MAP Front Page Article: Transportation Demand Management at Work in Maine

November 19, 2017 at 7:53 pm Leave a comment

This article appears in the Maine Association of Planner’s November 2017 Front Page.

One rainy evening this past spring I was at a birthday party for a friend and a woman I’d just met at the seltzer cooler asked me what I do for work. I stumbled around trying to explain I’m a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) consultant and what that entails. This is not unusual; I often wish we could come up with an easier definition for TDM. Even when we spell the words out it still makes people scratch their heads, including for many of us in the planning world.

What the Heck is TDM Again?

So, quick review: Transportation Demand Management is an alternative to going through the time-consuming and exorbitantly expensive – not to mention environmentally degrading – process of widening roads or building new ones to deal with additional vehicle traffic, with the subsequent result of “induced demand” that fills up that new supply in very little time.

Instead, TDM practice employs a little Yankee frugality and ingenuity to fix and manage our existing roads better and reduce the demand on them in the first place.

We can do that a number of ways but most boil down to three things:

  1. Reducing the number of drive-alone automobile trips to work and other destinations – for example, say co-workers Ben and Jeff carpool the 45 minutes each way every day from where they live in Hamden to where they work in Pittsfield
  2. Staggering trips over different time periods, to avoid peak driving times – e.g., Jennifer’s workplace offers flextime and so she takes an early morning ferry from the island where she lives and then drives to work, arriving at 7am
  3. State-of-the-art transportation system and operations management – for example:
    • the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System’s (PACTS) work with local municipalities to improve timing of traffic signals on high-traffic corridors (other regional planning organizations and municipalities are likely doing similar work across the state)
    • prioritizing traffic signals for public transit
    • sharing maintenance equipment between municipalities to speed up repairs, like traffic signal outages

These are key for enabling the safe and efficient movement of goods, services and people across the state and beyond. They also engage individual Mainers, businesses and local communities in strategies that make us more economically vibrant and sustainable for the long-term.

Most folks will just want the road widened, not knowing about induced demand. But with a never-ending backlog of many millions of dollars in current infrastructure maintenance and improvement projects and the climate-changing impacts of transportation emissions, Maine simply can’t afford to widen or build more roads. Through good dialogue with the people in our communities and by putting diverse practices to work locally and regionally, the fiscally conservative aspects of TDM have legs across the political spectrum.

Yeah, but… What Does That Really Look Like in Planning?

We do Transportation Demand Management work from various angles and many of you likely engage with it through local land use and transportation planning – including:

  • bicycle and pedestrian or transit plans and implementing infrastructure improvements for each
  • studying and implementing traffic system improvements
  • encouraging density and mixed-use development in village or downtown areas when updating local comprehensive plans or village master plans

Really, most planning processes somehow involve at least a hint of TDM. (It’s a little horrifying to admit but I worked in transportation planning and promotion for almost five years before I really understood the sister field of land use planning – and its impact on everything I was striving for in terms of TDM.)

The other examples of Transportation Demand Management-related land use and transportation planning I’d like to discuss here are:

  • Reducing or removing off-street parking minimums and creating parking maximums for new development or site renovations
  • Strategic management of public on-street and off-street parking resources
  • Required TDM Plans during the site review process for new development and commercial and institutional uses

Enabling Density Via Parking Reform – Bigger Picture TDM

As planners we are forward-thinking folks about this but just to be clear: the more densely we can develop the heart of our communities – including vibrant open spaces and gathering places – the friendlier and more viable it is for people to walk, bike and use current or future public transportation to reach local destinations. Reducing or removing requirements for off-street parking and introducing parking maximums are a significant strategy for permitting this needed density.

Density and reduced parking, in turn, lead to greater economic development returns. By ditching antiquated parking standards – and the poor revenue we get from land used for parking – our communities build wealth through more productive land uses like housing and businesses.

Parking often ends up being the linchpin for effective TDM work. I was speaking at the Maine Climate Conference recently and a member of the audience from a rural area asked for advice about ways to improve their local comprehensive plan. I suggested facilitating growth in village areas and removing parking minimums. Someone joked that parking isn’t really relevant to folks living out in the country. “I understand where you’re coming from,” I said. “But if I put a Dollar General in your community, will you require me to put in a standard number of spaces, even if they’re not really needed?”

To build local support to reduce or remove parking minimums and create parking maximums, we also have to be better at managing our current local parking resources – both on-street and off. Some examples are:

  • If you have on-street parking and it’s more than 85% full (one space open per block), starting to charge for parking or making adjustments to existing prices – and if the municipality is using intelligent meters, price can be changed based on time of day to ensure 85% capacity;
  • Encouraging and establishing shared parking agreements – e.g. a local company that leases some private residential parking for day-time use;
  • Providing wayfinding and real-time messaging about space availability on-street and online – to help visitors find local parking resources that might not be on principal streets.
  • Spending revenue from parking directly and visibly on improvements in our village or downtown areas – e.g., through beautification projects like flower planters that are also sidewalk furniture.

