How to Make Office-to-Residential Conversions Work
Converting office towers to multifamily buildings extends their life cycle while simultaneously filling demand for housing, both in suburbs such as Alexandria and in urban central business districts evolving into live/work/play neighborhoods. But makeovers also demand ingenuity and nerve. “Every single conversion is a different animal,” says Anita Kramer, senior vice president at the ULI Center for Real Estate Economics and Capital Markets, who has been working on a long-term, in-depth study of conversions across the United States. “There’s no blueprint, no cookie cutter.”
How Houston’s homeless strategy became a model for other US cities
Houston worked with surrounding county governments, various community stakeholders and nonprofit service providers to develop a model that, despite operating with a small budget, has decreased the area’s homeless population by roughly 63% since 2011, according to a recent city report. The area has experienced an 82% reduction in family homelessness and a 69% reduction in chronic homelessness in that period, Eichenbaum said. And by 2015, it had effectively ended veteran homelessness. – The city employs a housing-first model that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness as quickly as possible with no barriers to entry. The city then provides wraparound support services to ensure they remain housed. Those services can include assigned case managers, food assistance, mental health counseling, and detox and substance abuse treatments.
Why the Dream of Turning Empty Offices Into Housing Is a Bust
According to the CBRE report, even all the planned office conversions through 2025, along with those completed since 2016, would amount to only 2 percent of U.S. office space. And that includes offices that have become hotels or life-science labs. What’s going on? One problem is simply with the shape of office buildings: Their deep floor plates mean it’s hard for natural light to reach most of the space once it’s divided up into rooms. Their utilities are centralized, which requires extensive work to bring plumbing and HVAC into new apartments. Either way, they require significant architectural intervention. The older stock of prewar offices, which are better suited for residential units, have often already been converted in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia. Another issue is with zoning codes that bar housing from office districts. A third obstacle is the building code: Early residential conversions, like those in SoHo’s lofts, were usually illegal, sometimes for complicated reasons that seem less important than mandating a window in every bedroom.
Chicago Firm Plans Transformation of Denver-Area Hotel Into Apartments
Located near a Denver light rail station, plenty of retail and other redevelopment projects, the Radisson property is better suited for workforce housing rather than as a full-service hotel, Arbor Lodging Partners CEO Vamsi Bonthala said. The firm plans to charge below market rents at the future apartment property in an effort to appeal to renters that have been priced out of other markets.
Rent Control Largely Failed This Year But Expect It to Re-Emerge in 2023
The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) is tracking 23 states that have such proposals or laws in play. NMHC points out that this year, the issue even gained traction at the federal level, with tenant advocates urging President Biden to issue an executive order mandating rent caps on mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The “flawed policy” failed in 2022 with the exception of California, Maine and New York cities, NMHC said. In 2023, it poses that Massachusetts is the top threat to enacting it. “We anticipate significant activity in state legislatures in the coming year and a continued effort at the federal level to push the Biden administration to issue an Executive Order (which would not require Congressional approval),” NMHC writes.
California accounts for 30% of nation’s homeless, feds say
Based on a biennial point-in-time tally of people sleeping in shelters, cars and on the street — which California cities and counties conducted earlier this year for the first time since 2019 due to pandemic postponements — the U.S. Department of Housing and Community Development estimated that more than 172,000 Californians experienced homelessness this year. That represents an adjusted total of raw numbers first calculated in October by CalMatters housing reporter Manuela Tobias. Nationally, the homeless population ticked up by 0.3% to more than 582,000.
REAL ESTATE AND MOBIILITY
Chicago’s climate superpower: How transit-oriented development can help address global warming
Denser development reduces emissions for two reasons. First, Chicagoans are much less car dependent than residents of the suburbs. Residents of dense, walkable neighborhoods are less likely to own cars, and instead walk, bike, or ride public transportation. And when they do drive, it’s for shorter distances. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to Streetsblog readers that the northernmost low-emissions zip code on the map is Evanston, which boasts a dense downtown and is well-served by the Purple Line. All told, the researchers estimate Chicagoans drive an average of half as many miles per year as households in the suburban collar counties.
