Monthly Archive: January 2017

Seattle Protests Spark Change at Transit Agency

Governor Jay Inslee speaks at a press conference in Seattle Monday after the travel ban. (AP images/Ted S. Warren)

On Saturday, 3,000 protestors packed the Seattle-Tacoma Airport in response to President Trump’s immigration ban — and at one point, officials asked that the trains carrying them skip the packed airport in the name of crowd control. That move, and the delay it caused certain protestors (who had to get off more than a mile away and either wait for the bus or walk), led to a policy shakeup announced Monday, the Seattle Times reports.

By 6 p.m. PST, more than a thousand demonstrators had arrived at the airport, where ACLU lawyers were frantically contesting the new president’s executive order, which banned all refugees from entering the country for 120 days, indefinitely banned Syrian refugees and denied entry for 90 days from seven majority Muslim countries.

Around that time, Port of Seattle police called the transit control center to ask that the Sound Transit light rail skip the airport station while additional law enforcement was called in, the Times reports. Between 6:27 p.m. and 7 p.m., three northbound and three southbound trains complied with that request.

Going forward, however, police wanting to close a station during a political protest will have their requests forwarded directly to Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff and King County Metro Transit General Manager Rob Gannon. The officials will have a brief “meeting of the minds,” according to Rogoff, about whether any kind of threat exists. “We just want to make sure our transit services are not being used to suppress participation in a peaceful demonstration,” he said Monday, according to the Times. He emphasized that he does not believe the Port tried to breach First Amendment rights.

The Sea-Tac protest was one of many around the nation this weekend. Demonstrations arose at airports in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Dallas, Washington, Atlanta and Portland, among others. By Sunday night, judges had ruled that a number of green card holders (lawful permanent residents) would be exempted from the ban and allowed to enter the country.

Seattle’s protest followed a news conference held by Washington state officials in the airport. Speaking of the executive order, Governor Jay Inslee said, “It is a train wreck. It can’t stand. We’re drawing the line here at Sea-Tac.”

Baltimore PD App Aims to Get Community and Cops Talking

Baltimore Police Officers at Camden Yards (Credit: GoBlue85)

Touting transparency, the Baltimore Police Department has released an app allowing residents to submit crime tips and receive alerts, the Baltimore Sun reports. The app will also make department data available, facilitate dialogue with officers and provide breaking news.

The app was released with the catchphrase “transparency at your fingertips,” according to WBAL TV. It cost the department $10,000, the Sun reports, on top of $20,000 for two years worth of access to the software.

“We think that this will assist in both the crime fight and our interactions with everyday citizens,” Police Commissioner Kevin Davis told the Sun. “Our goal is to make it easy and simplistic for people to connect.”

The release follows a scathing 2016 report by the Department of Justice on Baltimore PD’s “pattern of civil rights violations.” The report was the result of an investigation following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray. “BPD makes stops, searches and arrests without the required justification; uses enforcement strategies that unlawfully subject African-Americans to disproportionate rates of stops, searches and arrests; uses excessive force; and retaliates against individuals for their constitutionally-protected expression,” the DOJ release states.

Although Baltimore PD officials did not directly link the app’s release with the “sweeping reforms” their department has agreed to undergo, one of those reforms involves better communication with the public. Increased transparency for police departments is also a hot national topic, from public demand for body-camera footage to a campaign by the ACLU targeting police surveillance programs.

The Baltimore app is similar to ones used by departments in Austin, St. Louis and Toronto, the Sun reports, but Baltimore is “by far the largest” police force to launch one.

L.A. Purple Line to Push Farther West

(Photo by Jacob G.)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

L.A. Purple Line to Push Farther West
The “Subway to the Sea” may never reach the sea, but the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is steadily pushing it onward to Westwood. The latest move in that direction is the awarding of a $1.37 billion contract to Tutor Perini/O & G, a joint venture, for the construction of the second section of the Purple Line Extension project.

As reported in Railway Track & Structures, the second section will run 2.62 miles from Wilshire and La Cienega boulevards, the planned end of the extension’s first phase, to Century City, with an intermediate station at Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Under a federal funding agreement, the segment should be completed by 2026.

“[The] contract award to Tutor Perini brings us one step closer to fulfilling our promise to bring fast, reliable, high-capacity subway service to the Westside,” John Fasana, LACMTA board chair and Duarte City Council member, told RT&S. “We now have the funding in place and the contractor on board to expedite delivery of this high-priority, regionally beneficial transit project for Los Angeles County.”

Tutor Perini also built the second and third sections of the original Red Line subway from downtown L.A. to North Hollywood. The third section was completed six months ahead of schedule and under budget.

