Public transportation authorities often do not control zoning and land use laws, and they also operate amidst a sea of privately-owned land. In fact, America’s land use laws are arguably reflected by its LEED incentives. The LEED Neighborhood Development Rating System rightly incentivizes LEED construction in transit-oriented communities by prioritizing an access to quality transit, with seven (7) points for a project that is nearby public transportation. LEED also provides one (1) point for transit facilities and two (2) points for transportation demand management (TDM) practices. But many of these boons cannot be built or enhanced solely by a developer; they require effort beyond buildings themselves. They require thinking beyond buildings and borders (as I did on my gap year with Thinking Beyond Borders 5 years ago).
PVs at Artists for Humanity in Boston (Riel, 2015)
PVs at Artists for Humanity in Boston (Riel, 2015)
Decorated Parking Lot in Boston, MA (Riel, 2015)
Nearby MBTA Station… (Riel, 2015)
Public transportation accessibility can dramatically improve the value of land, which rarely benefits these transportation operators directly. Perhaps the increased property taxes will be siphoned back to the transportation agency, but more often than not, developers benefit the most, and municipalities divert the increased property tax revenue from the agency that made it all possible. This is not a sustainable practice, because most of our public transportation agencies are deeply indebted and cannot build, enhance, and expand.
LEED continues this political economy infrastructure by rewarding developers for their proximity to transit and for their own transit facilities and TDM practices, while not incentivizing developers to assist transportation agencies directly. Sustainable buildings should not just be environmentally sustainable, but socially and economically sustainable as well, requiring an investment in the community and its transportation infrastructure.
What if a transportation agency built a transit-owned development, in coordination with a developer? Surely this should be ranked higher than a transit-oriented development, because it is literally built atop a transportation facility, fueling ridership and revenue. If the developer, in return, received FAR (density) bonuses by renovating station facilities, then even more LEED points could be bestowed. Unfortunately, transit agencies have little ability to partake in T.O.D. because they do not control zoning and land use, and because they are controlled by onerous financial regulations; moreover, transportation boards have many members appointed by politicians, who are swayed by NIMBYists. It is already expensive for developers to choose to partake in the LEED certification process, but a public authority would arguably face more burdens with fewer returns. After all, transportation finance cannot rely on real estate development, which now has a marginal impact on most authority’s finances, because they have limited assets. (Only 1 percent of the MBTA’s revenue source comes from parking, real estate, and advertising).
Transportation property tends to be zoned for industrial use, which prohibits development. Selling air rights is only viable in hot markets, and most assets are needed for operations and cannot be sold. When it comes to decking over yards, most do not realize that it is extremely expensive and in most cases, not worth it. Overbuilds require support structures, and most yards do not have room for these columns. To deck requires shutting down operations, which is extremely expensive and inconvenient. Yards tend to be located in far-flung locations, where the market is not hot enough to justify development. Yet shouldn’t LEED be incentivizing infill, complete with bioswales and other green design features, and working to foster public-private partnerships (P3)? If they did this, then developers may pressure municipalities for reform, allowing for streamlined joint development processes.
At Tufts University in Massachusetts, the proposed Air Rights Building atop the future College Avenue station of the MBTA Green Line Extension could easily be LEED certified. It is being integrated with quality transit, and it will surely have transportation facilities, ranging from bicycle racks and bicycle lanes, to a connection to Tufts University shuttles. The University is also working on transportation demand management practices by changing parking fees and other practices. While the T arguably caved, allowing the University to build atop their land in exchange for maintenance costs, they still are maximizing available space. Indeed, the school could have had to pay much more, but the T’s culture favors disposition over development.
This bureaucratic mindset is dangerous, and entirely opposite from the mindset of early transportation entrepreneurs, who built private, profitable networks across the country. Those operators understood that they needed to build near quality transit, and provide accessibility, as it was simply common sense. Today, we are returning to sanity after a period of folly, but our transportation agencies need to be reformed alongside our municipal growth policies. Developers need to pressure for change, and they can do so if LEED, in turn, pressures them. LEED should provide bonuses for partnering with transportation agencies and revitalizing and maintaining their facilities. LEED should be providing additional credits to Tufts for joint development.
LEED transportation credits have immense spill-over effects, creating more dynamic places to live, work, and play. Buildings that are transit-oriented increase ridership for public transit agencies, thereby improving air quality, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion, saving energy, and decreasing reliance on foreign fossil fuels.
So, what if T.O.D. was actually transit-owned development? Why are the two MBTA Red Line station entrances at Davis Square in Somerville, MA each only one-story tall, when surrounding buildings are at least a few stories tall, with ground-floor retail, and office space on the upper floors? Couldn’t the MBTA use the (relatively marginal) extra real estate revenue, and wouldn’t it also enliven the area further, allowing for more places to live, work, and play? Couldn’t developers help to pay for station maintenance, if they partook in a public-private partnership joint development process?
Davis Square Station (Riel, 2015)
Davis Square T Station Stub #1 (Google Earth)
Davis Square T Station Stub #1 (Riel, 2016)
Davis Square T Station Stub #2 (Riel, 2015)
Davis Square T Station Stub #2 (Riel, 2016)
The MBTA has been seeing record ridership, resulting in more crowding and more delays. How much more stress can the system handle? With funding for the T remaining unstable and unsustainable, it is unclear whether or not the Green Line Extension will even get built into Somerville. The Red-Blue Connector is definitely not going to get built soon, and the Blue Line, originally built for trolleys under the East Boston Tunnel, should also be going all the way to Lynn. Community economic development recognizes the importance of transportation facilities, but the field seems to treat these facilities as entirely separate entities that merely allow for T.O.D., but do not partake in the development process, which creates more sustainable, dynamic environments.
The MBTA does not practice T.O.D. (even in hot real estate markets) because it does not control zoning and land use, and because as a public authority, it does not want to take on additional risk. It sees itself as a transportation service, only, and lacks the necessary real estate development resources and expertise. It’s a State authority operating in a City environment.
