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Boston, Boulder offer University Circle a car-free choice

Marc Lefkowitz  |  05/19/14 @ 4:00pm  |  Posted in Vibrant cities

“Transportation Demand Management” (TDM)—it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? But, close to the heart of this inscrutable term lies the key to a mystery surrounding why some cities are more attractive than others. Do we have your attention now?

Wonkish, yes, but the non-profit developer, University Circle, Inc. started unpacking TDM last week. And for good reason.

Of parking and development<br />In University Circle, Cleveland. Images: GCBL<br /><br /><br /><br />

University Circle is landlocked—it cannot physically expand unless it partners with the cities of Cleveland, East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights. It would rather not spend its resources knocking down parking garages in order to build them over, like it had to recently at Cornell Road and Circle Drive. University Circle’s $1 billion investment in new residential and work spaces is well underway, but unlocking the parking conundrum has just begun.

“How do we manage job growth of 1,000 new employees a year?” asked UCI President Chris Ronayne. “Transportation issues are getting bigger. We can’t simply widen our roads.”

UCI will explore alternative strategies, such as building more housing and car-free forms of transportation. For the first time in a generation, they started building a high-density mix of housing and retail at Uptown and Hazel 8 apartments. The District won $30 million in federal funding to rebuild Rapid stations nearby, at the base of Cedar Hill and in Little Italy.

But, even by shifting a few hundred people closer to work, it is unlikely to curb demand for parking. Compounding the issue, Opportunity Corridor, a $330 million highway extension, is expected to bring many more cars flooding into the district.

UCI, which represents Case and University Hospitals, is turning to transportation experts NelsonNygaard, a firm started by two women that has produced award-winning work like Seattle's Transit Master Plan, and local firm City Architecture to devise a plan that increases the presence of “multi-modal” transportation options. The outcome, observers note, may lead UCI to form a Transportation Management Association, a concerted effort to bundle transportation services.

In other places, TMAs have tamed car traffic while promoting less polluting forms of transportation. They handle everything from re-designing streets to promote biking to managing a district of members who agree to reduce parking demand. UCI hosted a conversation last week with leaders of TMAs in Boston and Boulder about moving away from bearing the great expense of cars.

Which gets to our teaser in the first paragraph. TDM is essentially about managing parking by getting rid of the need for it. It drove Boston and Boulder to align their parking policies, for example, with larger, city efforts such as Climate Action Plans and goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Massachusetts, under Governor Mitt Romney, redirected a transportation fund for Congestion Mitigation Air Quality and required Boston businesses to join A Better City TMA, says Executive Director David Strauss, who jokes, "makes us the Rockefeller of TMAs."

“Absent that regulatory framework, what is the key to making the business case for a TMA?” an audience member asked Strauss.

“In an area like University Circle, where you’re trying to attract talent, you need a focus on projects that improve quality of life,” Strauss responded. “It’s not a costly endeavor to do that. Transportation touches everyone.”

A Better City TMA operates on an annual $170,000 budget, and offers its dues-paying members a suite of services, from bike commuter challenge events to a district-wide survey of employees that provides a snapshot of the “mode split” or number of car-free commuters. Its continual, direct appeal in addition to programs like a guaranteed ride home manages to convince about 30 people per year to try an alternative to the car, says Strauss.

The TMA also tracks the frequency and length of a transit or bike commute and converts it to a GHG reduction figure—good for corporate members who file sustainability reports.

David Beach, director of GreenCityBlueLake, wondered how the next 25 years of adapting to changing climate affects the outlook for TMAs?

“Boston is preparing for climate change,” Strauss says. “It has to think about the impact of sea level rise. Our public transit (subway) is at risk.”

“We could be talking about driverless electric vehicles,” he continues, “and needing less roadway in the future, and how to maximize it.”

A Better City has spawned another TMA, in the area where Harvard plans to expand its campus, Strauss says. This Harvard TMA has garnered private philanthropic support because it will align with the city’s goals for greenhouse gas reductions.

Perhaps nothing can touch the TMA nirvana found in Boulder, Colorado, where the city prevents the building of new parking garages downtown, says Molly Winter, director of the city’s parking management division. Boulder operates 50% of the parking downtown, where the city is convincing the private sector to view it as a shared asset.

The clamp down on parking may be seen by some as a wieldy stick, but the city has some carrots, too. It hands out free bus passes for all downtown employees of businesses in the TMA -- a move that has elevated Boulder’s mode split to a boastful 60 percent.

“We’re pretty proud of that,” Winter says, “because we don’t have a Rapid. Boulder has a strong commitment to maintaining its VMT (vehicle miles traveled) at 1990s levels.”

The city also supported its decision to manage parking demand by introducing zoning changes, such as zero setbacks on new buildings and caps on the amount of parking a development can provide, Winter adds.

The Boulder TMA also manages a transit-oriented development district. With the city taking on the burden, it doesn’t pass on the cost of parking, which exceeds $36,000 per space plus a $500 yearly maintenance bill, Winter says.

“A lot of the time it’s about managing the perceived need for parking,” she says, “when it’s really about access.”

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Chris Bongorno
3 years ago

Happy to see the interest in the TMA/TDM strategies both last week and on this page and not surprised to see GCBL continue its advocacy for progressive measures to change our behaviors for the better.

A bit of context: UCI called out the TMA model in its 2000 Shaping the Circle Vision Plan as one of a number of recommended strategies that could make the Circle easier to find and navigate and that could improve public transportation & parking options (these were called out in the plan, but TMAs can obviously do more). Unfortunately, UCI and its partners haven't yet done the big study to determine the potential for a TMA to implement programs and services that would meet the shared goals of our member institutions and community partners. This is why we are including the Transportation Management Implementation Plan as a critical component in our forthcoming "Moving Greater University Circle Transportation Study & Implementation Plan." This study, which is funded in part by a NOACA TLCI Planning Grant, will include a deep look at parking, transportation & mobility networks & programs district-wide. We will incorporate the recently completed Circle-Heights TLCI studies, as well as various other plans from key stakeholders and public agencies and will engage the community in a meaningful discussion of the mobility challenges that they face every day. Ultimately, we hope to arrive at common goals and strategies that can be implemented through a series of measures, one of which may be a TMA.

I look forward to exploring this more with all of you!

k3ith
3 years ago

I don't have any profound ideas in regard to encouraging other modes, but I point out to everyone that'll listen that I'm leaving my job in UC at the end of May specifically because of transportation. Neither the HealthLine or RedLine goes far enough east and the rest of RTA's lines through the area are either too infrequent to trust or too disconnected. There aren't enough bike lanes and not enough employers offer facilities to change if you are brave enough to ride with traffic on Euclid Ave. At the job I'm leaving, I just don't see a good alternative option to driving everyday (90+ minutes to go 12 miles on RTA isn't acceptable IMO).

Yes, I know RTA is studying extending toward Euclid, but that'll take years. Perhaps the first thing UCI could do is express support for RTA's expansion that's currently in study.

Railist
3 years ago

Shame that the Opportunity Corridor couldn't have been used as the vehicle to bring the RedLine out of the gulch and, instead, down E. 105 and Euclid to Windemere, as a streetcar, so that it would be a more enticing option for westsiders commuting to or playing in University Circle.

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