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It’s Getting Real: $281M in Funding Earmarked for Red and Purple Rehab

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A northbound Red Line train at the Sheridan stop. Photo: Cragin Spring

The first phase of the Red and Purple Modernization Program – including the hotly contested plan for the Belmont flyover – took a step closer to becoming a reality yesterday. Officials announced that $281 million in federal funding has been earmarked for the initiative, which also includes rebuilding the track structures, viaducts, and stations between Lawrence and Bryn Mawr. That’s nearly 30 percent of the $956.6 million in federal funding the CTA is seeking for Phase 1, now estimated to cost $2.131 billion.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and CTA president Dorval Carter, Jr. announced that Barack Obama’s proposed federal fiscal 2017 budget includes $125 million of funding in 2017 for RPM Phase 1. The money would come from the Federal Transit Administration’s Core Capacity Improvements program, which provides dollars for improvements to older “legacy” transit systems. This news isn’t a surprise, because last September the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning approved the project for the FTA funding.

Also announced on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation has allocated a separate $156 million in new funding provided by Congress for Phase 1. This money had been budgeted for in previous years but never appropriated. The CTA is currently seeking approval of a full-funding agreement from the USDOT. If this is OKed, the transit agency will get the $156 million.

Back in 2014, the CTA received a $35 million Core Capacity grant, which allowed the agency to complete the preliminary planning and engineering work for Phase 1 last year. In December, the modernization project passed its environmental review by the FTA, allowing the project to move on to its engineering phase, which would be followed by construction. Last month CTA officials said the rehab work on the nearly 100-year old train lines could start as early as late 2017.

But it’s important to keep in mind that the announced $125 million in Core Capacity funding isn’t a sure thing, since Obama’s budget is merely a proposal right now. And, of course, there’s a heck of a lot more federal and local money that needs to be found before construction can begin.

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Mexico City’s Metrobús Offers a Preview of How BRT Could Work on Ashland

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A Metrobús station on Mexico City’s Avenida Xola, which has a similar layout to Chicago’s Ashland Avenue. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editorJohn Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

With a metropolitan population of 21 million, the largest of any city in the western hemisphere, Mexico City is often associated with overcrowding, air pollution, and traffic jams. But when I visited for the first time last month, I found it to be a place of beautiful Spanish Colonial and Art Deco architecture, intriguing museums, tasty chow, and warm-hearted people.

The Distrito Federal, or D.F., as Mexico City is called in Spanish, also has an excellent public transportation system. Its Metro is the second-busiest rapid transit system in North America, after New York City’s. While the train cars can be scary-packed during rush hour, they crisscross a large portion of the city and provide a fast, smooth ride compared to Chicago’s ‘L’ trains.

And over the last decade, Mexico City has supplemented its subway by developing one of the world’s leading bus rapid transit networks, the Metrobús system, which debuted on Avenida de los Insurgentes in 2005. With dedicated bus lanes and raised-platform stations, the system provides subway-like commute speeds at a small fraction of the infrastructure cost of underground transit. The sixth route opened in mid-January, and a seventh line is slated for completion later this year.

As a wide, mostly straight roadway that runs the length of the city and intersects with many rail lines, Insurgentes is not so different from Chicago’s Ashland Avenue, where Mayor Emanuel has proposed building our city’s first full-on bus rapid transit corridor. As such, there’s a lot that we can learn from Mexico City’s experiences with Metrobús.

The road to full-fledged BRT in Chicago has been anything but smooth. In 2012 the CTA rolled out the Jeffery Jump, a “BRT-lite” route serving the south side, funded by an $11 million Federal Transit Administration grant. It features dedicated lanes on a mere two miles of its 16-mile route, and only during rush hour.

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Experts and Advocates Weigh in on Rauner’s Proposal to Widen the Stevenson

Sunday morning Stevenson

The Stevenson, just west of the Dan Ryan. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

On Thursday, Governor Bruce Rauner announced a new proposal to address congestion on the Stevenson Expressway, aka I-55, by adding lanes. The construction would be financed via a public-private partnership, and the new lanes would be tolled. Revenue would go to the concessionaire, allowing them to recoup their investment.

The so-called “managed lanes” would be an option for drivers who are willing to pay a premium to bypass traffic, while the existing lanes would not be tolled. Some local transportation experts and advocates lauded the plan as a creative way to address congestion woes. But others argued that our region’s focus should be on providing better alternatives to single-occupant vehicle commutes, rather than simply building more capacity for them.