So, America is left with train stations without any additional uses, which is especially pronounced in suburban environments, because there aren’t any nearby (walkable) activities. Most suburban train stations literally empty passengers onto windswept parking lots, without any infill. At least they could put solar panels atop the cars, in order to produce energy and keep the cars cooler. And wouldn’t this be a place where developers would want to build their malls, in order to get additional customers? People can conveniently get their groceries on their way home from work, or grab a coffee in the morning before heading onto the train. As it stands, suburban malls are hardly ‘green‘ and walkable; connecting between stores often requires parking again in another separate lot. Yet it’s hard to coordinate with public authorities, because they are detached from any semblance of a profit motive; moreover, zoning and land use may prohibit development, and residents may fear density and attracting ‘undesirables’ into their neighborhood. There are many excuses, but they are all bad excuses, leading to more and more sprawl away from potentially retrofitted T.O.D. facilities. The MBTA is running an archaic system that is unfit for the 21st century…
Garbage at Park Street in Boston, MA (Riel, 2015)
Towards Abandoned Pleasant Street Incline at Boylston Street (Riel, 2015)
Oldest Subway Station in the USA (Riel, 2015)
Ideally, the MBTA should sell its Davis Square properties, and the City of Somerville should provide the new developer with generous FAR bonuses if the developer renovates the station platforms below their buildings, and incorporates the station entrances into their two sites. This public-private partnership model should be being implemented throughout the U.S., but people continue to fear density and displacement, and zoning and land use policies have become 20th century artifacts.
At the CTA North and Clybourn Red Line Station in Chicago, the station entrance was completely renovated and an Apple Store was placed on the property. Here in Somerville, an Apple Store could be placed on the property, either entirely on the ground-floor or on two levels, and the T entrance could be combined into this structure.
Because Davis Square is primarily commercial, joint development may not need include housing, as commercial leases will be more profitable if FAR remains low. It will also be less complicated and it will involve fewer developers. Moreover, only one station entrance will be examined (the one on Elm Street), allowing for the other (which has connections to bus lines) to remain operational throughout the construction process, which should quell concerns from the public. However, the Elm Street entrance is connected to the Somerville Community Path, and this path would need to remain operational throughout the redevelopment process.
The redevelopment of this parcel will make the area more dynamic, attracting more people for shopping, which will spill over into other businesses, creating local jobs and opportunities. It could also increase ridership for the T, thereby improving air quality, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion, saving energy, and decreasing reliance on foreign fossil fuels.
Of course, this project will need to approximate the additional number of shoppers that would come for the Apple Store, but since there is no nearby Apple Store, it could be substantial. But is it substantial enough for Apple to want to contribute funds to renovate the station? How much is needed? We will also need to…
- Conduct an overbuild financial pro forma feasibility analysis.
- Document existing physical and market conditions for relevant properties and parcels.
- Compile relevant zoning, land use, and air rights laws, resolutions, and amendments.
- Plan a development scenario showing placement of buildings, amenities, and entrances.
- Present maps and visuals identifying and measuring key points and parcels for feasibility.
- Design a 3D program with adequate ventilation, clearance, and circulation in SketchUp.
Concept. Site selection. Site assembly. Market and feasibility analyses. Site planning. Management structure. Marketing strategy. Site control. Demand generators. Access. Egress. Traffic. Parking. Size. Shape. Terrain. Zoning. Environmental review. Renters. Buyers. Anchor stores. Trade area. Demographics. Age, Education, Income, Culture. Market demand. Market capture. Foot traffic. Sales. Maintenance. Tax credits. Appraised values. Assessed values. Value creation. Land and easement sales. Permits. Licenses. Crime prevention strategies. Retail Space. Community space. Open space. Financial structuring. Incentives. Risk. Rents. Supportable SF. Cash flows. Leasing. Closing. Vacancy allowances. Net and gross. Cost Per Average PSF. Hard cost. Soft cost. NOI. Fees. Equity. Debt. Debt service. Capitalization rates. Amortization. Debt coverage ratios. Cash commitments. Collateral. Capacity. Credit worthiness. Character. Mortgages. Loans. Loan constants. Interest. Operating expenses. Advocates. Facilitators. Lenders. Investors. Owners. Users. Realtors. Owners. Managers. Tenants. Architects. Contractors. Subcontractors. Brokers. Gross. Net. Design. Form. Program. Flexibility. Activity. Circulation. Density. Implementation.
Can we work with a BID? LDC? How do we communicate our proposal? A logic model? Inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, goals…
Location: Davis Square occupies a strategic location in west Somerville, situated between Tufts University and the Somerville-Cambridge border. The Davis Square commercial district is located in Ward 6, although the Ward 5 and Ward 7 boundaries are only a few blocks away.
Access: Davis Square is located at the intersection of Holland Street, Dover Street, Day Street, Elm Street, Highland Avenue, and College Avenue. The MBTA Red Line stops in Davis Square, providing inbound access to Cambridge and Boston, and outbound access to Alewife. The Square is also served by several MBTA bus lines (88, 89, 90, 94, 96). In addition, the Somerville Community Path provides pedestrian and bicycle access to the Minuteman Commuter Bicycle Path.
Attractions: Davis Square is one of Somerville’s most vibrant economic and cultural engines. It is home to many cafes, restaurants, theaters, clothing and sundry shops, as well as office space and a range of affordable to high end housing. The Square hosts several arts-related festivals each year, including Art Beat, Honk! and Open Studios. Located on the Red Line and less than a mile away from Tufts University, Davis Square is a true urban neighborhood with a diverse population and range of services.
History: Davis Square was first developed in the mid- to late-1800’s with a number of transportation expansions that provided carriage road and horse-pulled trains. Later, the railroad that connected Davis Square with Boston, Cambridge and surrounding areas. From the end of the nineteenth century until the Great Depression, Davis Square was an active commercial center.
During the 1930’s to the middle part of the twentieth century, many of the transit options were discontinued and many businesses, factories and residents left the area. During this time, traffic and parking, as well as a deteriorating local economy became significant issues.
