, more vibrant urban core. Plans are also moving ahead for a light rail connecting downtown to McCarran Airport, UNLV, Freemont East and the medical district, and free WiFi is rolling out for bus riders soon.

Analysts: L.A. Street Makeover Shows Road Diets Work

Rowena Avenue in 2016 (Credit: Google Street View)

LADOT made the largely unpopular move three years ago to give a thoroughfare in the Silver Lake neighborhood a safety makeover. Reducing Rowena Avenue’s four lanes to two and adding a center left turn lane, they argued, would slow down cars, improve visibility and cut down on crashes between cars and bicyclists and pedestrians.

At the time, nearby residents voiced concerns that the well-intentioned redesign would increase traffic and motivate drivers to take neighboring residential streets instead. A petition even called on the city to provide an alternative solution, saying the project could “wreck havoc” on their streets.

In a Thursday opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times, however, two data scientists say those fears were unfounded. Dave Goodsmith and Ben Van Dyke reached out to LADOT for the data on traffic patterns the city collects using sensors in the asphalt. The data collected along Rowena Avenue from before and after the changes were made in 2013 show no change in traffic volume, and average speeds dropped from 39 mph to 35 mph.

Collision data from the California Highway Patrol also show that car crashes dropped after the project was implemented. In 2008 and 2010, there were six crashes where unsafe speed was a contributing factor. There were no crashes involving unsafe speeds in 2013 and 2015. Collisions involving pedestrians and bicyclists also declined.

The authors write:

“Beyond safety, road diets make streets more accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists, bringing us closer to a future Los Angeles unburdened by the polluted, traffic-choked stereotype that exists today. Our analysis of the Rowena project confirms that road diets work — even in the most congested city in America.”

Goodsmith and Van Dyke were unable to address the issue of cut-through traffic on residential streets, as there aren’t sensors installed on the most likely alternative route. (The rising popularity of Waze and other navigational apps could be a factor too, if there was a spike in side-street traffic.)

The data on Rowena Avenue’s road diet could help boost support for similar adjustments slated for other parts of Los Angeles as part of its Mobility Plan 2035.

On the market: Apartment in the Berthold Lubetkin-designed grade I-listed Highpoint building in London N6

Of course we have featured the building before and each time we have, it has proven incredibly popular. That’s why we are flagging up this apartment in the Berthold Lubetkin-designed grade I-listed Highpoint building in London N6, which has just landed on the market. You know all about it I’m sure. Highpoint is a 1930s […]

Jobs Must Be in the Mix in Baltimore’s Vacant Rowhouse Rehab

Todd Marcus (left) and Elder C.W. Harris in front of Martha’s Place, a recovery program for women in Sandtown (Photo by Jen Kinney)

Baltimore​’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood is no stranger to riots or abandonment — or to well-meaning investments intended to turn negative trends around. After race riots rocked the city in 1968, Sandtown’s population decreased by nearly half, more precipitously than the population of Baltimore as a whole. Today, nearly a third of its families live below the poverty line, 3 percent of the neighborhood’s population is incarcerated — more than any other Baltimore neighborhood — and more than a third of its houses are abandoned. This is the neighborhood where Freddie Gray lived, and where he was arrested in April 2015, before he died unsecured in the back of a police van.

There’s been no lack of efforts to transform the neighborhood, many of them focused on replacing those vacant lots and blighted buildings with affordable housing and other amenities. Starting in the early 1990s, former mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and developer James Rouse of the Enterprise Foundation poured more than $130 million into the neighborhood, eventually building or renovating over 1,000 homes. Habitat for Humanity has rebuilt more than 300.

Now a new $700 million plan, announced by Governor Larry Hogan earlier this year, aims to redevelop West Baltimore, starting with demolishing about 4,000 buildings, including many in Sandtown. In fact, the first rowhouse to be torn down was just a few blocks from where Gray was arrested. About 20 city blocks will be cleared of blight in the first year, the state estimates. The bulk of the funding, $600 million of it, will go toward subsidies for developing retail spaces and affordable and market-rate housing.

But residents have been let down before, and they’re not so eager to embrace the new initiative on faith. Questions linger around the city’s existing Vacants to Value initiative, and that $130 million Sandtown investment from the 1990s? Housing was developed, but few jobs or businesses. The drug trade flourished, despite all the new homes.