Consumer adoption of autonomous delivery robots in cities: Implications on urban planning and design policies
Companies such as Starship Technologies are already developing autonomous delivery robots (ADRs) and giants such as DHL, UPS, and Amazon are on board with this innovative delivery concept (Hoffmann & Prause, 2018). McKinsey & Company predicted that ADRs will be fulfilling 85 % of last-mile deliveries by 2025 (Marks, 2019). Additionally, according to the market report from Polaris Market Research, the global market size value of ADRs is also expected to increase from USD 211.5 Million in 2021 to USD 2111.3 Million by 2029 (Polaris, 2022.; MordorIntelligence, 2022), which is a promising growth trajectory for the ADR market.
Shifting gears: Parking reform gains traction
In Buffalo, New York, which struck down parking requirements in April 2017, a review of 36 major developments showed that 53 percent of projects still opted to include at least as many parking spaces as the previous code had required. The developers who did propose building less parking averaged 60 fewer parking spaces than the old minimum required, avoiding over eight acres of unnecessary asphalt and saving up to $30 million in construction costs. Seattle saw similar results after eliminating parking requirements near transit in 2012. A study of 868 residential developments permitted in the following five years found that 70 percent of new buildings in areas not subject to parking requirements still chose to have on-site parking. Collectively, the new buildings included 40 percent fewer parking spaces than would have previously been required, saving an estimated $537 million in construction costs and freeing up 144 acres of land.
Fewer strip malls, more ‘urban villages’: San Diego OKs bold plan to revamp Mira Mesa’s future
Environmental advocates also complained the plan doesn’t do enough to shift commuters away from cars toward transit, biking and walking. The percentage of people expected to commute alone in a car would drop from 54 percent to 39 percent, a much more modest drop than citywide goals. The plan, the first update to Mira Mesa’s growth blueprint since 1992, would increase the neighborhood’s population from 78,000 to 143,000 primarily by adding 24,000 new homes, mostly in high-density developments. Some commercial areas would be re-zoned, but the number of jobs in the community would still rise from 85,000 to 117,000.
Cities Release The Handbrake On Parking Mandates To Accelerate Housing Growth
Advocates say elimination and reduction of minimum parking requirements remove a potential hurdle to building housing, at least in transit-rich areas. Those advocates have notched a string of recent wins. Since October, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Culver City, California; Lexington, Kentucky; and Anchorage, Alaska, have been just some of the cities to eliminate parking minimums. They join Minneapolis, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, which eliminated minimums years ago and offer a glimpse into how the parking change can affect housing development.
Will reducing parking spaces make urban life better? More cities are trying it
In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill banning local governments from enacting parking minimums on new housing and commercial developments within half a mile of major public transit stops. San Jose took that a step further this week, with leaders there voting to abolish parking minimums for new developments citywide. San Jose joins a growing number of municipalities in California (and across the U.S.) that have made similar moves in recent years. The Los Angeles City Council also approved a motion this week directing planning officials to begin studying strategies to eliminate or reduce parking minimums in “high quality transit areas” or “transit-rich areas.” That’s part of the local effort to adopt a “15-minute city” approach, which aims to rebuild neighborhoods to make housing more affordable and better connected to jobs, retail and everywhere else we need to go — all without using our cars. To do that, planners are working to reclaim some space we’ve historically allotted to automobiles.
Cities Release The Handbrake On Parking Mandates To Accelerate Housing Growth
Since October, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Culver City, California; Lexington, Kentucky; and Anchorage, Alaska, have been just some of the cities to eliminate parking minimums. They join Minneapolis, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, which eliminated minimums years ago and offer a glimpse into how the parking change can affect housing development. But there are decades of policies mandating the ratio of parking spaces per newly developed housing unit still to be addressed in much of the U.S., and many residents have deeply ingrained expectations for off-street parking.
Support for Freeway Lids Advances in Seattle Comprehensive Plan
When completed, the Montlake lid will bring new pedestrian and bicyclist connections, a neighborhood plaza with open space, and improved transit stops to a corner of Seattle long bifurcated by the SR 520 freeway canyon. While the Montlake lid, and the accompanying Roanoke lid, are currently the only freeway covering projects in the works in Seattle, that might change in the near future. Support for building connections across freeways has been gaining in momentum, including among members of the Seattle City Council.
What Comes Next After Abolishing Parking Mandates?