In 1982, the Somerville Office of Planning and Community Development and the Davis Square Task Force created and adopted the Davis Square Action Plan which led to the construction of the bike path, Red Line station and a number of parking lots and street improvements. Coupled with growth in the economy and swing of investment and interest back into urban areas across the nation, Davis Square came back to prominence. Davis Square is now known nationally as a model of vibrant mixed-use, transit-oriented development.
Ongoing Development in Davis Square
Project Description: The future development in Davis Square will mostly be strategic infill or rehabilitation projects that will enhance an already vibrant community. Currently, the City is in the process of assessing City-owned parking lots in the Square and determining the future use of the Powder House School. The City is actively working on continued improvements on streetscapes, parks, playgrounds and open space. The City is requesting proposals for a comprehensive streetscape infrastructure analysis of Davis Square. The study will have a multimodal focus, and will assess safety, amenities and other infrastructure conditions in the Davis Square area. The enhancement of cultural events is another goal of the city that has led to the Honk! Festival and Open Studios. Outside of the Square but in the surrounding neighborhoods there are plans to upgrade the Clarendon Hill apartments and Capen Court residential areas west of Davis and Teele Square.
Clearly, the City of Somerville prioritizes infill, and working with the T could provide opportunity for growth. But, they would need a champion, such as an anchor tenant, in order to get started. Regarding my CTA case study, according to Danielle Dai…
Apple invested up $3.897 million for station improvements in Chicago.
Apple designates about $27 million a year to high-profile stores for brand marketing and promotion.
As of 2009, Apple had seven stores in Chicago suburbs and one store in the city. Apple had been looking for the site of its next retail store within Chicago. When determining store placement, Apple most likely checks its registration database to determine where existing customers live and buy and examines purchase records from both Apple stores and authorized resellers. Other factors include the presence of universities, overall education, and economic conditions.
Apple could have chosen the Block 37 location on State Street, but the slow pace of the project may have prevented Apple’s full commitment. Apple could have also picked from five vacant properties in Lincoln Park that met its 15,000 square foot minimum criteria. The property on 2214 North Lincoln Avenue with 25,000 square feet is priced at $28 per square foot. Instead, Apple chose to pay about $38 per square foot for the North and Clybourn property. The location was likely chosen because it is in a rising shopping district, close to high-end stores like Crate and Barrel. The median household income within a mile of the area in 2009 was $80,110. Consumers spent $192.486 million on entertainment within a mile radius of the area. Additionally, certain Apple stores serve as a “brand lighthouse.” The triangular site will serve as a giant Apple billboard.
Apple’s investment in the CTA investment aligns with its goals of crafting a superior retail experience. In San Francisco, Apple funded the extension of a tunnel connection between a BART station and the exit stairways; Allen acknowledges that this “change was modest, but definitely supportive of the BART system.” Apple routinely fixes the exterior of their street-level stores, including removing existing sidewalk, planting trees, and moving kiosks, fire hydrants, mailboxes, benches, and other obstructions. Apple had a strong stake in the station because its future store is adjacent to the stop. With the deal, Apple gains considerable control over the aesthetics of the whole triangle and the retail experience of its customers. Secondary benefits include increased foot traffic, good publicity, and advertising or naming rights
Apple, with $40 billion in cash, has enough financial capital to commit to the project and approached the CTA and the city, which indicates their interest, initiative and willingness to commit.
Davis Square could also be a prime location for an anchor tenant, such as Apple, to stake a claim atop the T entrance. They would then be able to pressure the City and T, getting everyone to the table for the project. The stations are wasting valuable space and holding back the quality of life for the area. If the project is successful, investors will be more confident, and the project could be emulated elsewhere in the city.
The T has so much wasted space atop station platforms throughout the Massachusetts Bay Area. Just one stop away on the Red Line, in Porter Square, the entire center island is occupied by a one-story entrance to the Red Line and Commuter Rail. The surrounding parcels are shopping centers, with multiple stories of retail!
I know that, at the time that these stations were constructed, the area was not as hot as it is now. But the MBTA should have foreseen the potential for growth that their expansion could cause, and planned for it, making it easier to redevelop their parcels or add floors. I also know that, at Porter Square, diesel fumes from the Commuter Rail could have been a cause for concern, keeping the MBTA from decking over the entire station. Perhaps the costs were not worth it. But, today, maybe they would be? A feasibility analysis would need to be conducted.
Train stations are not airports. Developers can’t build atop a runway, yet many large airports are still self-sufficient from airline fees, parking tolls, and retail revenue. Yet here, in a thriving commercial district, nothing of commercial value has been built by the MBTA. A lot of the time, suburban commuter rail stations have been relocated far from local downtown areas — which their old stations arguably helped to develop — in order to have space for vehicle parking. Even Amtrak has many stations — “Amshacks” — far from downtown areas. While this is ridiculous, it’s not as ridiculous as not funding the mere maintenance of Amtrak’s decaying bridges and tunnels.
What is wrong with our government? Our infrastructure is falling apart, but now we can’t seem to find the money to replace it. After the roaring 20’s, the Great Depression’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) employed millions in order to build roads, bridges, schools, courthouses, hospitals, sidewalks, waterworks, and post-offices, as well as museums, swimming pools, parks, community centers, playgrounds, coliseums, markets, fairgrounds, tennis courts, zoos, botanical gardens, auditoriums, waterfronts, city halls, gyms, and university unions. The WPA even employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects to promote tourism and preserve heritage. Of course, Americans had never before experienced such a role from their government, and today, similar projects may not be as welcomed. Once World War II commenced, the WPA was halted, and workers began building for war. Today, we spend billions overseas, yet can’t seem to find the money to develop our own country. We fought the Cold War against communist tyrants, so many Americans may see the WPA and the New Deal today as a socialist endeavor. After all, some of its programs, such as Social Security, continue to rack up debt. (It is rather socialist, but that did not stop it from succeeding in the 1930s, prior to the Cold War, stagflation, and Reagonomics).
