Biden Administration Publishes Guidelines To Encourage Commercial-to-Residential Conversions
Commercial-to-residential conversion projects have been picking up steam nationwide, according to data released by JLL earlier this year. More than half of office buildings targeted for conversion — 52%, to be exact — were converted into residential uses in 2021 and 2022, compared to a 33% rate between 2015 and 2019, according to JLL. “Housing affordability crises in major markets are spurring incentives for residential conversions — most gateway markets have created or proposed new incentives since 2020,” according to the JLL report. Most of the buildings being converted, the JLL report continued, were class B and C buildings that were built in the 1990s or earlier and have more vacancies than lease signings, JLL analysts said.
Proposition 123 Implementation
The Division of Housing (DOH) saw a tremendous response from local governments and received Prop 123 commitments from more than 200 of the 336 jurisdictions throughout Colorado. These jurisdictions account for 87.6% of the state’s population. For a project to be eligible for Proposition 123 funding, the county, municipality or tribal government was required to file a commitment by November 1, 2023, to increase affordable housing within each jurisdiction by 3% per year, for three years, for a total of a 9% increase.
What We’ve Learned by Assessing More than 1,000 Potential Office-to-Residential Conversions
Overall, our study—and now our completed projects— have proven the case for conversions, but more than that it has answered the question of which buildings can really be converted and how. What we’re offering is not a silver bullet for all buildings, but nor does it need to be. The office still has its place, but we sit with an unprecedented opportunity to create incredible new residential stock quickly, sustainably, and at a 30 percent cost than new construction. And in the U.S., the White House has also seen the opportunity at hand. The Biden-Harris administration recently announced $350 billion in funding and federal programs to support the conversion of high-vacancy commercial buildings to residential use through low-interest loans and other incentives.
As Denver continues neighborhood ADU rezones, here’s how many are being built
Since 2020, the city has been gradually rezoning entire neighborhoods to allow ADUs on most residential properties. Over 30 percent of Denver is now zoned to allow their construction, and a proposal is currently pending for the Hale neighborhood. ADUs are smaller units built on the same parcel as the main home. They can come attached to the primary building or detached elsewhere on the lot. Since 2016, the earliest year for which detailed data is available, Denver has issued 456 permits authorizing construction of an ADU, according to Alexandra Foster, a spokeswoman for the city’s Community Planning and Development department. As of this month, 331 of those had been completed. Over 50 permits have been issued to build ADUs in 2023 so far.
Colorado has a housing crisis. Could 3D-printed homes be a solution?
“I had followed this technology for some time,” Cheri Witt-Brown, CEO for Greeley-Weld Habitat for Humanity, said. “For the first few years it was a little bit more expensive, clumsy, maybe not cost effective enough for affordable housing, but certainly a viable construction technology.” The finished houses looked pretty much like any other single family home. Stone and white-painted wood pillars held up the front porch and traditional roof. Large windows sat on either side of a black front door. The only noticeable difference was a corduroy texture on the white exterior walls, due to the layers of printed cement. It was during a visit on behalf of Habitat for Humanity to an Alquist 3D project Virginia — Alquist is the company that built the first owner-occupied 3D-printed home in the U.S. — that Witt-Brown became a believer. “I’ve been in this business for over 37 years, and it’s the first thing that’s come along that will revolutionize the industry,” she said. The homes went up faster, were more energy efficient and were easier to maintain. And the walls proved to be more resistant to natural disasters, like wildfires, an important benefit for Colorado. And right now, 3D-printed buildings cost roughly the same as lumber-built homes, according to Alquist. They said as the technology improves, supply lines solidify and the scale of projects increases, the overall price of their homes should drop 20 to 30-percent.
Denver-Inspired Chatbot Serves as Prototype for AI in City Planning and Zoning
In a groundbreaking experiment that leverages Artificial Intelligence (AI) for public governance, former Planetizen editor Chris Steins collaborated with Code Studio, an urban design firm, to create a prototype City Planning Chatbot. Using Generative AI technologies like ChatGPT, the chatbot is trained on publicly available documents from the City and County of Denver to answer questions about city planning and zoning regulations. Though not officially endorsed by Denver, the chatbot serves as a proof-of-concept that aims to improve public access to information, thereby increasing transparency and civic engagement.