In the last 30 days alone, four U.S. cities have seized this opportunity and repealed costly parking mandates entirely (Lexington, Kentucky; Culver City, California; Cambridge, Massachusetts), or in most of the city (Nashville, Tennessee), and a fifth (Gainesville, Florida) is almost certain by the end of the month. Abolishing arbitrary parking ratios only unlocks the potential for big gains in housing, transportation, climate, and local wealth generation.
Transit-Oriented Planning Grants Begin to Change Cities
To date, the Pilot Program for Transit-Oriented Development Planning has awarded 129 grants. Under the bipartisan infrastructure deal in 2021, the program was increased by 38 percent, with $69 million dedicated to grants over the next five years, according to Vanterpool. With an average grant size of less than $1 million, it’s a program that can make a small difference in a lot of places. In Birmingham, for example, it’s a chance to do long-range planning in a fast-changing community with new, high-quality transit access. That’s good for both the community and the transit system, Vanterpool says.
Transit-Oriented Planning Grants Begin to Change Cities
TOD planning grants tend to be small and fly under the radar — the $1.6 million grant to Birmingham was the biggest issued this year — but since 2015, when it was created, the program has gradually awarded more than $100 million to cities around the country. Recipients and FTA officials say the grants have helped lay the groundwork for development projects and land use policies that promote mobility and affordability, and have helped cities apply for more competitive awards. – To date, the Pilot Program for Transit-Oriented Development Planning has awarded 129 grants. Under the bipartisan infrastructure deal in 2021, the program was increased by 38 percent, with $69 million dedicated to grants over the next five years, according to Vanterpool. With an average grant size of less than $1 million, it’s a program that can make a small difference in a lot of places.
Shifting gears: why US cities are falling out of love with the parking lot
Cities such as Buffalo, New York, and Fayetteville, Arkansas, scaled back parking minimums a few years ago and have reported a surge in activity to transform previously derelict buildings into shops, apartments and restaurant. Developers previously saw as such work as unviable due to the requirement to build plots of car parking, in many cases several times larger than the building itself. Nashville is among a new wave of cities hoping to do the same. “It’s about the climate, it’s about walkability, it’s reducing traffic and the need for everyone to have a car,” said Angie Henderson, a member of the Nashville metro council who proposed the parking change for the city’s core area.
Why the future of our cities might be headed underground
With limited land available, the country [Singapore} has started utilizing its underground space for more than just transport over the last decade. JTC, a government agency responsible for industrial development, is storing liquid hydrocarbons such as crude oil in five massive underground caverns. Known as the Jurong Rock Caverns, they hold the equivalent of 600 Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to JTC – all to free up precious land above. As part of the underground master plan, Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) commissioned Arup, an independent firm of engineers, designers and planners, to evaluate and create a benchmarking study of underground space development. One of the key takeaways was a focus on sustainability “very early” in these projects, said Peter Stones, associate engineer at Arup and one of the authors of the report.
The Cities Keeping Their Car-Free Spaces
Since the early days of the pandemic in the US, “There’s maybe a bit of a loss of momentum in terms of street transformations, but there are some really exciting examples that have endured,” says Nate Storring, co-executive director of the nonprofit Project for Public Spaces. “They’ve actually brought up a conversation that we find particularly important, which is around the management and care of streets as public spaces.” Pointing to benefits like improvements to mental health and more equitable access to the outdoors, public space advocates and officials have rallied to keep such changes in their communities permanent. Many of the spaces that have stuck around in the US, Storring says, are those that are well maintained by either the city or the community, and those that offer not just an empty area but also a slew of recreational programming.
These 5 big transit projects got done just as 2022 came to an end
Eric Goldwyn, program director at the Marron Institute, said that the East Side Access project was likely one of the most expensive projects in the world on a per-mile basis. But he added, “We can’t get away from the fact that there are costs and benefits to these projects.” The benefits of “the centralizing force of rail,” he said, include more efficient land use, better quality of life for urban residents and greater climate friendliness. “For transit networks to be effective and to attract people out of cars, they need to be robust and extensive.” These five major rail transit projects, years in the making, were completed in the last months of 2022 but will serve their cities for decades to come.
Richmond’s Bus Rapid Transit Has Been A Surprise Success. Other Cities Are Taking Notice.