Today, though, according to the TRA, the MBTA is Massachusetts’ second largest landowner, with 5000 parcels of land, 640 miles of right of way, 1.1 million riders daily, 271 bus and transit stations, 368 miles of operating track, 190 bus routes and $1.1 billion operation budget. There are also 43,000 paid parking spaces, the largest parking network in New England. Most of this land is holding back neighborhoods, keeping them from being fully activated. Also, while the price of parking is usually bundled as part of rent, typically, a transit subsidy or pass is not included. Imagine the potential!
T.O.D. will increase the MBTA’s revenue, increase its ridership, and improve its assets. It will improve air quality, decrease traffic congestion, increase the supply of housing, create jobs, and increase tax revenue. Parcel sales. Ground leases. Air rights. Access easements. The T must be the T in T.O.D., in an interconnected, institutional joint development effort. Along the Green Line Extension. At North Station. And so on and so forth…
The event above, The Commonwealth is Open for Business, was open to all members of the public, with no prior registration required. Leaders from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), MassDevelopment, Massachusetts Port Authority (MassPort), and the Commonwealth’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Management (DCAMM) were joined by Governor Baker’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
Governor Baker spoke of strategically transforming the state’s blighted properties into assets for communities. He stated that many so-called assets are full of weeds, beer cans, and burned cars, and that an “entrepreneurial” mindset needs to be implemented in order to build more transit-oriented housing on main street for working families and young people. But, of course, the Commonwealth does not control municipal zoning and land use, and residents will continue to fear density. What can they really do? Just build more retail at turnpike fuel stations?
According to MassDOT, requests to purchase or lease MBTA property requires departmental review and approval, which can take 30-45 days. Most dispositions require a public process that is transparent and demonstrates protection of public money and assets. The bid process can take 4-6 months for simple dispositions, and more complicated offerings may require extensive site investigations and other buyer due diligence, which may take 6-9 months. This is not unusual for the disposition of public property, but time is money, so most properties are not worth the investment. Plus, many public properties have challenges that make the project unfeasible or unattractive to private investors and developers.
Real estate development will have a marginal impact on the MBTA’s finances. Of course, it’s a bureaucratic and inefficient authority, but it does need more state support. I can understand why Governor Baker wants to disillusion the Commonwealth, so he does not have to raise taxes…
Porter Square: Images courtesy of Google Earth…
The Federal Realty Investment Trust, the developers of Assembly Row, built the Orange Line Assembly Station for the MBTA. But this is an exception. Value capture worked at Assembly Row because it is an entirely redeveloped neighborhood, similar to the Hudson Yards and 7 Line Extension in New York City. In Midtown Manhattan, they used tax increment financing (TIF). It was feasible then, and still, just barely, after years of headaches.
The MBTA actually services Providence, RI, alongside Amtrak, with a brutal station isolated from the rest of downtown by a large, grassy lawn, with few benches or amenities. There is a huge shopping center located only a few blocks away, which actually towers above the tracks, as I’ve seen while riding the Acela, but it is not connected to the station, which is a one-story structure in Providence’s CBD. This brutal structure could, at least, be spiced up with murals along the walls, and the grassy area could be activated better or redeveloped in a joint development?
Same all over America, really. And especially for MBTA properties. Here, in Back Bay, Boston…
…Unlike the MBTA, the New York MTA has built a new transportation center in Lower Manhattan with space for retailers. And indeed, top tier retailers are already flocking to the MTA Fulton Center in Lower Manhattan.
I was granted access to the construction site in late August 2014, in the company of Daniel Peterson, PE, who came up with the floor plan for the Fulton Center. The design is meticulous; indeed, every nook and cranny in the complex has been carefully (and artfully) interconnected. It was a pleasure to explore the facility, and I’m sure it’ll be even more pleasurable once it opens with civic and commercial spaces, as well as with connections to the nearby PATH hub…
Daniel Peterson writes:
While the Fulton Street Transit Center oculus, and in particular its curved form, might seem inspired by Norman Foster’s work, I can tell you that the plan for the station definitely was not. In my role as Senior Transportation Engineer for Arup, I developed the plan for the station in a sketch I worked up on my train home, in response to a large ‘design objectives’ meeting with the MTA held earlier in the day (5/30/2002). Grimshaw was hired by Arup about a year later and was obliged to adopt our plan.
This original plan was modified by MTA’s decision to retain the Corbin Building, but only by being made smaller. The circular elements (the promenade ground floor and depressed “pod”), and the angled main staircases were retained. The upper floors were added later and retained the circular motif. In the initial sketch, fare control turnstiles were on the ground floor inside the entrances. We soon realized we could relocate the -1 to -2 stairs to the 4/5 uptown platform and move fare control between the pod and the platform.
Daniel Peterson continues:
Grand Central Terminal and its east and west staircases influenced my thinking regarding the FSTC design, including its vertical space and clearstory daylight above, and the actions of “descending into”, and “watching others”. While these GCT elements in no way resemble in plan the FSTC elements, in psychological intent, they do. The circular forms have their antecedents in the Smithsonian’s Museum of History and Technology, designed by McKim Mead & White, and today called the National Museum of American History; a building in which I spent countless hours as a young lad, courtesy of my inspired parents.
The ground floor and the pod were designed as circular spaces to provide an attractive promenade for circulation within the station and to drive my expectation that there ought to be an open dome above (I was thinking Pantheon, Monticello, not a hyperboloid, though I knew that whoever designed the opening would have to “reach for” the natural light). James Carpenter, who sought me out when he got the commission, got it exactly right. The circular plan also worked to bring the pedestrians into the pod at perpendicular angles. I felt this was a key design element because I wanted users to be able to naturally witness the movement of other travelers as each moved up and down the stairs and escalators (I had to fight to keep Grimshaw from turning the escalators parallel and the circular promenade into an orthogonal box). I also wanted users to emerge from the building into its corners, which is natural for circulation (direct to the street corner), but is also visually interesting through the perspectival changes encountered and from the greater light present in the open intersections beyond the doors and visible through the glass above them.
