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Partnerships and Planning for Sustainability

During the 2011 American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) Sustainable and Public Transportation Workshop in Los Angeles, Cliff Henke, senior analyst with Parsons Brinckerhoff, led the session Partnerships and Planning for Livable and Sustainable Communities and Corridors.

Abigail Thorne-Lyman, project director at Reconnecting America shared with attendees some of the common themes in winning applications for regional planning and community challenge grants.

Equity was a key component, including true integration of affordable housing and engagement in the information planning processes. There was also connectivity, meaning there were complete streets, trails and that the last-mile connections were there.

Shared challenges were also shared. There is a challenge in integrating a variety of different partners, from the health aspect, access to fresh food, affordable housing, government entities, not-for-profits, etc.; they have a hard time coming together to come to joint solutions. Some of the solutions included starting early and meeting often to build relationships, start conversations and keep progress moving. Also, she said, there may need to be a neutral party involved.

After Thorne-Lyman's broad look at the topic, several speakers presented information on specific projects across the country. Deirdre Oss, AICP, senior planner, CPD-Plan Implementation, city and county of Denver presented information on the Denver Livability Partnership, a $3 million grant from HUD/DOT.

They were looking at transit as value capture, creating higher tax revenue, joint development, added property value, and for the Regional Transportation District (RTD), increased farebox revenues, lower access costs and increased ridership.

This project will enhance the opportunities for active lifestyles and access to healthy foods to promote healthy living in Denver.

In the 13-county region around Houston, they have had numerous plans developed, said Clint Harbert, AICP, senior director, system planning and development with the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Metro). They hadn't, however, thought of a way to bring it all together. "If brought together, there are already a lot of building blocks there to make a very livable, sustainable place," Harbert said.

He said they really are going to be working on social equity: economic development, healthy communities, a better environment, improving transportation and housing. They want to ensure they are focused on equitable outcomes in each of those planning areas.

Within the 12,500 square miles of the region there is a wide range, from rural to urban, with different geographies, so it can't be one-size-fits-all.

"At the end of three years, hopefully we will have a regional plan that is regionally adopted and consensus-based," Harbert said. "It will be based on citizen input, including building capacity of under-represented groups. It will articulate a vision and set measurable goals whose progress can be tracked."

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In Santa Monica, the Bergamot area plan was a project that received a HUD Community Challenge Grant. "The reintroduction of light rail on the west side is going to transform some of the transit landscape, said Francie Stefan, strategic and transportation planning manager, city of Santa Monica.

The Bergamot is basically an industrial area characterized by unwalkable areas, few neighborhood uses, a place where people get in their cars for the most basic of needs. There is a vision for the area to be a new, vibrant, transit-oriented neighborhood that preserves and builds on the existing Bergamot station character.

The process started with sharing visualizations with the community so they knew what was coming and could see and understand it won't happen overnight.

They are moving forward on many fronts, including looking at land-use targets, ensuring they're building strong transit connections, consolidating shared parking facilities to encourage a park-once environment, and breaking down the "super blocks" to make it walkable, including interesting street fronts and buildings that don't overwhelm people.

Stefan said they have a good list of community benefits but need to define that to tailor to the different sectors and they need area-wide infrastructure planning as the utilities and other basic structure isn't there.

Working with the community and the great community dialogue they have established needs to continue and, she said, "It's an ongoing commitment to stay in touch with people.

Restoration of the historic streetcar services in downtown Los Angeles to spur economic development was presented by Robin Blair, director citywide planning and development, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Dennis Allen, executive director, Los Angeles Streetcar Inc.

There is a population shift in Los Angeles and there is increasing housing unit growth in downtown; there chance to revitalize areas of blight.

An interesting piece of this plan was the variety of partners in the project. The key players are the Community Redevelopment Agency of the city of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Streetcar Inc., the city of Los Angeles, the Federal Transit Administration, and LA Metro.

Rather than having one organization manage it, it's a non-profit where everyone has seat at the table. It includes the private sector and public sector. Everyone has vote in the process so you can move faster and it also takes the burden off of one particular agency. And for them, so far it's worked out well.

Blair started the discussion by stating he didn't think transit-oriented development exists. "A building next to a transit system is just a building.

"We're looking for develop-oriented transit."

Allen said it's not about transit that simply comes in to a city. One people are there, how do they get around. "Streetcar systems in LA originally were created in outlying areas. We're circulating people around town once they get here; economic development potential is one of the benefits.

"You take people where they want to go on a route through an area they didn't know they wanted to go."