Colombian Government Funds Bogota Transit Projects
International Railway Journal reports that the government of Colombia has committed 15 trillion pesos ($5.1 billion U.S.) to fund transit improvements in the capital city of Bogota.

The largest share of this pot, 12.8 trillion pesos ($4.6 billion U.S.), will go toward the construction of the first phase of Line 1 of the Bogota metro, which will run 15 km (9.3 miles) from Portal Américas to Calle 6 in the city center. The metro is scheduled to enter service in 2022.

1.36 trillion pesos ($462.9 million U.S.) will help finance the 41-km (25.5-mile) RegioTram tram-train line, which will link Bogota’s Carrera Décima district with the outlying town of Facatativá, a journey that will take 45 minutes once the line enters service. The line, which will pass through Funza, Mosquera and Madrid, will be built by a public-private partnership.

An additional 600 billion pesos ($204.2 million U.S.) will go to expand the city’s TransMilenio bus rapid transit network.

Feds to Investigate Baltimore Red Line Cancellation
One of the last acts of President Barack Obama’s administration was a Jan. 20 announcement that the U.S. Department of Transportation will launch an investigation to determine whether Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s cancellation of the Baltimore Red Line light-rail project violated federal civil rights law.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

According to an article in Streetsblog USA, the investigation comes in response to a complaint by the Baltimore chapters of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the ACLU. Baltimore officials had already sunk $230 million into planning for the $2.9 billion east-west rail line, which would have served heavily minority, low-income neighborhoods on Baltimore’s west side, when a newly elected Hogan canceled it and shifted its funding to highway projects in the rest of the state. In its place, Hogan gave Baltimore $135 million for a revamped bus network that will start service in June.

The complaint noted that 44 percent of the households the Red Line would have served don’t own cars and that their travel time to several major destinations would have been cut by up to 50 percent. Using the state’s model for plotting funding, a transportation economist hired by the groups found that the redirected funds benefited white Marylanders at black Baltimoreans’ expense.

Similar investigations in Los Angeles and Wisconsin led to a consent decree to improve bus service in Los Angeles County and a court ruling that required then Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson to set aside funds for a streetcar line in Milwaukee. An NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund representative told Streetsblog the group expects the investigation to proceed even with the change in administration.

Know of a project that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

Keeping a Focus on Equity Amid Neighborhood Investment

Construction in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in 2009 (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Donny Harper is an entrepreneur with a message. “It’s about who you are and who you want around you,” says Harper. “When was the last time you had a conversation about the company you keep? Who’s challenged you on that lately?”

Part of the inspiration for his two-and-a-half-year-old brand, Good Company Apparel, was an incident involving his nephew. As Harper tells it, years ago, at age 20, his nephew was riding with a friend who jumped out of the car and robbed someone at gunpoint. Harper’s nephew was sentenced to six years in prison over the incident, his first criminal offense, “all because he was with the person who held the gun and did the crime.”

Today, Harper uses his brand to remind himself and others to watch the company they keep. “Some labels have a good message, but their style is nothing to build your wardrobe around,” he says. “Or they have good fashion, but not a message that’s filling a void in our world today. I wanted that for the brand.”

Harper, 38, somehow fits in designing, ordering supplies, getting things printed or stitched, and selling, packaging, and shipping for Good Company Apparel between his day job as a paraprofessional for Cincinnati Public Schools, co-pastoring at Love and Grace Outreach Ministries, which he and his wife, Ciara Harper, launched in 2014, and raising their four children.

Good Company Apparel is growing, earning more in its second year than its first, and is on pace to grow again in its third year, according to Harper. One of the big reasons for that has been the opportunity to take advantage of the foot traffic generated by the dramatic reinvestment in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine over the past decade. The neighborhood went from largely blighted and crime ridden to a bustling blend of small businesses and mixed-income housing.

“About 10 years ago, it was a place you didn’t want to visit,” says Harper, who lives with his family in Cincinnati’s College Hill neighborhood. “You didn’t go down there unless you absolutely had to. Over the past four or five years … it is amazing. You have all walks of life walking around down there.”

Over-the-Rhine’s turnaround started with something that’s become all too familiar, for all the wrong reasons. In an Over-the-Rhine alleyway, Cincinnati police officer Stephen Roach shot and killed Timothy Thomas, an unarmed black man, early on the morning of April 7, 2001. The killing ignited a period of unrest, culminating again when Roach was later acquitted.