NYC Congestion Pricing Could Unleash a Transportation Revolution
After multiple false starts over the past two decades, New York City is finally ready to launch a congestion pricing program in 2024. Drivers into Manhattan will pay a significant fee to enter the area from the Battery up through Midtown Manhattan. By deterring some people from traveling by car into Manhattan’s dense central neighborhoods, the fee will help alleviate traffic on some of the country’s busiest roads, provide much-needed revenue and passengers for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s train and bus lines, and clean the air for everyone’s benefit. But what makes New York’s congestion pricing such an important development is what it means for every other congested American city. Even though cities around the world have successfully launched congestion pricing programs for half a century, US elected officials have exhibited far less courage, frequently stopping at small pilots or resident surveys. New York City promises to finally stop the timidity. And if it sees the same positive results as its global peers, then I expect other city leaders will quickly look to replicate New York’s success. Congestion pricing isn’t just a new fee on driving; it’s the single most powerful transportation experiment America has not yet tried.
How mobility budgets can change the future of transportation
A mobility budget can help companies and employees alike in terms of transport convenience, affordability, and sustainability. It is a monthly allowance that can encourage employees to use low-carbon public-, private-, or shared- mobility options ranging from e-bikes and e-scooters to car sharing, taxis, buses, and trains. Currently, there are three main models of mobility budgets. The first is a one-stop-shop option that integrates access to different transport modes in one app. The second is a mobility payment card or voucher option that employees can use in different mobility apps or platforms. The third and most traditional option is for employees to submit receipts for mobility transactions to their employers at the end of the month for reimbursement.
Right turn on red? U.S. cities discussing whether to ban it
A dramatic rise in accidents killing or injuring pedestrians and bicyclists has led to myriad policy and infrastructure changes, but moves to ban right-on-red have drawn some of the most intense sentiments on both sides. Washington’s City Council last year approved a right-on-red ban that takes effect in 2025. New Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s transition plan called for “restricting right turns on red,” but his administration hasn’t provided specifics. The college town of Ann Arbor, Mich., now prohibits right turns at red lights in the downtown area.
Amazon will allow auto dealers to sell cars on its site, starting with Hyundai
The company has slowly muscled its way into the car-buying business over the years, launching digital showrooms on its site for shoppers to research and compare vehicles, but not purchase them directly through Amazon. Consumers can also buy car products, such as replacement parts, through its site. Beginning in 2024, Amazon will let shoppers purchase a new car online, then pick it up or have it delivered by their local dealership. Consumers will be able to search for available vehicles in their area, make a selection, then check out on Amazon using their preferred payment and financing method. The company said the new feature will “create another way for dealers to build awareness of their selection and offer convenience to their customers.”
Most Americans still have to commute every day. Here’s how that experience has changed.
Pandemic-era commuting has widened several divides: between those who can work remotely and those who can’t, and between those who drive and those who use public transportation. The decrease in travel by those able to work remotely has changed the nature of commutes for everyone else — streamlining rush-hour traffic, for example, but making trains run less often.
Colorado Department of Transportation introduces new Bus Rapid Transit program in Denver
According to CDOT, it is, “planning, designing and will build BRT routes on sections of Federal Boulevard, Colorado Boulevard and eventually Colfax Avenue east of I-225 in the Denver region.” The agency also says that work on the transit system is underway on, “CO 119/Diagonal Highway in Boulder County, and future rapid transit service is being planned on CO 7/Arapahoe Road between Boulder and Brighton.” CDOT describes BRT as a high-frequency service that is designed to be reliable, convenient and more accessible than the traditional bus service. CDOT says BRT achieves, “high-quality service because it reduces delays that can typically slow regular bus service, like making long stops or getting stuck in traffic at intersections.”
US: Navigating the Fiscal Crisis in Public Transit
Diversifying sources of subsidy will be key to making transit agencies more resilient in the future. That’s one of the conclusions of an Urban Institute report, Surmounting the Fiscal Cliff, which was the subject of TransitCenter’s event on Wednesday. The report aims to identify strategies that can help agencies avoid the “vicious cycle” of ridership declines, revenue losses and service cuts, and instead generate a “virtuous cycle” of better service, higher ridership, more fare revenue, greater political support and more public subsidy. The report, which was funded by TransitCenter, recommends that state lawmakers can “flex” highway funding to support public transit. Local leaders should look beyond fare revenue and sales taxes, and explore “property taxes, income taxes on high-income individuals and charges on driving” to support transit agencies, the report says. Meanwhile, transit agencies should increase service frequency and speed, it says.