The proposed lanes would cover a 25-mile stretch of the Stevenson between the Dan Ryan Expressway and the Veteran’s Memorial Tollway, a segment that carries about 170,000 vehicles a day. The plan calls for adding at least one lane in each direction, at an estimated cost of $425 million. The P3 model would need to be approved by a majority of state lawmakers.

The new lanes would feature “congestion pricing” – the toll price would vary according to the number of cars in the managed lanes, as well as the rest of the expressway. Rauner said it’s possible that drivers with one or more passengers might be allowed to use the new lanes without paying a toll. The state hopes to finalize a design by this spring and start construction by late 2017.

The Metropolitan Planning Council pushed for several years in Springfield for legislation to enable this kind of public-private partnership, which passed in 2011. MPC executive vice president Peter Skosey said his organization applauds Rauner’s proposal, adding that adding capacity to I-55 is listed as a priority in the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s GO TO 2040 regional plan.

“Experience shows that simply adding another regular lane will not ease congestion in the long term: once that capacity is there, it will just fill up,” Skosey said. “Putting a variable-priced toll on that lane lets you manage demand and keep it free-flowing. If you’re really in a time crunch, you have the choice to take that lane.”

Skosey argued that the new lane would also make taking the bus a more attractive choice. “[Pace’s] current Bus-on-Shoulder service has been incredibly successful, but it isn’t able to use the shoulder for the whole corridor and it’s limited to 35 mph. This lane would give it a continuous path and let it go as fast as 55 mph, improving reliability and opening the door to more frequent service.”

Steve Schlickmann, the former head of UIC’s Urban Transportation Center, agreed that the governor’s plan makes sense. “The combination of high congestion in regular travel lanes and insufficient growth in federal and state funding to maintain Illinois roads and transit, makes I-55 managed toll lanes a reasonable approach to address congestion and to help pay for I-55’s on-going maintenance needs,” he said.

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Senior Killed at Location Where the City Chose Not to Mark a Crosswalk

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A senior crosses in an unmarked crosswalk at Surf and Broadway yesterday afternoon. That morning, a 69-year-old woman was killed in the same crosswalk.

Early yesterday morning, a 69-year-old woman was struck and killed by a driver in an unmarked crosswalk at Surf Street and Broadway in Lakeview. Less than two years ago, the city decided not to stripe a visible crosswalk at this location, which might have reminded the driver to watch for pedestrians. Why? Because the intersection was deemed too dangerous for a marked crosswalk.

Surf and Broadway actually meet at two different intersections. As you approach Broadway from the west on Surf, located about half a block north of Diversey, there’s a T intersection with crosswalks marked on all three legs. About 200 feet south, as you approach Broadway from the east on Surf, there’s a second T intersection, but there’s only a marked crosswalk on the east leg.

However, according to Streetsblog reader J. Patrick Lynch, who lives next door to the southern intersection, many residents, including plenty of seniors, regularly cross at this intersection in order to reach Walmart, T.J. Maxx, and other retail south of Surf Street. It is legal for them to use the unmarked crosswalks at the north and south legs of the T, even though the lack of striped crosswalks makes it less likely that motorists will be watching out for them.

Police News Affairs reported that Wednesday’s crash happened at Broadway and Diversey. However, an aerial photograph that accompanied a Tribune article about the case showed that police actually taped off the south leg of the southernmost Surf/Broadway intersection.

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The crash took place in the southernmost intersection of Surf and Broadway, in the south leg of the intersection. Image: Google Maps

According to Officer Anna Pacheco from News Affairs, the driver was making a right turn onto southbound Broadway at 6:05 a.m. when he or she struck the woman. This indicates that the motorist exited a parking garage on the west side of the T before striking the senior in the unmarked crosswalk in the south leg of the intersection. Pacheco did not state whether victim was crossing eastbound or westbound.

The woman was transported to Illinois Masonic Hospital, where she was later pronounced dead. Her identity has not yet been released, pending notification of next of kin. No charges have been filed against the driver, who stayed at the crash site.

Back in January 2014, Lynch emailed 44th Ward alderman Tom Tunney to alert him that, due to the increased foot traffic at the intersection at the intersection generated by the then-new Walmart, a marked crosswalk was needed. “I am concerned about the safety of pedestrians who routinely cross at Broadway and Surf,” Lynch wrote. He recommended striping the crosswalk on the north leg of the T because it wouldn’t conflict with the garage exit or require the removal of metered parking.

Lynch’s request was forward to Sougata Deb, Tunney’s infrastructure specialist. When Lynch followed up that March, Deb acknowledged that the unmarked crosswalks at Surf/Broadway got plenty of use. “I cross here at least three times a week, so I understand the benefit of having a crosswalk here,” he wrote.

