CPHA Releases Empowertrans Report

CPHA is pleased to announce the release of Project Empowertrans: Transportation Options for Connecting Affordable Housing and Growing Job Centers. This report was written by then CPHA Director of Community Engagement Steve Holt as part of the Opportunity Collaborative Project.

The reports focus on the interconnectedness of land use, transportation, affordable housing, and job access is the epitome of what the Opportunity Collaborative was about.

One of the major problems facing the Baltimore region and metropolitan areas throughout the country is that there is not enough affordable housing in job-rich areas. Indeed, as the Opportunity Collaborative’s jobs pipeline study pointed out, good jobs that do not require a four-year college degree exist but too often workers are unable to access them. At the same time, even low-income residents who do live in job-opportunity rich areas are unable to access these jobs due to the automobile-oriented nature of the surrounding community.

The Empowertrans report aims to solve these challenges by promoting both short and long-term solutions. For short-term solutions, the report recommends car sharing arrangements such as Zip car and shuttle services from transit hubs to the places of employment that are difficult to access for regular fixed-route transit services. For long-term solutions, the report recommends the establishment of transportation improvement zones. Transportation improvement zones are areas where employers, employees, transit systems, and local planning officials come together to improve transit and pedestrian access to places of employment.

Car-sharing is often thought of as something used by young urban professionals. But according to Empowertrans, it could also be used to help low-income workers access places of employment. Two important advantages to a car-sharing approach include saving on costs through eliminating the need for a separate shuttle driver and allowing workers a degree of mobility similar that of car ownership.

One significant drawback to the car-sharing model is that most services charge by the hour and require the car to be placed back in its original spot. In the case of jobs requiring shift work, this problem can be overcome through one worker handing the car off to another worker who lives nearby during shift changes. In other situations, one potential possibility would be for employees to drive to an area where the potential exists for significant usage such as a transit station or mixed-use development. This would then enable the car to be used by another party.

The second short-term solution is that of shuttles from major transit stations. Much of the Baltimore region’s fixed rail transit comes close to major suburban job centers but is still too far to be within walking distance. Furthermore, many of these major job centers are planned in a way that makes it difficult and expensive for them to be served by fixed route transit. Shuttle systems can help bridge that “last mile” gap.

An example is given in the report of a shuttle connecting several MARC train stations to places of employment. In this example, an employee could board at one of the three MARC stations in Baltimore City (Camden, West Baltimore, and Penn Station) and ride to a station such as Aberdeen, Dorsey, Odenton, Edgewood, or BWI. They could then board a shuttle to their place of employment.

The implementation of a shuttle system would require significant cooperation from local governments, transit agencies, and employers. In particular, it’s important that employers see the value that a shuttle system will bring to their businesses through reduced absenteeism, tardiness, and turnover means such a system will more than pay for itself.

The above solutions are helpful in the short term. But they do not solve the root of the problem. Our emerging suburban job centers have been designed in a way that makes travel to them without an automobile almost impossible and affordable housing so that employees who work in these businesses can live nearby is little more than an afterthought.

A potential long-term solution to the problem could be found with the implementation of transportation improvement zones (TIZs). The idea of TIZs is based on the transportation management districts concept that has been successfully implemented in Montgomery County. In Montgomery County, transportation management districts consist of committees made up of employers and residents who collaborate around encouraging transit usage for employers around existing Metro stations. In particular, large employers are required to create Transportation Management Plans that show how they are working to reduce trips made by employees in single occupancy vehicles.

One result of transportation management districts in Montgomery County has been the creation of shuttle services to major employers funded through parking and development fees within the transportation management district.

The Baltimore region does not have the same transit infrastructure as that of the Washington, DC area. Furthermore,  major centers are rapidly developing in areas far from the little transit infrastructure that exists. Yet, this concept can be employed in the Baltimore area.

As a first step in forming a TIZ, the report calls for an advisory committee to be established within a proposed district consisting of employees, employers, planning officials, affordable housing providers, planners, transit officials, and any other relevant interests. One of the goals of this committee would be to find ways to reduce automobile trips. Like in Montgomery County, a TIZ could lead to the formation of a shuttle service from a nearby transit hub.

But the goals of a TIZ need not be limited to that of simply providing shuttles. Other potential uses for TIZ’s include:

  • Raising funds that can potentially be used for long-term transit improvements in the TIZ
  • The establishment of workforce development programs for jobs that may result from improved transit service
  • The development of affordable housing near major places of employment within the TIZ
  • The creation of complete streets with the TIZ

Areas listed as candidates for TIZs are Ellicott City, Columbia, BWI/Arundel Mills/Nursery Road, Crofton, Owings Mills, and Aberdeen.

As shown above, TIZs have the potential to not just provide short-term fixes like shuttles but put forward a process that changes these automobile-centric locations into sustainable communities. Such a move would both increase the quality of life as well as social equity.

Empowertrans and the many other reports published during the Opportunity Collaborative process are ambitious documents. If implemented they could transform our region for the better.

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Gregory Friedman

Gregory Friedman

This article was written by Gregory Friedman. Click here to meet our writing team.

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