As one can see from my photos and Dan’s sketches…
The inbound pedestrian flows from the four corners of the station (originally extending to John St.) were drawn to a central area, which was then to lead to the 4/5 and other trains. This “central area,” which became known as the “pod” was depressed (-1) to lead directly into the uptown 4/5 platform. Once inside the relocated fare control, additional vertical circulation led down to the (-2) large concourse area (the open pool-like “basement” that the pod overlooks) which provided through connectivity between Dey St. the A/C mezzanine and J/M/Z and 2/3 lines, and the downtown 4/5 platform.
There very much was an intent on MTA’s part (from Peter Kalikow, MTA chairman at the time, and who interestingly owned the Telegraph Building, the 1923 HQ for AT&T, across Broadway) to bring natural light all the way into Fulton Center, down to the A mezzanine if possible. There was on my part also a very intentional user experience of moving into, emerging into the light as one left the station and went to one’s day in the city. The promenade was circular, and the pod below, naturally enough was as well, as I felt the curved edges more approachable for looking over and watching people on the escalators, down below or across the opening as they move through the station. I also felt the circular overlooks more conducive to creating self-defined spaces for waiting for a rendezvous. Curved edges seem to have a different, more approachable, attraction for people than orthogonal square edges, and looking into a circle, a different experience from looking into a square.
It is my sincere hope that users will enjoy a transformative experience as they leave and enter what is now called Fulton Center, an experience that keeps working for them, day after day; that fills them with a little bit of the energy and wonder of the city.
Daniel Peterson, PE
Even though the Fulton Center is at least a few stories tall, unlike the Red Line entrances in Davis Square, it is still only a few stories tall in Lower Manhattan.
Then there’s Tysons Corner, an edge city in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, located in Northern Virginia along the Capital Beltway (I-495). It is a census-designated place in Fairfax County, Virginia, yet it is the corporate headquarters of quite a few companies, and it is also Fairfax County’s central business district. Built as a commercial strip, with two major shopping malls and relatively tall buildings, Tysons Corner is congested with vehicular traffic. It is the epitome of an edge city; it’s a suburban ‘corner’ at the periphery of the D.C. region, after all.
The area was largely developed following the construction of the Capital Beltway, and akin to many other placeless commercial strips, it was built entirely for the automobile, with wide roads, ample parking lots, and few sidewalks, benches, or crosswalks. The area was scaled for vehicular mobility, with vast expanses of asphalt, and with tower-in-a-park(ing) lot planning. Sidewalks, if available, connect to parking lots. Offices and malls are located towards the center of parcels, a few hundred feet beyond the sidewalks in order to be closer to parked cars.
As part of a larger transit-oriented planning effort, the Washington Metro was finally expanded to Tysons Corner in 2014, making four stops in the area. The main station is close to Tysons Corner Center and Tysons Galleria, which, when combined, house roughly 3 million square feet, approximately half of the county’s retail space. However, the station has yet to be heavily used, partly because it is hard to traverse the area as a pedestrian or bicyclist. Upon exiting the Metro, one still has to travel to a final destination in a car-oriented environment.
There is no ground-floor retail, which would activate the sidewalks and streetscape. As a result, there are few people to interact with, even on a nice, sunny day. The blocks are too long for human beings to enjoy, being built for vehicles, rather than human sensibilities…
In Cognitive Architecture, the authors review new findings in psychology and neuroscience to help architects and planners better understand their clients as the sophisticated mammals they are, arriving in the world with built-in responses to the environment that have evolved over millennia. The book outlines four main principles—Edges Matter, the fact people are a thigmotactic or a ‘wall-hugging’ species; Patterns Matter, how we are visually-oriented; Shapes Carry Weight, how our preference for bilateral symmetrical forms is biological; and finally, Storytelling is Key, how our narrative proclivities, unique to our species, play a role in successful place-making.
So, here, what’s the problem? There are no parked cars on the sides (edges) of the avenues, meaning that cars zoom by at highway speeds right next to the sidewalk, thereby creating an unsafe atmosphere; this environment is made even more unsafe by all of the highway entrances and exits in the area, without crosswalks and traffic lights. In some places, there is not even sidewalk, forcing pedestrians to carve their own along the grass. Now that WMATA has arrived, there will be more pedestrians, and potentially, more fatalities if pedestrian safety measures are not implemented as soon as possible.
Tysons Corner is located in the D.C. metropolitan area, where top talent comes in order to live, work, and play. But the business community at Tysons Corner has realized that in order to compete for top talent and in order for office space to remain leased out, they need to have an attractive location for employees. Nearby Arlington County has many more options for dining; employees can stay after work in order for happy hour, or they can enjoy a nice lunch in a public park. At Tysons Corner, one cannot even walk from work to a restaurant, and there are not many choices due to a lack of density and a lack of dynamism. The same issue will impact retail in the area; indeed, if these malls want to continue to attract top brands, they need to make their shops more attractive vis-à-vis making them more accessible to public transportation.
In Arlington, Rosslyn has become world-renowned for its transit-oriented policies, and Metro has worked with local developers in order to integrate station entrances into offices and malls. However, at Tysons Corner, the Metro stop is at the center of a wide boulevard, accessible only by a footbridge and numerous escalators or stairs. There is a bike locker at the entrance, but it is not heavily used, partly because the area is far from bike-friendly.
Bike-Friendly Way-finding in Boston, MA
Bike Path in Boston, MA
Bike Box in Boston, MA
Pedestrian Street in Boston, MA (Riel, 2015)
Parklet in Somerville, MA (Riel, 2015)
Tysons Corner has been working to rebrand itself, even dropping the ‘corner’ from its name, yet physical improvements take a lot of time, resources, and coordination. But even if there are more sidewalks and benches, parking lots must be developed, with ground-floor retail along the sidewalks and underground parking. The problem, of course, is whether or not this is feasible under current market conditions. The Metro surely has raised property values, but infill is expensive, and there is still not enough density to support more growth and development. Leaders in the area are surely asking: what comes first, development or density?