However, that April, after Chicago Department of Transportation staff surveyed the intersection, Deb told Lynch the engineers had decided against striping a crosswalk. They reasoned that the crossing would conflict with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines because it would be too close to the garage exit and a light pole, which would block sight lines.

Lynch then asked Deb if the light pole could be relocated, or if a crosswalk on the south leg of the intersection might be feasible. Deb replied that the garage exit made it unfeasible to install crosswalks on either side of Surf. He also brought up a new argument against the crosswalks: since there’s a slight curve in Broadway between Diversey and Surf, drivers have limited visibility on this stretch.

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Chicago Joins Vision Zero Network While Pedestrian Fatality Rate is in Flux

AARP Illinois state director Bob Gallo questioned the efficacy of doing motorist outreach when red light running is "epidemic" in Chicago.

AARP Illinois state director Bob Gallo questioned the efficacy of doing motorist outreach (“High Visibility Crosswalk Enforcement”) when red light running is “epidemic” in Chicago.

At yesterday’s quarterly meeting of the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council, Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld mentioned the “somber” statistics that there was a significant increase in Chicago pedestrian fatalities in 2015 compared to previous years.

There were 35 pedestrian deaths in the city in 2014, according to official Illinois Department of Transportation figures, and 46 fatalities in 2015, according to unofficial figures from the Chicago Police Department – a 24-percent increase. IDOT data for 2015 won’t be available until the fall.

“This is still a decrease if you look at the 10-year trend,” Scheinfeld said. “We are headed in the right direction for the long-term trend, but we still have our work cut out for us.”

As part of Chicago’s effort to eliminate traffic deaths, last month it was announced that the city would be joining the Vision Zero Network as one of ten focus cities this year. “Each focus city will have a multi-departmental effort,” Scheinfeld said at the MPAC meeting. “We will have reps from the Chicago Police Department, CDOT, Department of Public Health, and the Mayor’s Office.”

“Vision Zero is an international traffic safety movement guided by the principle that no loss of life on our streets is acceptable,” explained Active Transportation Alliance campaign director Kyle Whitehead in a blog post last week.

Nearly a year ago, the group noted that Chicago had already created several resources for analyzing what’s causing crashes throughout the city and determining how they can be prevented, including the Chicago Pedestrian Plan, the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 and Chicago Forward Action Agenda. However, they noted that there was no Vision Zero action plan at the time – which is still true today.

Scheinfeld noted two trends that CDOT has seen among last year’s pedestrian fatalities. Despite the growing number of speed cameras in the city, she said “we still saw a significant amount” of pedestrian fatalities “hit by motor vehicles that were moving at excessively high speeds.” And more than half – 56 percent – of the deadly crashes occurred in or very near intersections.

The commissioner credited speed cameras for reducing crashes and injuries near parks and schools. She said that in locations where cameras were installed in 2013, there were 18 percent fewer injury crashes in 2014, compared to only a four percent reduction citywide. The total number of crashes in 2014 at locations with speed cameras fell two percent, while crashes were up by six percent citywide.

Deputy commissioner Luann Hamilton said that speeding violations dropped an average of 53 percent in the first 90 days after camera installation, and that most vehicles issued a citation aren’t cited again. “So [drivers are] learning from having this violation imposed on them,” Hamilton said. “That’s the intention in the first place, to teach people it’s not acceptable to speed.”

CDOT pedestrian program manager Eric Hanss shared his analysis of pedestrian crash and injury data for the ten-year period of 2005-2014. “When we look at the ten year [interval, pedestrian crashes are] down, but when we look at five years, it’s flatter.”

Hanss said that nowadays in Chicago, fewer than 3,000 pedestrians are struck annually, and the decline in pedestrian crashes is occurring at a faster rate than the city’s overall decline in crashes.

Because people on foot are more likely to die if a crash occurs than any other type of road user, CDOT is focusing its efforts on reducing pedestrian crashes, Hanss said. Fourteen percent of pedestrians involved in collisions are seriously injured or killed, compared to only 1.2 percent of all people involved in crashes.

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The Belmont Flyover Has Federal Approval But Still Faces Other Hurdles

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A crowded Red Line train during the morning rush. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

When I recently rode the Red Line downtown during the morning rush, my rail car was as packed as a sardine can by the time we left the Belmont stop. Damon Lockett, a copywriter who commutes daily from Edgewater to River North, told me that overcrowded trains are typical during peak hours nowadays.

“They don’t run enough trains,” said Lockett, who moved here from New York City about a year ago. “You’re waiting ten or 15 minutes for a train, while the platform’s just loading up with people.”