Public officials, community organizers, affordable housing advocates and business leaders came together to create a comprehensive plan for Over-the-Rhine, which came out in 2002. The plan envisioned a balanced housing stock, with equal parts affordable to households earning 0 to 30 percent of area median income, 31 to 60 percent, and 61 to 100 percent, and unlimited-income units. It also envisioned more mixed-used areas, especially ground-floor retail along major thoroughfares like Main Street, Vine Street and around Findlay Market, the only surviving municipal market house of the nine public markets that operated in Cincinnati in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Led by the city’s Fortune 500 companies like Procter & Gamble, Kroger and Macy’s, the business community formed a new entity, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, or 3CDC, to focus on reinvestment in downtown Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine, which is just north of downtown. Over the years, 3CDC has invested in projects totaling about $600 million in Over-the-Rhine, encompassing 142 buildings restored, with 408,192 square feet of commercial space, mostly ground-floor retail.

“When we started, there was very little commercial activity in the neighborhood,” says Adam Gelter, executive vice president for development at 3CDC.

The Cincinnati Development Fund (CDF), founded in 1988, redoubled its efforts lending and investing in Over-the-Rhine, now totaling more than $92 million in loans across more than 165 buildings in the neighborhood.

The U.S. Treasury awarded 3CDC and CDF a cumulative $385.4 million in New Markets Tax Credits allocations from 2003 to 2014, helping to drive capital into Over-the-Rhine, most visibly with the $48 million rehab of Washington Park, the neighborhood’s cultural heart. Last year, 3CDC began renovations to the interior of Music Hall, the magnificent Italianate concert hall facing Washington Park. (Over-the-Rhine is home to one of the nation’s largest remaining collections of Italianate architecture.)

The speed at which change has come to Over-the-Rhine has caused concern for some that the neighborhood will soon be unaffordable for the working-class black households that once dominated the area. Although Over-the-Rhine’s black population grew from 2010 to 2015, according to Census Bureau estimates, it went from being 69 percent of Over-the-Rhine’s population in 2010 to 53 percent in 2015. The white population went from 21 percent to 40 percent.

Incomes are a mixed story too. In census tracts 9 and 10, closest to downtown, median incomes have gone up, while they’ve been stagnant in the rest of the neighborhood. “It seemed impossible to imagine that it would be an issue that low-income people would be priced out,” admits Jeanne Golliher, president and CEO of CDF. “But it can happen faster than you think it can happen.”

In terms of commercial development, 3CDC has been intentional about making sure businesses that lease space are locally owned. It’s apparent from walking around Over-the-Rhine today that they’ve mostly held to that. One of their first commercial tenants was Incredible Creations, a black-owned beauty and barber salon, on Vine Street. It’s still there, even though owner Ladevan Johnson passed away in a motorcycle accident last fall. (His wife still operates the shop.)

But as development has picked up, commercial leasing accessibility for local entrepreneurs of color isn’t guaranteed in a city where black median household income is $24,272, compared to $57,481 for white households.

“I would say the number of minority-owned businesses seeking us out has gone down over time as a percentage of businesses that approach us for space,” says Gelter.

In response to the disparity, Derrick Braziel, Allen Woods and William Thomas II created Mortar in 2014. An entrepreneurship accelerator, Mortar supports people from underserved communities, positioning them to take advantage of development going on around them. (I previously covered Mortar in its role as part of the Runway Project to support entrepreneurs of color.)

Mortar’s flagship is a nine-week entrepreneurship course designed to help low-income urban entrepreneurs build or expand businesses. They also created a 400-square-foot permanent pop-up space called “BrickOTR,” next door to their headquarters on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine. For an affordable flat fee, entrepreneurs can book as few as three days, a week, or an entire month at a time to rent the space, and showcase and sell their wares. BrickOTR is open to anyone, not just those who come through its programs.

Along with taking a few classes with Mortar, Harper first booked time at BrickOTR in 2015. He’s been there twice this month, and plans at least one booking a month this year till at least November.

“It’s the best set up for me,” says Harper, who plans on having his own brick-and-mortar location in around five years. “BrickOTR is probably the reason why my brand has blossomed thus far. It’s only a few places that carry a lot of traffic like that.”

3CDC has provided some of Mortar’s funding for its accelerator program. “They’ve been a good partner for bringing opportunities to businesses that are minority- and women-owned,” says Gelter.

As the city works with groups like CDF, LISC Cincinnati and others to kickstart reinvestment in other neighborhoods, they’re baking in more equity from the get-go, including taking Mortar with them. It’s starting in the Walnut Hills neighborhood, which is also historically black. Mortar graduated its first accelerator cohort in Walnut Hills last August, already has its pop-up shop in place, and has two accelerator alumni in brick-and-mortar locations in Walnut Hills.

