I think the strongest point in favor of streetcars in this article from Jeff Turrentine is that, even though they’re not the fastest form of rapid transit, they are a useful real estate development tool:
As is now customary in all questions pertaining to the cultivation of cool in America, Portland is held up as the example worth following. There’s certainly no question that the city’s well-designed, highly popular streetcar line, which began operation in 2001, is much beloved by the young creative professionals who have flocked to Portland in great numbers over the last decade (the city’s smartypants demographic now merits its own self-mocking TV satire). More than half of all new development in downtown Portland over the last ten years has taken place within one block of a streetcar line; the city’s initial capital outlay of $103 million has now led to more than $3.5 billion worth of private investment in residential and business development — 10,000 housing units and nearly 5.5 million square feet of commercial space — within three blocks of the streetcar. That’s an awful lot of bike shops, microbreweries, and pour-over coffee emporia.
But there’s another interesting thing about the new buildings along Portland’s streetcar line: by and large, they’re almost three times as dense as the buildings that were going up in the same area prior to the streetcar’s arrival. They’re far more likely to be multi-story and mixed-use — precisely the type of transit-oriented, urban-infill development that smart-growth advocates have long touted as a powerful city-planning weapon in the fight against global climate change. And thanks in large part to the streetcar, the people who live and work in these blocks (which also happen to be filled with some of the city’s most popular shopping and nightlife destinations) have found that they simply don’t need to drive in order to get where they want to go. Accordingly, residents of these neighborhoods can boast a per-household carbon footprint up to 65 percent lower than the ones taken up by their suburban counterparts; likewise, employers who set up shop along the streetcar “corridor” can claim a footprint up to 45 percent lower.
The first thing that comes to mind is Philadelphia’s trolley lines, particularly along Girard Avenue in Northern Liberties and Fishtown:
This was one of the bigger missed opportunities in the new Philly zoning code. The area right around the Girard Avenue station on the Market-Frankford line is pretty low density, which is a shame since you’ve got the trolley line and the elevated train right there. The blocks right around that train station are an area where you really want to go vertical with new development, to increase ridership on both the Market-Frankford line and the trolleys. Right now the buildings are all really short, you’ve got the McDonald’s with the street facing surface parking lot a block away, and another surface parking lot across from that. There’s potential there to really increase the density along Girard, replace older buildings with taller mixed-use apartment buildings, and give the trolleys their own dedicated traffic lanes, rather than making them wait in car traffic. To make the dedicated travel lane worth it, it would make sense to add more trolleys and increase trip frequency, and I’d pay for that by capturing some of the tax increment from new development along the upzoned Girard Avenue.
It’s no secret that Bethlehem mayoral candidate Bob Donchez has been running a [pretty strange] negative campaign against fellow City Councilman J. William Reynolds. As we’ve said here before, normally, you don’t pummel the challenger and up their name recognition if you’re the front-runner — so I’d say either Donchez (a) has no idea what he’s doing, or (b) he’s not that far ahead in whatever polls they have.
Don Flad has written a lot about how the negative campaign Donchez is running seems to be turning on him; from people that might have supported him growing indifferent to people that might not have voted getting fired up and going to the polls for Willie.
Though, before yesterday, I hadn’t heard of people pledging funds to Mr. Reynolds campaign based on the number of negative mailers they received from the Donchez campaign — but it’s happening. One Bethlehem resident pledged $10 per every negative mailer they’ve received, and they’ve received a lot even just in the past few days:
Vote Tuesday, May 21st
The normal thought-process in politics is that, though people hate negative campaigning, “you do it because it works.” But Bethlehem is certainly it’s own little microcosm — and it seems like it actually is affecting the Donchez campaign more negatively than positively. Couple that with current Mayor John Callahan endorsing Mr. Reynolds today, and the Donchez campaign is likely running scared.
So you might as well keep the negative campaign rolling, Donchez campaign; I’m sure the Reynolds team won’t be turning down the extra money and support it seems to be bringing them.
The reason outgoing Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan’s endorsement of Willie Reynolds as his successor is a pretty big deal is that until now he’s conspicuously avoided endorsing anyone. He’s been pretty open about being a Reynolds partisan privately, and most people paying attention to Bethlehem politics already know who he supports, but there seemed to be no upside for his County Executive career in taking sides. Why risk straining relations with Bob Donchez if Donchez has any shot at winning – especially since Donchez was long been presumed to be the frontrunner? And why take sides so late in the race?
Here’s my guess at the factors that convinced Callahan:
- He thinks Donchez would be a bad Mayor. Callahan is (rightfully!) proud of his legacy. Bethlehem is a much better city today than when he took office, across a variety of metrics. One thing Callahan always comes back to when he talks about his record is the importance of bold leadership. Doing what you think is right even when it’s unpopular. Bob Donchez has the complete opposite approach to politics. As Callahan put it to me once, Donchez is “constitutionally incapable” of making decisions. The man has no leadership instincts. Get a group of 10 people to go to a City Council meeting and you can get Donchez to agree to literally anything. That kind of weak leadership is a threat to Callahan’s legacy of accomplishments.
- He thinks Bob Donchez has a mistaken agenda. I know that Callahan doesn’t think much of Donchez as a political leader. I don’t know exactly what he thinks about Bob Donchez’s platform, but I can assure you that it sucks. John Callahan has to live in Bethlehem too, and you can’t govern him like this. The next Mayor is really going to need to keep pushing the envelope to keep the momentum going on economic development and neighborhood quality of life, and the Donchez plan is just incredibly weak in these areas. Willie Reynolds is no Bill Peduto but he has quite a few good concrete ideas for strengthening neighborhoods and growing the city’s tax base.