The CTA is planning to address overcrowding on north-side el lines with the upcoming Red-Purple Modernization project. This multibillion-dollar initiative will completely overhaul the nearly 100-year-old Red Line from Belmont to Howard and the Purple Line from Belmont to Linden, in suburban Wilmette.

The agency says the project’s single most important time-saving and capacity-building element is the Red-Purple Bypass, better known as the Belmont flyover. This $570 million proposal would unsnarl the junction north of Belmont—where Brown Line trains cross Red and Purple Line tracks—by building a roller-coaster-like overpass.’

The flyover, and the rest of the modernization plan, recently got the federal go-ahead after passing an environmental review by the Federal Transit Administration. Construction could start as early as late 2017. But hurdles to the project remain: the CTA still needs to find $1.9 billion in funding for the first phase of plan, and many central Lakeview residents are bitterly opposed to the flyover, which would require the demolition of 16 buildings.

Local transit experts and advocates argue that the flyover is essential for meeting future demand. Ridership along the Red Line corridor north of Belmont grew by 40 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase.

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Eyes on the Street: Eight TOD Buildings Under Construction Along Milwaukee

500 N Milwaukee: The Kenect building overlooks a busy intersection

The “Kenect” pair of buildings at 500 N Milwaukee Ave, photographed last Thursday, will have 227 units and 88 car parking spaces. View all the photos in this gallery.

The Chicago City Council passed the first comprehensive transit-oriented development ordinance in 2013, and the first buildings to take advantage of that law, which reduced the minimum parking requirement and allowed smaller or more units in buildings near CTA and Metra stations, are now being built. Some of them will open to new residents this year.

The Milwaukee Avenue corridor is replete with construction. There are eight buildings at various stages of construction on Milwaukee, or one block away, between the Grand Blue Line station at Halsted and the California Blue Line station, a distance just over three miles.

Collectively the buildings have 1,146 units and 572 car parking spaces, for an average parking space to unit ratio of just under 0.50 spaces. That’s a savings of 574 parking spaces, and hundreds of fewer drivers in a pedestrian, bicycle, transit, and retail-heavy corridor.

2211 N Milwaukee: "The L" building really grabs that corner with Talman

“The L” at 2211 N Milwaukee Ave. (at Talman Ave.) will have 120 units and 60 car parking spaces, but also 120 bike parking spaces with an exclusive bike entrance.

The TOD ordinance at the time allowed a reduction of the normally required 1 parking space per unit to 1 car space per 2 units. City Council revised the ordinance on its two-year anniversary last year to extend the distance a building can be from a train station, and to allow a 100 percent reduction in the number of required car parking spaces for residential buildings. Developers can now build 51-100 percent fewer parking spaces than the 1:2 ratio if they go through an additional zoning process.

There are still no TOD buildings near Metra stations.

2237 N Milwaukee: Crane in the sky

The unnamed two towers development in Logan Square one block from the California Blue Line station was probably the most controversial. View all the photos in this gallery.

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Developer of Bucktown TOD Grilled Over Lack of On-Site Affordable Housing

1st Ward Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno gracefully – given the circumstances – moderates the meeting.

1st Ward Alder Proco “Joe” Moreno speaks in 2014 about a TOD proposal in his ward in Logan Square that would include affordable housing units.

Yesterday, the Chicago Plan Commission approved River North-based developer Vequity’s proposal for a new transit-oriented development in Bucktown. This puts the plan for a six-story building with 44 units and ten car parking spaces at 1920 N. Milwaukee Ave. on track for approval by the full City Council. However, it didn’t happen without a heated debate about the lack of on-site affordable housing in the project.

The architect, David Brininstool of Brininstool and Lynch, seemed to succeed in persuading the commissioners that the building would successfully reactive the southeast corner of Western and Milwaukee Avenues, currently a shuttlered title loan store. He argued that the new tower would “celebrate the corner” with more foot traffic and transit-oriented retail. But the developer doesn’t plan to include required affordable units in the building, and the developer wasn’t able to convince all the members of the commission that this decision is justified.

According to the city’s affordable housing law, developers that request a zoning change or receive a subsidy from the city, including tax-increment financing, are required to provide ten percent of the units – 20 percent if they get a subsidy – at an affordable sales price or monthly rent. Those details are managed by the city and adjusted annually based on Census figures, and represent what should be affordable to an individual or family of different sizes earning 60 percent or less of the region’s median income.

The developer can either build the affordable units on-site, pay a fee into the city’s low-income housing trust fund to build the affordable units elsewhere, or do a combination of the two. Before the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance was revised last year, simply paying into the trust fund was always an option, unless the local alder insisted on on-site affordable units.