‘Lost Time for No Reason’: How Driverless Taxis Are Stressing Cities
In July 2018, the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency asked Julia Friedlander, a transportation policy veteran, to work on understanding how San Francisco would be affected by self-driving cars. She met with autonomous car companies and state regulators, who issue permits to the companies for testing and operating their vehicles, to discuss the city’s concerns about safety and congestion. After five years, there are still no systematic state safety and incident reporting standards for driverless cars in California, Ms. Friedlander said. “This is such a dramatic kind of change in transportation that it’s going to take many years for the regulatory structure to really be finalized,” she said.
Micromobility Is Having a Weird Year
But not everyone agrees that bringing micromobility under the transit umbrella is always a good idea. If you somehow haven’t heard, U.S. public transit agencies aren’t doing too hot in the wake of the pandemic, with revenues in many cities still in the toilet and subsidies to cover the gap still hotly contested in Congress, not to mention states and municipalities. If holding the bike- and scooter-share universe captive to the whims of private shareholders feels inherently unstable, some micromobility leaders argue that holding it captive to the whims of transit-hostile U.S. governments is unstable, too — and while they say those governments shouldn’t charge micromobility companies to operate on their roads, lest they be forced to pass those costs along to riders, governments also shouldn’t necessarily be counted on to keep fleets running.
The New Paris Métro Is Coming, And It’s A Very Big Deal
By 2030, it is expected to transport at least 2 million passengers daily, shifting the entire Île de France region away from cars toward clean public transportation. There is undeniably a huge environmental cost for construction on this scale. But, once in operation, the project is expected to become a very powerful saver of carbon, which is in part why Harvard University awarded the Grand Paris Express the 2023 Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design, recognizing “design that transforms cities and the lives of its inhabitants in unanticipated and extraordinary ways.”
Car dealers say they can’t sell EVs, tell Biden to slow their rollout
“Last year, there was a lot of hope and hype about EVs. Early adopters formed an initial line and were ready to buy these vehicles as soon as we had them to sell. But that enthusiasm has stalled. Today, the supply of unsold BEVs is surging, as they are not selling nearly as fast as they are arriving at our dealerships—even with deep price cuts, manufacturer incentives, and generous government incentives. While the goals of the regulations are admirable, they require consumer acceptance to become a reality. With each passing day, it becomes more apparent that this attempted electric vehicle mandate is unrealistic based on current and forecasted customer demand. Already, electric vehicles are stacking up on our lots, which is our best indicator of customer demand in the marketplace.”
REAL ESTATE AND MOBILITY
How Even Modest Reductions in Parking Can Slash Your Rent
In a new study from the Rutgers Center for Real Estate, researchers found that Garden State renters, on average, “own fewer cars per unit than developers are required to provide” — specifically, about one extra space for every two units — and that by simply aligning those requirements with the number of vehicles residents actually have, New Jersey could bring average rents down by about four percent, or $88 a month off a typical $2,200 unit built after 2010.
Hungry (but Not for Human Contact), Americans Head for the Drive-Through
Getting a meal through a car window began to define the nation’s food culture the moment the founders of In-N-Out Burger set up a two-way speaker in 1948. But the drive-through has never been as integral to how America eats as it is now. The pandemic sent people into the comforting isolation of their cars to get tested for Covid, celebrate birthdays and even vote. And now, it seems, they don’t want to get out. At least to eat.
Safe streets are global—and it’s time for the U.S. to catch up
Whether they’re considered Complete Streets or silver zones, other parts of the world are reimagining how streets function and are designed. The U.S. is falling behind, so in order to spur hope and inspiration of what the future of mobility can look like across the nation, we look to what is being made possible in other regions across the globe. Travel with us to countries in Asia and South America, where we examine achievements in innovative street design. Photo courtesy of the government of Mexico City As our name suggests, Smart Growth America mostly focuses on rethinking transportation and land use strategies in the United States. But the issues we work on, like climate change, equity, and public health, are major concerns across the world—and we can stand to learn from places that are making strides. This blog will focus on Complete Streets.