“And a lot of the people who were able to purchase the new homes in Sandtown were not from the community,” Elder C.W. Harris, community builder, lifelong Sandtown resident, and founder of Newborn Ministries told the Baltimore Sun last year. “Most of the people who lived here could not afford them.”

Yet on a tour this week of the neighborhood held as part of Center for Community Progress’ Reclaiming Vacant Properties conference, Mike Posko of Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake refuted the idea that the hundreds of millions invested by Habitat and Enterprise have been for naught. Bringing back a neighborhood this distraught is a long haul, he said. Yes, it’s true the state spends $17 million per year to incarcerate just 458 Sandtown residents, but if it weren’t for the investment, he says, “nobody knows, but maybe there would have been 1,000 people incarcerated.”

Still, despite the 300 new and renovated homes, he says Habitat is still trying to drive the market up in Sandtown. The nonprofit might build a home for $140,000, only to have it appraised for $116,000. About half of Habitat’s projects in the neighborhood are gut-and-rehab jobs on vacant buildings, and about half are new buildings on vacant lots. One entire block of Leslie Street is lined in brand-new rowhouses; Habitat buildings are everywhere, apparent by their slanted house number plaques.

All these homes are sold to residents making 30 to 80 percent of area median income, who are less than $1,000 in debt. They pay no more than 30 percent of their monthly income for a mortgage. Posko says working with so much vacant property is a challenge. When a street has been neglected so long, it often needs not just homes but also sidewalks, alleyways, street repairs, and the city sometimes expects Habitat to do that work too — at their own expense. When Habitat acquires a property, the nonprofit also becomes responsible for paying the water bills and fines on dumping, expenses Posko would like the city to forgive until renovations are done.

He also recognizes it’s time to look past housing. The unrest in Sandtown following Freddie Gray’s death turned the conversation back toward what Sandtown really needs: jobs. Next week, Habitat will launch an initiative to train locals in carpentry.

The unrest also highlighted the enduring stability of one intersection that Elder Harris and other local residents have spent the past two decades reclaiming. Though the CVS that was famously burned and looted last April is just five blocks up the street, the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Presstman Street was calm and quiet the following day.

“We have street cred,” Harris joked on this week’s neighborhood tour about what he calls “Resurrection Intersection.” The women from Martha’s Place, a recovery program in a formerly abandoned building that was Harris’ first project on the intersection, stood on the sidewalk shooing would-be rioters away. “They went right by us. They left us alone,” Harris says.

Newborn Ministries has been deeply involved in the efforts to bring new housing to Sandtown, but Harris sees the pitfalls of some of the earlier efforts. “Too many people came from outside the community, and not enough was done to include people from within the community to improve Sandtown,” he told the Baltimore Sun last year.

At Resurrection Intersection, the focus is deeply local, centered around the 1900 and 2000 blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue. Women who complete the program at Martha’s Place can move into rowhouses across the street. Beside those homes is a mural and memorial garden dedicated to community members who lost their lives because of drugs. Nearby, a fountain that had been dry for 20 years flows with water. On another corner is the Harris-Marcus Center, an arts space named for Elder Harris and Todd Marcus, executive director of Intersection of Change. Altogether, the nonprofit has renovated six previously dilapidated buildings, painted seven murals, and transformed 18 vacant lots into green spaces and gardens.

Harris and his colleagues have created an urban farm on Lorman Street, in collaboration with James Rouse’s son, Ted. Ex-offenders who come back to the neighborhood from prison — Harris calls them “returning citizens” — work there, learning farm and other job skills. Harris says the point is to prepare them to be their own employers, since their records will likely keep them out of some careers. And the farm provides much-needed produce for the neighborhood, which suffers from what Harris refers to as food neglect.

“What we’re doing is working,” even if it’s hard to measure, he tells the tour group assembled in an art studio at the Harris-Marcus Center. “It might be a drop in the bucket, but it’s a significant drop in the bucket.”

This article is one in a 10-part series about reclaiming vacant properties underwritten by the Center for Community Progress. Read more here.

On the market: 1970s modernist retreat in Shelter Island, New York, USA

Something quirky, cool and perfect for a getaway. This 1970s modernist retreat in Shelter Island, New York, USA. This place dates from 1972, designed by a fashion designer and renovated later by its current owner, described as a ‘noted artist’. It has obviously been updated too, with plenty of contemporary finishing here. But there is […]