Now, however, developers must build at least a quarter of the require affordable units on-site, or else in a different building within one mile of the development getting the zoning change or subsidy. The other three-quarters of the affordable units can be bought out for a fee per unit. The fee depends on the building’s location.

Vequity, like all of the other developers that had their projects approved at yesterday’s plan commission meeting, applied for approval before the new affordable housing ordinance took effect. They’ve opted to pay $100,000 into the trust fund for each of the five affordable-designated units they’re not building, a move that was condoned by local alder Scott Waguespack (32nd).

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South Siders Spar Over Proposed Stony Island Protected Bike Lanes

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Elihu Blanks and Waymond Smith on Stony Island, a few blocks north of the Skyway access ramps. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

For much of its length, Stony Island Avenue is basically an expressway with stoplights. Located on the southeast side between 56th and 130th, it generally has eight travel lanes, the same number as Lake Shore Drive, although it carries half as many vehicles per day—35,000 versus 70,000. Due to this excess lane capacity, speeding is rampant.

The city has proposed converting a lane or two of Stony between 67th and 79th into protected bike lanes. Some residents, and Fifth Ward alderman Leslie Hairston, fear the “road diet” would cause traffic jams, and argue the street is too dangerous for bike lanes. Other neighbors say Stony is too dangerous not to have them.

According to the Chicago Crash Browser website, created by Streetsblog’s Steven Vance, 53 pedestrians and 16 bicyclists were injured along Stony Island between 67th Street (the southern border of Jackson Park) and 79th Street (where access ramps connect Stony with the Chicago Skyway) between 2010 and 2013.

Two pedestrians and a person in a car  were killed in crashes on this stretch between 2010 and 2014, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation. Last year was unusually deadly, with two fatal pedestrian crashes and two bike fatalities.

The complex intersection of Stony Island, 79th, and South Chicago, a diagonal street, is particularly problematic. Located beneath a mess of serpentine Skyway access ramps, the six-way junction has terrible sightlines. It was the site of 444 traffic crashes between 2009 and 2013, the most of any Chicago intersection, according to CDOT.

Adding protected bike lanes could change this equation, making Stony, among other things, a useful bike route. Due to the Chicago Skyway and other barriers like railroad tracks, cul-de-sacs, and a cemetery, it’s one of the few continuous north-south streets in this part of town.

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CNT Study of D.C. Parking Could Pave the Way for Better Chicago Policies

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A screen shot from Park Right DC development tool, which Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology helped create.

Chicago’s City Council recently passed a beefed-up transit-oriented development ordinance that eliminates parking minimums for new residential buildings near transit. However, new development outside of the TOD zones still are still generally required to provide a parking space for every unit.

A report co-authored by Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology provides more evidence that this kind of arbitrary parking mandate is inappropriate. It makes an argument that instead of parking minimums, evidence-based projections should be used to determine how many – if any – spaces should be built. The study, which focused on Washington, D.C., was honored last week as the best transportation and land use paper of 2016 by the Transportation Research Board.

CNT did similar research in the Seattle metro area about five years ago when King County Metro, the region’s transit agency, hired the nonprofit to look at parking use at multiunit buildings in the area, according to CNT’s chief research scientist Peter Haas. A subcontractor did parking counts at about 230 buildings in downtown Seattle, the neighborhoods, and suburban areas, tallying the number of cars parked late at night on weekdays, to get a sense of the total number of automobiles owned by residents.

The King County study also took into account the building size, income levels of the residents, transit access, and the density of people and employment in the surrounding areas. “We found that just about everybody had built too much parking,” Haas said. “Only about 60 percent of the spaces were being used.”

Using that data, the researchers developed the King County Right Size Parking Calculator, which provides estimated projections of the number of parking spaces per unit that are likely to be used at multiunit developments in different parts of the county. Seattle has since changed its zoning to allow for zero off-street parking in new buildings on transit corridors.

Leaders in Washington, D.C. who wanted to make an argument for reducing parking minimums heard about the King County study. The D.C. transportation and planning departments contracted CNT and other consultants to do the same thing within the city limits.

This time, the researchers looked at about 120 buildings and did a statistical regression for factors like transit access, job access (with a breakdown for retail jobs), and walkability. Once again, they found that parking was overbuilt by about 40 percent. “That seemed odd, but when we brought it up with the people in D.C., they said that’s what they had estimated anecdotally,” Haas said.

The consultants used the data to create Park Right DC, a similar tool as the King County calculator. The DC version lets you zoom in on a neighborhood, click on one or more parcels, and predict how many parking spaces would be needed for various kinds of developments on the site. The DC projections range from 0.3 to 0.9 parking spaces per unit.

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