Colorado Mulling New Stop Sign Rules for Cyclists

(AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

First it was marijuana — now, in the category or legalizing unlawful behaviors (that a whole lot of people participate in), Colorado lawmakers are considering the “Idaho stop.” The Idaho stop refers to a law passed in 1982 that allowed Idaho cyclists to treat stop signs like yield signs and red lights like stop signs. It’s a practice that tends to be loved by cyclists — and not-so-loved by drivers.

Introduced Jan. 18 by Senator Andy Kerr (D-Lakewood), the “safety stop” bill would allow cyclists to pass through intersections without stopping if they slow “to a reasonable speed, [yield] to vehicles and pedestrians, and can safely proceed or make a turn,” the Denver Post reports.

“For most people who drive and don’t ride a bike, absolutely nothing changes,” Kerr, a cyclist, said, according to the Post. “Cyclists can hear and see much better than somebody in a car. And studies done on this show that it’s actually safer overall for both cars and bikes to not sit there at intersections.”

As Jen Kinney wrote for Next City in December, the Idaho policy made it “legal to do what cyclists already do.” Researchers in Chicago recommended the Idaho stop to city legislators last year after observing cyclists at six intersections. Only 2 percent of those observed made full stops — meanwhile 43 percent made Idaho stops and 55 percent didn’t stop at all.

“What we saw is that cyclists are practicing common sense when it comes to intersections. They want to maintain their momentum but they also want to practice behavior that is in the best interest of their safety,” Jenna Caldwell, one of the DePaul researchers behind the study (and a cyclist herself), told Next City.

A 2010 study from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health found similar results — the Idaho stop is credited with reducing cycling injuries by 14.5 percent the year after it was instituted.

But not everyone in Colorado is onboard, and one senator told the Post he wants “some kind of immunity for vehicles that might hit the cyclists for doing something like this.”

For now, though, cycling advocates in Denver and elsewhere around the state are rallying around the bill. And for those opposed to the notorious Idaho stop, at least they can be grateful that no one is proposing a “California stop,” — where everyone, cyclists and drivers alike — roll right on through.

Iconic midcentury modern: The Edris House by E Stewart Williams in Palm Springs, California, USA

Not cheap, but The Edris House by E Stewart Williams in Palm Springs, California, USA is pretty special. In fact, this 1952 desert modernist gem is both listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Palm Springs Class 1 historic site. No mean feat for a piece of domestic architecture. But this […]

“Trump Tax Break” Program Cost NYC $2.8 Billion

Trump Tower in NYC (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

In the last 11 years, New York City has wasted up to $2.8 billion on condos included in a tax break program intended — at least recently — to help promote affordable housing, Reuters reports.

That number comes from a report released Monday by the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO), a non-partisan watchdog organization. The report takes aim at a program known as 421-a, which critics have lambasted for subsidizing market-rate apartments on the city’s dollar.

It’s the city’s largest tax abatement program, totaling $1.2 billion this fiscal year. The tax break moves to the building’s owner after the developer sells — usually at a premium, according to Reuters. The IBO study examined upwards of 17,000 repeat condo sales from 2005 to 2015 and found that Manhattan condo owners paid an average of 53 to 61 cents for every dollar received in tax savings.

As Oscar Perry Abello wrote for Next City in November, the program was created in 1971 to encourage development. “A perfect storm of white flight to the suburbs and a financial system still in the habit of redlining meant that the people who most desired to build, maintain or own property in cities couldn’t get the capital to pay developers,” he wrote. “NYC needed something to bring developers back.”

Since its creation, the city has tried to reform the program and use it to build more affordable housing. As ProPublica reported recently, it’s historically required developers who accept it to cap rent hikes in new apartments, a policy “aimed at slowing the explosive growth of the city’s housing costs.” Developers who built in “high-demand areas” (say, Manhattan) were also required to designate 20 percent of their units to low-income housing.

But certain projects haven’t exactly looked affordable — particularly those of one high-profile developer who recently became president of the United States. 421-a received the moniker “Trump Tax Break” because over the course of his development career, President Donald Trump received at least $885 million in tax breaks for luxury apartments, hotels and office buildings in New York.

The program stopped accepting new applications last year, but New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to re-open it as part of a program he’s calling the “Affordable New York Housing Program.” His proposal would, however, “water down” the rent regulations associated with 421-a, ProPublica reports. While it would give them several options for providing affordable housing, it would also allow them to collect the tax savings without “limiting rent increases on most of the market-rate apartments they build.”