The official public hearing on the draft comprehensive plan (revised) is tonight --
Thursday, 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. It's previewed in the Indy this week, mainly on the question of whether the plan is too promiscuous with its "growth centers" to actually produce any that will amount to the "walkable urban places" everybody says we need. Mitch Silver, Raleigh's planning director, says it's not -- too promiscuous, that is -- and that the metastasizing Brier Creeks and North Hills's of the world will not undermine Raleigh's urban future.
Silver recognizes, though, that creating "walkable urban" locales requires a lot of very fine-grained, pro-active planning, public investments, community engagement and follow through with developers who must share the vision and help make it happen. Raleigh's limited experiences with that kind of "place-making" include Glenwood South, where the hits outnumber the misses, and Fayetteville Street, a work still very much in progress but so far, pretty good. (B+) On the other hand, Brier Creek was supposed to be "urban" too. But it isn't.
Our next placemaking challenge, Silver says, is on the West Side ("Depot District) between downtown and Boylan Heights, where his imagined "Grand Central Station of Raleigh," a multi-modal center for rail and bus service, could one day go.
Then, perhaps (my list): The other rail-corridor transit stops with the potential to anchor great walkable places within the next decade or so, including the State Fairgrounds area, the West Raleigh station area, and -- in the other direction -- New Bern Avenue (a potential streetcar connection) and the Seaboard Station-Devereaux Meadows area off Capital Boulevard.
Anyway, on Tuesday at the City Council meeting Silver unveiled a an extraordinary plan for the re-deployment of his planning department staff. Don't call it a reorganization, he said. It's a plan to offer new services and stake a claim as the most innovative planning department in the country. It's a plan to make the comprehensive plan work the way it's supposed to.
The basic new service: Planning.
Not to put too much pressure on the guy, but at least three people have told me that Chris Leinberger, a planning geek at the Brookings Institute who's also a developer, is brilliant. He's speaking in Raleigh Wednesday evening, 6:30-8:30 pm, at the Progress Energy Center (Fletcher Theater); check-in starts at 6. It's free, courtesy of your city gummint. Pre-registrations online, s'il vous plait.
Leinberger's thing is that the age of suburban development is giving way to the age of suburban as well as urban redevelopment. Nothing novel there, except perhaps the notion that "walkable places" can be hewn from the wreckage of suburban strip-mania. But where -- Raleigh comp plan fans -- would such places be in, say, North Raleigh?
Here's what Leinberger said in November about Atlanta's redevelopment prospects, based on a DC metro model, in the Atlanta Constitution (full article here):
The metro area that has the most walkable urban places, per capita, is the region surrounding Washington. It has 20 such urban communities today and 10 more are emerging; 20 years ago there were just two. Given that metro Atlanta has exactly the same population as metro Washington, if you follow the Washington model, you will be growing 15 to 25 more walkable urban places in the next decade. This represents tens of billions of dollars in investment over the next decade and will be home to thousands of jobs and housing.
But where will they be? Follow the MARTA rail and other planned rail lines, such as the Beltline. Ninety percent of Washington’s 30 current and emerging walkable urban places are served by rail transit.
Substitute "TTA rail" for "MARTA" and see if you think what he's saying about where future walkable places in Atlanta fits with what's in the draft Raleigh comprehensive plan. I do not. Our plan contemplates walkable places on highways -- almost an oxymoron -- and served by buses. He's talking about walkable places on street grids near rail stations. Hear, hear.
Very interesting meeting at Raleigh City Hall last night on regional transit and the so-called "Mayor's Plan" for the Raleigh-Wake portion of the region. I will say, this thing has a lot of moving parts, some of which are picking up speed -- but enough to run a regional railroad in my or Charles Meeker's lifetime? (We're the same age.)
One question I didn't get to ask Mayor Meeker afterward is where to put the apostrophe in the name -- is it "Mayor's Plan" or "Mayors' Plan"? I believe the effort is to make it the latter. But so far, apparently, it's Meeker's plan. It's "been looked at" by the county's other 11 mayors, Meeker said as he kicked off the session. But he didn't say "endorsed."
Point is, the whole transit funding concept is back-burner for most of the county's political leaders right now, including -- as near as I can tell -- all seven of the Wake County Commissioners. They're struggling with school budgets and social services. Transit's not on their radar screens.
That said, however, Meeker is stepping up to the plate for transit, as is state Sen. Richard Stevens, a Wake Republican, as are a half-dozen of Wake's Democratic legislators including, principally, state Rep. Deborah Ross.
The biggest question mark at the moment is whether the proposed "intermodal" funding legislation -- which contains the 1/2-cent sales tax for transit option for Wake, Durham and Orange counties -- can make it through the General Assembly this year. Ross's presentation last night makes me think its chances are decent, which is not what I thought going in.
The meeting, co-sponsored by CAMPO, the Capital Area transportation planning organization (the "m" stands for metropolitan) and WakeUP Wake County, the civic group, drew 150 people, including most of Raleigh's transit groupies advocates.
Below, my three takeaways:
The television news program "Now on PBS" this week looks at whether transportation funds contained in the federal stimulus package will help mass transit or be sucked up for roads. Case study: North Carolina.
The program is an excellent review (about 24:00 long; the last 2:00 is something else) of how light-rail transit is working great in Charlotte (starring Mayor Pat McCrory), but not in the Triangle ... and why regardless of the difference, neither Charlotte nor the Triangle may see any stimulus money for transit.
Two reasons for that: 1) the federal transportation money is coming through the state departments of transportation, in N.C. an historically road-friendly, but transit-unfriendly bunch; and 2) because the Bush Administration discouraged forward transit planning for eight years, few transit projects are "shovel-ready" anywhere in the U.S., including North Carolina, at a time when the premium is on creating construction jobs immediately, not just someday.
Triangle Transit's David King is one of the TV show's featured "victims," saying to PBS what he told us at the Indy a few weeks ago: We're being penalized for not looking ahead after being told four years ago not to look ahead. Ouch.