Sam Sink, director of planning and scheduling for the Greater Richmond Transit Company, which operates the Pulse in Virginia’s capital city, says passengers are turning to rapid transit services due to their frequent stops and reliability compared to buses. Bus rapid transit “really thrives in these denser, more urban corridors where a lot of people are trying to travel at the same time,” Sink says. “It provides reliability that maybe local bus service can’t always achieve.”
2022 Highlights from the Colfax BRT
Originally set to begin operations in 2028, the Colfax BRT will begin operations by the end of 2026. The East Colfax Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project is finalizing the preliminary engineering and design phase. Key tasks include a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process, traffic, parking and safety analyses, an engineering survey to form the basis of project design, and community outreach to inform the BRT service characteristics, station design, and BRT branding and naming. Ultimately, following significant input, Lynx was selected for its simplicity, its regional significance as an animal native to Colorado, and its embodiment of key characteristics of BRT – including both speed and “links” of connectivity.
Electric cargo bikes in urban areas: A new mobility option for private transportation
This paper aims to provide a comprehensive and international review of the role of e-cargo bikes in urban transportation. This paper reviewed and synthesized international studies in the field of e-cargo in terms of typology, technical parameters, users’ characteristics, and readiness of cities for this emerging transport mode. Moreover, the barriers and driving factors for developing e-cargo bikes were analyzed and compared in terms of social, economic, environmental parameters, and regulations in different countries.
Why Walking Helps Us Think
Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre. This is precisely the kind of mental state that studies have linked to innovative ideas and strokes of insight. Earlier this year, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz of Stanford published what is likely the first set of studies that directly measure the way walking changes creativity in the moment. They got the idea for the studies while on a walk. “My doctoral advisor had the habit of going for walks with his students to brainstorm,” Oppezzo says of Schwartz. “One day we got kind of meta.”
California Makes Strides, Pledges Funds, to Eliminate Diesel Truck Fleet
This may seem a tall order. Today, roughly 500 of the 1.8 million heavy-duty trucks operating in California are zero emissions. Representatives of the freight industry note that while the state has 80,000 vehicle charging stations, most of them aren’t large enough to handle larger freight vehicles. State officials estimate it will need 157,000 chargers installed in the state by 2030 to support the electrification of its medium-and-heavy-duty vehicle fleet. However, the potential benefits to the state are huge. In 2020, off-road diesel fuel in trucks accounted for roughly 14 percent of total nitrous oxide emissions in CA. The state estimates the rule will yield $5.7 billion in public health benefits and prevent more than 570 air-quality-related deaths.
What Can Cities Learn from Kansas City’s Fare-Free Transit Program?
Proponents of zero-fare transit have also argued that eliminating fares will improve ridership. The onset of the pandemic at the beginning of Kansas City’s fare-free program makes that theory hard to test. Transit systems everywhere lost millions of regular passengers, which they’ve only begun to fitfully recover. But officials believe the fare-free program has helped KCATA recover its riders relatively quickly, to around 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
The rise of the roundabout and which state has the most
The modern roundabout relies on a geometric design that forces traffic to slow, plus a simple innovation born in 1960s Britain: the rule that people already in the circle get the right of way. In traditional rotaries and traffic circles, which still lurk in many East Coast cities, traffic moves faster and vehicles already in the circle often must yield to newcomers. In the United States, the earliest roundabouts often were constructed in bigger cities. In general, our analysis shows, they’re most likely to be built in well-educated, high-income towns. These days, the fastest growth is in suburbs and rural areas. “It’s very hard to fit roundabouts into our dense urban environment,” Rodegerdts said. “And so most of the roundabouts have been going in, either in brand-new subdivisions or are retrofits of existing — often suburban or rural — intersections.” When Rodegerdts started, he counted about 300 roundabouts nationwide. Just 25 years later, he counts about 9,000. And that doesn’t include 160-plus rotaries or 700-plus traffic-calming circles (which are very different from roundabouts). Compared with the hundreds of thousands of normal intersections peppering the American landscape, ruled by stop signs and traffic lights, roundabouts are rare beasts. But unlike the drivers they frequently confuse and bedevil, roundabouts are coming on fast.
Rush to electric vehicles may be an expensive mistake, say climate strategists
As Lorinc has noted, the consumer-friendly side of buying and driving a flashy electric car needs to be backed up by many more expensive steps. Those included developing green power sources, transforming our ability to get electricity to where it is needed with “smart grids,” building systems for storage and the business of finding, extracting and processing essential battery minerals. That’s a lot less sexy and a lot more complicated than picking out a new car.