More than a century ago, towns were formed at the confluence of rivers or streams, and then, at railroad hubs. San Francisco was built at the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad, while Dallas, Atlanta, and Miami were also built partly by railroad developers. Some of America’s first suburbs were connected by streetcars, and without automobiles, these suburbs were dense and walkable. Town centers were naturally built nearby train stations. But Tysons Corner was developed along a highway, and there is no civic core in the placeless edge city.
The Silver Line has cut across the median of a major 8-lane boulevard at Tysons Corner, ironically increasing immobility, rather than tackling mobility concerns. In order to cross the street, one has to go onto a pedestrian footbridge through the station, and out the other side. Plus, unfortunately, the station had no overbuild, though it’s doubtful that it would have been profitable, given decking costs and a lack of room for parking spaces. Yet while joint development was not practiced at Tysons Corner, business owners have created a special tax assessment on commercial and industrial property owners, which will generate $400 million, thereby funding an extension of the Metro to Dulles Airport. Business owners rightly recognize that the benefits of connecting the Silver Line to Dulles Airport far outweigh the costs, as they are creating a convenient link between the world and Tysons Corner. The link between rail transportation and development has been known for more than a century, but it had been lost due to suburbanization trends. Now, more hotels could be built, complete with conference centers, which would be able to compete with D.C. by being more affordable and close to Dulles.
But Tysons Corners needs more than just hotels and conference centers. Thad Williamson, in Chapter 7 of Sprawl, Justice, and Citizenship, writes that one cannot march in a strip mall. Referencing Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, Williamson reminds readers that many Americans are doing more and more activities by themselves, partly due to their physical environments. When people congregate to these places and flow through privately-owned streets and sidewalks, complete with private security and cameras, it hinders the development of informality, which creates dynamic places to live, work, and play. At Tysons Corner, it is hard to find a public space, partly because it is hard to be oriented in a maze of highways. There are few wayfinding signs, and there are few people, so asking around is hard. Tysons Corner needs to be a place that people want to visit, if it is going to be successful in the 21st century.
In the end, despite the challenges facing Tysons Corner, it is far more prepared for prosperity in the 21st century than its peer edge cities elsewhere in the country. It is located in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, and it is now connected to D.C. via public transportation. Local leadership recognizes what they need to do in order to change, which is lightyears ahead of most suburban (and urban) areas of the country. All they need is continued support, resources, and collaboration. Hopefully, Tysons Corner can serve as a role model for future T.O.D. expansions in the D.C. area and elsewhere in the United States, from Long Island, New York, to Marblehead, Massachusetts. Political resolve will be necessary in order to reform zoning and land use, requiring density advocacy in some of America’s NIMBYist territories.
T.O.D. is being practiced throughout the country because transportation is a vehicle (pun intended) through which many aims can be accomplished. By bridging the gap physically, transportation does not just transport people, but transforms them — and their communities — socially, economically, environmentally, and politically. Yet it is important to recognize the importance of context. T.O.D. practices cannot be transported; they must be translated locally, based on existing conditions such as physical, demographic, and market realities. The Air Rights Building at Tufts is located in an entirely different context from Davis Square in Somerville, MA, or from the Fulton Center in Lower Manhattan and Tysons Corner in Fairfax, Virginia.
American suburbs are dying, and they need to be physically retrofitted from the past for 21st century social, economic, political, and environmental trends. With American cities becoming relatively safer and cleaner, many suburbanite children are now preferring to grow up in post-industrial, global, creative cities, even once they’re married and have children, rather than move back to the suburbs. Plus, fewer people are buying cars and homes, and if they are, they’re doing it later. Of course, our cities are still quite dominated by vehicles, but there has been a noticeable trend throughout the country of higher rapid transit ridership and higher bicycle usage. Given these changes, municipalities need to finding more ways to creatively densify, thereby fueling continued growth. Can LEED help to pressure for change?
Born and bred in Brooklyn, my name is Rayn Riel, and I’m a Senior Editor at PlaNYourCity. I’ve circumnavigated the world twice in order to research transportation finance and joint (real estate) development practices in 30+ countries and 25+ U.S. states. I’m a graduate student at Tufts University and I’ve designed Tufts’ only undergraduate urban planning degree, I’ve founded Tufts only undergraduate urban planning student group, and I’ve also been working as a GIS Lab Assistant. Having interned at the NYC Department of City Planning for the past two summers, I interned at MTA NYC Transit and at the MTA HQ Real Estate Department this summer. I will graduate with a B.A. and M.A. in Urban Policy and Planning in May 2016. I intend to become a “Riel Estate” professional.
America’s public transportation agencies cannot be profitable in the 21st century due to a political economy that isolates these agencies from municipal zoning and land use policies, and from forming value capture mechanisms – from tax increment financing to joint development and the transfer of development rights. This siloization of zoning, land use, taxation, and transportation operations is largely due to American fears of density alongside protections of private property, but it limits the potential for transit-oriented and transit-owned joint development, and it hinders the formation of public-private partnerships. Local, state, and federal structural reforms are necessary in order to streamline value capture processes, such as up-zoning transportation assets and relaxing land use requirements, in order to facilitate T.O.D. While value capture will provide marginal financial benefits due to the limited assets that U.S. agencies possess, it literally stands on its own merits as a vehicle through which the urban fabric can be renewed and enhanced. Transportation agencies cannot be profitable, but they can be organized more efficiently, if given the resources necessary to effectively practice value capture.