Planners Making Parking Reform Happen in Maine

The good news is that practitioners like you in communities across the state are on it. As Carol Eyerman, our NNECAPA Maine State Director and MAP President shared recently, “The Town of Topsham reduced its off-street parking minimums last year and also allows for an “alternative plan,” (standards here) permitting developers to do their own parking assessment and alternate plan for parking and defend it to the Planning Board.”

This is a great start. It still puts the burden on the developer, so a complete removal of parking requirements and the addition of parking maximums would be good next steps as the town becomes more comfortable with the results.

Ethan Croce, the Community Development Director for Falmouth, shared several pieces the town implemented a few years ago to reduce off-street parking and loading requirements. “Some of these are bolder than others,” Ethan reported, “but they include:

  • Reduced parking requirements for office and retail uses from 5 spaces to 2 spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor area;
  • Reduced parking requirements for attached dwelling units from 2.5 spaces to 1 space per dwelling unit;
  • Allowed the Planning Board to reduce off-street parking requirements for any use if the Board determines there is available on-street parking nearby;
  • Expanded the allowance for shared parking.  The ordinance formerly required shared parking lots to be within 100 feet of each establishment sharing parking.  That distance was expanded to allow shared parking lots within 1,300 feet of each establishment;
  • Removed the requirement to provide off-street loading berths associated with non-residential uses.  Instead, the Planning Board has the flexibility to determine where and how loading may occur.  This can include, without limitation, in an existing parking lot, drive aisle, on-street, etc.”

“The Windham Town Council is in the midst of looking at draft ordinance language that removes all off street parking and loading bay requirements in town,” shared Town Planner Ben Smith. “The parking changes are part of a larger package of ordinance changes they are going to send to the Planning Board soon to implement the vision of the 21st Century Downtown Plan.”

“Rather than making an either/or decision that involves whether we adopt a Character/Form Based Code (FBC) [draft ordinance language here] or a more modest/incremental set of changes [draft alternate language here],” Smith reported, “the Town Council is leaning toward a 2-track approach with potential adoption of both the incremental changes and the FBC as options for developers to consider.  In this vision, a developer would have the ability to pick either set of rules to design to in the short term and then a after a year or so, the FBC would become the only set of rules going forward.”

“Either option leaves parking up to the developer – no minimums required,” Smith continued. “I hope that we’ll have these changes voted on by the Council before the end of the year.”

Every once in a while as planners, we run into a project where parking isn’t provided (or doesn’t end up getting built) where it might actually be useful. Jim Fischer, formerly of the Hancock County Regional Planning Commission and now working as an independent planning consultant at Jim Fisher Regional Population, Health and Planning reached out to share the following experience. “I worked on a local impact analysis for a proposed visitor center in Ellsworth, including provisions for some parking. The site also would have likely promoted bicycling and transit use.”” Fisher reported.

“The project never received funding to move forward and I wish it had. We have subsequently extended the Sunrise Trail to High Street, but not created any parking for it. As a result, the folks arriving by ATV and snowmobile are slipping into corners of other parking lots and hoping not to be a problem for the business owners.” (Note, the Bureau of Parks and Lands could seek formal shared parking agreements with local businesses that might ease the problem and encourage collaboration – and patronage – between ATV and snowmobile clubs and area commercial interests.)

However, it’s more common for us to build too much parking – sometimes even when removing parking minimums. This brings us to the value of parking maximums. Since developers generally don’t have the time or money to do their own parking analysis, they pull ready-made parking numbers from the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Parking Generation manual – which even ITE recognizes needs updates and additional data from rural, suburban and urban contexts. It’s the classic “the standard made me do it” situation. Of course, one size does not fit all and so we often end up with parking excess.

We may have a stellar example of a municipality that is using parking maximums out there in Maine and I just don’t know of it yet (please let MAP know if you do!) One modified example of a maximum can be found in the City of Portland. Portland has reduced some of its parking minimums, at least on the Peninsula, but still generally has off-street parking requirements. This proviso, however, is also part of its land use code: “Developments proposing to exceed minimum parking requirements by 10% or more must demonstrate through a parking analysis that the amount of parking is appropriate for the proposed use of the site.” City of Portland Code of Ordinances, Land Use Chapter 14, Sec. 14-526  

Specific Transportation Demand Management Plans

That’s enough parking discussion for now – let’s talk about site-specific Transportation Demand Management plans. Individual sites in a community don’t exist in a vacuum on their own but many people in the community might see them as just that. As planners, you are the heroes that see the full picture – the developers’ goals for a particular project and the broader community context and vision for growth.

In addition to other site planning considerations, such as architecture, location of the building on the site, and integration with the surrounding neighborhood, we can also request an applicant develop a vehicle trip-reduction or TDM plan to reduce the site’s traffic and parking impacts.