Buses Shouldn’t Be Free
Many proponents of fareless rides point out that drivers expect free or subsidized parking and do not directly pay for the cost of maintaining roads or other necessary infrastructure. Nor do they have to pay for the environmental and congestion costs externalized onto everyone. These are all great arguments for congestion pricing and for requiring drivers to pay to reserve space for cars in desirable locations, not good arguments for fare-free transit. If fare-free transit isn’t a great policy, why are so many places looking to pursue it? In America, the bus is for poor people, and policy reflects that by focusing on subsidization instead of improving quality. This is frustrating both because low- and moderate-income riders deserve high-quality public services, and because if mass transit remains relegated as the transit option of last resort, then the U.S. will never meet its emissions and congestion goals.
RTD is officially killing its C and F lines after suspending them during the pandemic
The C-Line ran from Union Station to Littleton, while the F-Line ran from the downtown Central Business District loop to Lone Tree. Without those lines, some riders traveling between Denver and southeast or southwest corridor stations have had to make transfers to the E-Line or the D-Line south of downtown.
FedEx Express expands New York City pilot of electric delivery carts
FedEx is expanding its e-cart pilot after seeing promising results at an initial test site in the Diamond District last year. During the four-month pilot, the e-carts allowed couriers to increase package deliveries by 15% per hour on routes in a high-density, vertical urban environment, the company said. “The test enabled us to eliminate one on-road vehicle from the delivery route and cut the dwell time of delivery vehicles at the curb in half,” FedEx said of the Diamond District pilot on its website. “The Trace electric carts reduced physical strain on couriers and lowered the number of their trips back to their vehicles.”
How Denver used e-bike vouchers to get thousands out of their cars
The city paused the rebate program in the fall because of demand, but it plans to bring it back in 2023. In the meantime, Grace Rink, the city’s chief climate officer, and her team have been studying how participants are using their new bikes and say they are pleased with the results. “If you think you’re seeing e-bikes everywhere, you are,” Rink said. “The momentum of it has been exciting, because it has created so much chatter.” A city survey found new e-bike riders were riding, on average, 26.2 miles per week, and that low-income buyers were riding about 32 miles per week. Respondents said they had replaced 3.4 car trips each week with bike rides.
How Colorado Boulevard went from pedestrian paradise to a ‘ghastly mess’
Change could be coming to Colorado Boulevard and similar urban thoroughfares. The city and state are slowly making safety improvements to those arterials, like adding medians and encouraging lower speeds through design changes. Denver’s Colorado Boulevard these days often feels like a traffic-choked, pedestrian-intolerant, sometimes-totally run down mess. But CDOT and the city are in the early stages of making bus transit improvements that could restore some of the road’s original feel. Even bigger shifts are in the works for those roads, including Colorado Boulevard, that could make them look more like their distant past. Local, regional and state governments now plan to open “bus rapid transit” lines on Colorado Boulevard and a handful of other busy roads by 2030. To be a true BRT line, the Colorado Department of Transportation would have to convert vehicle lanes to bus-only lanes. That would allow buses to move more quickly and could slow car traffic. CDOT has not yet decided what will happen on Colorado Boulevard, executive director Shoshana Lew said recently.
‘Significant breakthrough’: This new sea salt battery has 4 times the capacity of lithium
Molten salt batteries aren’t a new concept. They’ve been around for 50 years, but they’ve been an ‘inferior alternative’ with a short energy life cycle. But this new battery is different. Scientists altered the electrodes to improve the reactivity of the sulphur – a key element determining storage capacity. Lithium ion batteries are important to the electric car revolution – but they can be environmentally damaging. The resulting product showed “super-high capacity and ultra-long life at room temperature,” the University of Sydney researchers advise. Because sea salt is everywhere, it could provide a scalable alternative to lithium ion batteries. “When the sun isn’t shining and the breeze isn’t blowing, we need high-quality storage solutions that don’t cost the Earth and are easily accessible on a local or regional level,” Dr Zhao said. “Storage solutions that are manufactured using plentiful resources like sodium – which can be processed from sea water – also have the potential to guarantee greater energy security more broadly and allow more countries to join the shift towards decarbonisation.”