- He thinks Reynolds is within striking distance. I don’t know what the internal polling looks like, but if I were on the Callahan campaign I would not be doing this unless I thought Willie was very close. Either they saw some internal polls they liked, or the Express Times endorsement persuaded them that Willie’s in a strong position. John wouldn’t be going public with his support unless he thought there was a good shot.
- There’s little risk in supporting Reynolds. Callahan is at 52% in the three-way primary for Northampton County Executive. He’s got it locked down. There aren’t enough Donchez partisans who will abandon Callahan over his support for Reynolds to keep him from winning the primary. There’s also very little damage that a Mayor Donchez could do to County Executive Callahan in practical terms. The Bethlehem Mayor needs a supportive County Executive more than the Exec needs a cooperative Mayor.
- Donchez’s negative campaign hit close to home. Donchez’s rap on Reynolds has been that he’s too young and immature to lead, and that he should wait his turn. Remember, Callahan was quite young when he won the Mayor race. Surely this line of attack must rankle. He just proved that a young Mayor with leadership skills and the right priorities can be very successful. Donchez insisting that only an old guy can do the job, at the same time as he’s running on such an unambitious platform, is perfectly calibrated to bait Callahan into defending the younger candidate.
Huge news, from the inbox. More in a bit:
BETHLEHEM, PA – John Callahan will endorse J. William Reynolds for Mayor of Bethlehem this afternoon at 4:00PM at Payrow Plaza. An official statement will follow the joint press conference. Callahan, the current Mayor of Bethlehem is term-limited having served since 2004, and is currently a candidate for Northampton County Executive.
WHO: Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, Bethlehem Councilman J. William Reynolds, Pennsylvania State Representative Steve Samuelson, and other elected officials and candidates supporting Reynolds
WHAT: Reynolds Endorsement Rally/Joint Press Conference
WHEN: May 17, 2013 | 4:00PM
WHERE: Payrow Plaza | 10 East Church Street | Bethlehem, PA 18018
Good to see SEPTA responding to public pressure on some of the worst parts of their plan, but they still need free transfers and no pass limits for weekly and monthly passes. These are just dumb inconveniences that lean against growing transit ridership.
Poke around on Michael Noda’s blog to learn about what else could be better, but political action requires a clear message and easy-to-understand goals, and I think these are two problems that could conceivably get fixed if we all bang on them repetitively.
Excellent piece from Dave Weigel. Up until last week everyone rightly hated the Citizens United decision and anonymous dark money groups. And the reason everyone hated it is because they knew it would primarily be used by anonymous business interests to channel fantastic amounts of money into fake Tea Party astroturf groups pushing a corporatist economic agenda. Why on earth is everybody all upset that these groups were heavily scrutinized by the IRS? Yes it’s important that the personal political leanings of IRS staffers don’t determine the enforcement priorities, but let’s not be stupid now – the astroturf action is disproportionately on the right. A “balanced” IRS is going to be busting way more sketchy right-wing groups than left-wing groups.
Martin O’Malley and the Maryland Democrats who just can’t lose are going to spend $650 million on transit – over half of the revenue they’ll collect from the gas tax increase. This is how it should be:
After the governor signed the bill, his office released a list of “first round” projects that will get some of the increased revenues. This list totals $1.2 billion, but over the first 6 years, the tax should generate $4.4 billion.
Of the $1.2 billion, $650 million (54%) will go to transit. However, a large portion of that funds studies rather than actual construction. Money will go to MARC to add weekend service on the Penn Line and 2 new weekday roundtrips on the Camden Line, and to purchase new locomotives.
Obviously Maryland is a smaller state than Pennsylvania, but considering that over 70% of PA’s GDP comes from the 5 largest metro areas – Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Lehigh Valley, Harrisburg and Scranton – it’s only fair that they should get the vast bulk of the transportation funding, with much of that going to transit. The places where most people live, which are also the places that contribute the most revenue to the state budget, should get the most money.
The two largest economies – Philadelphia and Pittsburgh – should be getting way more transit funding than what’s been proposed. Out of the $2.5 billion, the Senate Republicans make every transit agency in PA share just $500 million. Versus $650 million for Maryland transit agencies.
Rich Wilkins gets a peek at the SEIU poll of the Northampton County Executive race. Looks like Callahan is going to win easily. He should focus on GOTV in Bethlehem to help Willie Reynolds drive up turnout:
According to their poll, Mayor John Callahan was at 52%, while Councilman Lamont McClure and former County Executive Glenn Reibman were both at 23%. I do not know their exact universe, though if they reached out to my household, it’s probably super-voters, or something close to it. I know their question was simply an ID question in ballot order.
I get what John Callahan is saying about reusing buildings being greener than building new ones, but this is an issue where it’s really important to take a regional perspective.
Reusing older buildings in cities is greener than building new buildings in cities is greener than building new low-density housing and commercial space in the townships.
The three core Lehigh Valley cities need to be striving for maximum construction. Prioritize reuse if you want, but it’s crucial not to let preservation interfere with the goal of more total construction in the cities, as Bethlehem’s Southside Conservation District clearly is.
If Bethlehem’s regulatory costs are too high for replacing older lower-value buildings with new mixed-use apartment buildings, then you’re actually encouraging developers to do the least green thing of all, which is building more housing on the auto-dependent periphery.
John Callahan and the core city Mayors need to focus on maximizing building permits. Ed Hozza needs to focus on maximizing land preservation.