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is constantly running trains, but it is also constantly running a deficit. Unlike profitable transportation companies, such as the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR), the MTA has few valuable real estate assets which could be adequately transformed into transit-oriented and transit-owned joint development hubs. Similar to other U.S. public transportation agencies, space for pragmatic and profitable commercial activities – including shops and offices operating on agency-owned land – is limited to a few select stations, yards, concourses, and passageways, because most profitable assets from private predecessors were sold decades ago. While the MTA’s ability to remain revenue-positive or self-sufficient through real estate development is stymied, the MTA has been capitalizing upon its few existing assets for additional revenue. This process, however, in coordination with the City of New York in order to develop value capture mechanisms, is lengthy and cumbersome. The MTA has not developed the resources needed to develop property. This Senior Honors Thesis elucidates how the MTA can overcome organizational barriers in order to contextually ‘transport’ the MTA’s limited portfolio of assets into ‘transformation hubs’, and in order to do so, advocate for a privatized, profitable, and independent real estate development division of the MTA, chartered for real estate development. While there is ‘room’ for improvement, institutional barriers ranging from NIMBYism and a fear of density to antiquated zoning laws, financing requirements, and a lack of communication among the City, State, MTA, and developers would need to be transcended through coordinated reformation efforts. The MTA’s collective mindset must be renewed for a 21st century narrative, in which the MTA also considers itself a real estate developer.
Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author only.
Looking to boost the flow of money into its coffers and fix a budget deficit, the MBTA is eyeing increases in parking fees and aggressively exploring additional conversions of its parking lots into transit-orientated development.
The MBTA, now overseen by a five-member fiscal control board after a grueling winter crippled the public transit system, is also expressing interest in converting to digital billboards and maximizing the money it makes from telecoms and utilities using MBTA land.
The state statute that created the fiscal control board earlier this year also required the MBTA to explore potential ways to boost revenue.
Brian Shortsleeve, the MBTA’s chief administrator, told reporters on Friday that the agency is not proposing any changes at the moment, as it expects the fiscal control board to vet the options over the next few weeks.
Shortsleeve said Gov. Charlie Baker is especially interested in the transit agency “maximizing” its real estate assets.
Mark Boyle, the assistant manager for real estate and asset development at the MBTA, pointed to Woodland Station in Newton, west of Boston.
At one point, the Green Line station had a large surface parking lot. The MBTA opted to lease two-thirds of the parking lot to National Development, which built a luxury transit-orientated residential complex and called it Arborpoint at Woodland Station.
On the remaining third of the parking lot, a replacement garage was built, Boyle said.
Potential parking lots that could be redeveloped include two along the Red Line’s Braintree branch south of Boston, in Wollaston and North Quincy.
But redeveloping surface parking lots and focusing on “air rights” – allowing entities to build above train tracks – can be challenging.
In a presentation to the MBTA’s fiscal control board on “barriers” to real estate revenue, agency officials noted that “[local] objections to project density, traffic generation, etc. can result in insufficient value to fund replacement parking, premium development costs and compensate the MBTA for development rights.”
The presentation also focused on commuter parking fees, saying there is “still room to grow parking revenues compared to our peer group,” but also adding, “Changes to parking fees and violations/fines policies have historically lead to public and political resistance.”
The agency has not raised parking rates system-wide in seven years.
The MBTA charges a daily parking rate ranging from $4 to $7, while San Francisco’s transit system charges up to $7.50 and Washington, D.C.’s transit authority charges up to $8.60 a day.
The MBTA has 77 commuter rail lots and 23 rapid transit lots.
Ninety-eight percent of MBTA land is used for operations, such as 4,972 acres of track. The MBTA owns a total of 6,785 acres.
Most of the MBTA’s surplus property has already been sold off, raising $400 million in revenue.
Boyle said the MBTA regularly gets phone calls from developers about its Albany Street garage or its Charlestown yards, but the agency needs someplace to store and maintain its buses.
Replacing the Albany Street garage would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, he added.
Located at the crossroads of Lower Manhattan on Broadway between John and Fulton Streets, this fully digital transit and retail hub will serve as New York City’s next great public space and integrates architectural ingenuity that fuses history, art, and sustainable engineering.
“The new Fulton Center complex is another example of how we are rebuilding Lower Manhattan which will spur a resurgence throughout the area,” Governor Cuomo said. “This new station makes traveling easier for subway riders, and is a beautiful public space for visitors and commuters to enjoy. We now have a new cornerstone in Lower Manhattan, and I am proud to see this unique complex opened to the public.”
The $1.4 billion Fulton Center project was funded with $847 million from a special Congressional appropriation granted after September 11, 2001. Known as the Lower Manhattan Recovery Grants, those funds were intended for local transit agencies to repair, replace, and enhance transportation infrastructure in Lower Manhattan. The MTA provided $130 million in local funds. The project also received $423 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the largest single award for the Federal Transit Administration’s ARRA projects.
Encased in a glass and steel shell, the bright and modern facility dramatically improves the commuter experience and will accommodate up to 300,000 daily riders using the and lines. Construction of the Fulton Center includes restoration of the 125-year-old Corbin Building, which will provide additional public access to the facility. The Fulton Center will house nearly 66,000-square-feet of revenue generating retail and commercial space and the MTA’s largest digital media program, both of which are being managed and operated by Westfield Corp., an international developer and operator of iconic retail properties and a leader in digital sales and sponsorship.
“This building stands as a testament to the strength and resilience New York showed on 9/11 and every day since. And it stands as a testament to what smart investments in infrastructure can do to improve a city, a state, and even a nation,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast. “It shows what we can do for our customers and our region when we invest in transit, and it shows New York is still thinking big and building big. Great cities like New York need great public spaces, and I’m proud to see this new symbol of our city’s strength open its doors.”
The Fulton Center integrates five subway stations serving the and lines. Connecting subway lines that were borne out of the competing IRT, BMT, and IND companies resolve a century old conflict to better reflect traveling patterns and needs that are in the interest of today’s commuters. In-station transfers that were cumbersome and difficult to navigate between the numerous subway lines have been transformed into a brightly lit concourse with sweeping sightlines.
“This new transit hub will go a long way toward enhancing the travel experience of hundreds of thousands of customers. They will finally benefit from a thoughtful design that vastly improves passenger flow throughout the station, minimizes congestion and makes transferring far easier than ever before,” said New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco. Our customers will also benefit from the addition of another fully ADA-compliant station to the growing network of stations in our subway system and everyone will reap the benefits from the many technological features the station offers. It’s a hub built in the 21st century for the 21st century and beyond.”
A new 350-foot-long pedestrian tunnel constructed under Dey Street between Broadway and Church Street will expand intermodal transit options by offering a connection to the line, built outside of fare control, and ultimately to PATH trains at the World Trade Center complex. These transit options will expand to include transfers to the when the World Trade Center Transit Hub opens, and the line once the Cortlandt Street Station is rebuilt.
In order to ensure the new complex is accessible to all of our customers, ten escalators and fifteen American with Disabilities Act (ADA) elevators have been installed. The public restroom facilities include two ADA accessible bathrooms on the concourse and the street level.
Westfield will be subletting the commercial space in the facility and leasing the digital advertising. The firm will manage the retail/commercial space plus some 60,000-square-feet of public circulation areas and 63,000-square-feet of mechanical and other “back-of-house” space. This includes the majority of the non-station areas of the Fulton Center complex, most prominently, the new glass and steel Fulton Building at the southeast corner of Broadway and Fulton Street; the historic Corbin Building at the northeast corner of Broadway and John Street; the Dey Street Head House at the southwest corner of Broadway and Dey Street; and the concourse under Dey Street that will connect to the future World Trade Center PATH Station. With limited exceptions, Westfield will be responsible for, operating and maintaining the space and making required repairs throughout the lease term.
The Fulton Center will be the only all-digital signage transit hub in New York City, housing the MTA’s largest state-of-the-art digital signage media program with an extensive network of over 50 screens to host advertising campaigns that will also be managed and operated by Westfield. For the first time in the MTA system, a site-specific digital arts program will be employed at the complex, which is being managed by MTA Arts and Design.
A series of screens will be dedicated to MTA customer information including service advisories and train arrival information. In the case of an emergency, the MTA has the ability to override all displays to provide relevant information. The Fulton Center’s state-of-the-art customer information system also includes 16 interactive On the Go! Kiosks. The sleek, stainless steel kiosks feature large screens offering customers information about their entire trip, from planning with Trip Planner+, real-time service status, escalator & elevator status and local neighborhood maps. As added features, the screens provide news and weather information.
Seven additional kiosks, managed by Westfield, will display advertisements and tenant information.
The centerpiece of Fulton Center includes a 53-foot-diameter glass oculus over a grand atrium. Suspended under tension within the atrium’s conical form is the “Sky Reflector-Net”, an integrated artwork by James Carpenter Design Associates (JCDA), Grimshaw Architects and Arup. The artwork, commissioned by MTA Arts & Design, is composed of 112 tensioned cables, 224 high-strength rods and nearly 10,000 stainless steel components. Attached to the soaring cable-net are 952 aluminum panels optimized to distribute year-round daylight and reflect natural sunlight down into the lowest levels of the building. Fulfilling its civic purpose, the artwork combines beauty and function, reduces energy consumption and powerfully connects daily transit users with a tangible sense of daylight.
The Fulton Center is in the process of qualifying for LEED certification. Fulton Center offers increased daylight and views along with reduced urban heat island effect through reflective roof surfaces. Environment-friendly features reduce potable water use by 30 percent and energy demand by 25 percent compared to a baseline building of a similar type. More than 20 percent of materials used in construction were sourced locally and made of recycled content. By minimizing energy and water use, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced and cleaner air provided for all New Yorkers. Fulton Center is equipped with the latest in electrical, HVAC and sprinkler systems, and houses four Con Edison transformers and network protectors.
Construction of the Fulton Center also included the restoration of the Corbin Building. Built in 1889, the Corbin Building was originally designed by Francis Hatch Kimball, and was named for Austin Corbin, a former President of the Long Island Rail Road. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. The Fulton Center project preserved the historical landmark with $59 million in renovations including major structural underpinning, and refurbishment of the interior and façade. The Corbin Building provides an additional street level entrance to the Fulton Center on John Street. At this entrance, escalators are available to bring commuters and shoppers down to the concourse level of the facility to access the Dey Street passageway, retail shops, and the A/C mezzanine.
“Integrating an historic century-old office building with a modern, state-of-the-art transit and retail hub presented significant challenges for both our design and construction teams,” said Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, president of MTA Capital Construction, whose organization is responsible for the MTA’s four megaprojects, including the Fulton Center. “From making sense of the former maze that confused even the most seasoned subway customers to shoring up the foundation of the Corbin Building, our project team came through in splendid fashion. The Fulton Center rivals the world’s most exquisite transportation facilities.”
The project team was faced with many challenges unique to its location during project construction. The area around Fulton Center is extremely congested and there was limited availability of space to move equipment and workers around. Performing construction in such conditions required creative ways to stage work. Contractors used mini-piles to underpin the Corbin Building. The piles were installed by hand because large machines could not be used in such a confined space. The pits for the new foundation were also dug by hand with picks, shovels and buckets. The Corbin Building was rigged with motion sensors and other monitors to detect any building movement during work activities.
Construction of the Fulton Center set the bar for working harmoniously in an intense urban environment.
During construction of the complex, a pedestrian underpass was dug in the oldest section of the city without curtailing service to nine subway lines or interrupting electric, gas and communications utilities. Heavy equipment had to be moved into a neighborhood where traffic was already backed up by the ongoing reconstruction of the World Trade Center one block to the west. The work competed with other construction sites in the area, like a high-rise office building and a college dormitory to the south and east. Superstorm Sandy complicated matters further in 2012, rendering the entire site impassible for weeks.
Fulton Center has received numerous accolades recognizing the multifaceted elements of the project, including the New York State Society of Professional Engineers Project of the Year Award in 2014; the Diamond Award in the environmental category from the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York awarded in 2014; the New York Landmarks Conservancy Lucy G. Moses Stewardship Award in 2013; and a Commendation from the 2014 Brunel Awards, which recognizes excellence in architecture and design in railway–the only project in the U.S. to receive such recognition.