In the City of Portland, a Transportation Demand Management Plan and its subsequent implementation is required under the land use ordinance (see sidebar on next page) in order to reduce the impact of vehicle trips to sites of a particular size. As part of these plans, the applicant follows the city’s technical standards, establishing trip reduction targets and employing strategies to reach them, such as:

  • restricting parking, raising the cost of parking, offering preferential parking for carpools and/or offering parking cash-outs to encourage multi-modal trips
  • offering public transit, bicycling and car/vanpool subsidies and cash incentives
  • offering the federal public transit, vanpool and bicycle commuting fringe benefit
  • marketing TDM to relocated and new hires
  • offering a company account for use of the local car share for daytime trips
  • connecting employees with GO MAINE, the statewide commuter assistance program, and the Emergency Ride Home benefit
  • making on or near-site infrastructure improvements like sidewalks, crossings, bicycle and transit facilities to improve multi-modal access to the site

The ordinance is applied to diverse site uses. For example, in recent months I’ve worked on the TDM plan for the Baxter Academy of Science & Technology – a charter high school with 60 staff and growing to 400 students that is moving from its original location near the waterfront to the Bayside neighborhood. Another example is for a commercial office space, like the TDM plan for the WEX global headquarters I’m working on, to facilitate the company’s move from out near the mall in South Portland to the Portland eastern waterfront.

Similarly, it’s been a great experience helping update the TDM plan for the St. Lawrence Arts Center to build a new 400-seat addition without adding on-site parking, since it was originally built as a neighborhood church to which Munjoy Hill residents walked. The St. Lawrence is an excellent example of leveraging TDM efforts to help with transit expansion. Under the conditional rezoning agreement and TDM plan, the venue will pay the Greater Portland Transit District (METRO) $70,000 per year for extended bus service from downtown to the East End. This will serve both patrons and the larger community.

TDM planning is showing up elsewhere as well. PACTS and the City of South Portland developed a TDM plan for Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) to provide more transportation choice for commuting students and also to mitigate the impact of student driving and vehicles on South Portland’s East End. Among the key recommendations were a number regarding improving access to transit.  From all appearances current bus ridership is solid and this was echoed by Tex Hauser, Planning & Development Director of the City of South Portland.

Alex Jaegerman has brought his TDM experience as Planning Director for the City of Portland to his work as the Director of Planning & Development in Yarmouth – requiring TDM plans as part of the site review process for Tyler Technologies’ expansion and the new Patriot Insurance location. “In practice it’s a soft requirement for now, but we’ve done it,” Jaegerman shared. “We’ll need to circle back around with them as part of the Certificate of Occupancy.”

Having the capacity to monitor the plans and insist on a good faith effort at implementing them is one of the trickier pieces for municipalities. Part of that has to do with the fact that the developer is required to submit the plan, but it’s the tenant who must implement it. Another issue is staff time and capacity for follow up. For a number of years the Department of Public Works monitored the plans in Portland and now they’ve moved to the Planning Division for more concerted oversight.

Senior Planner Nell Donaldson has been tasked with reviewing where existing plans stand and helping further their implementation. “The city has built a strong foundation and this is a good time for advancing the TDM Program and moving the ball forward. We’re seeing more and more development and people are more open to doing things a little differently. There’s also interest and support here at City Hall,” Donaldson said.

“However, at the heart of it, we still need to find time to dedicate staff resources to really make it work well.” Donaldson reports. “Ultimately a private-public partnership like a Transportation Management Association (TMA) would most likely serve all of us better – both on the city and the private sector side.” (Note: The Greater Portland Council of Governments is currently exploring the feasibility of a local TMA, which can act as a broker for services like implementation help for TDM plans, improved transit service, parking management and employer shuttles. TMAs also often work best if driven primarily by local businesses.)

Sharing the TDM Love

Another avenue for municipalities, planning organizations and private sector planners to show TDM leadership is via promotional efforts, like those of GO MAINE – the statewide commuter assistance program funded and administered by the Maine Turnpike Authority, with additional funding from the MaineDOT. GO MAINE recently threw down the marketing gauntlet with its pilot Way 2 GO MAINE Commuter Challenge, a three week build-a-new-habit campaign that ran this October 1st-21st. (Full disclosure: I was contracted to help develop and deliver the challenge.)

Organizations across the state pitted their workplace against others for how many of their employees carpooled, took the bus or train, or bicycled or walked to work over those twenty-one days. Team champions at employers offered simple encouragement to engage their co-workers and tracked their organization’s progress on the Way 2 GO MAINE leaderboard online. Participating employees joined GO MAINE if they weren’t members already (which also gives them access to the Emergency Ride Home benefit), logged their trips, received incentives and posted photos of their commutes on social media – competing for the most alternate transportation trips recorded, most new GO MAINE members and most team spirit.

 

A number of businesses jumped right in – for example, Tyler Technologies (required to do a TDM plan in Yarmouth as mentioned above) won 1st Place for Most Greener Trips for medium size organizations. However, municipalities and regional planning organizations also gave a great showing. The City of Portland won Most New Members in the large organization category and the Greater Portland Council of Governments was 2nd in New Members and 3rd in Greener Trips – plus it submitted an amazing video for Most Team Spirit.

“The City of Portland’s active participation in Way 2 GO MAINE helps us show the city is truly committed to our larger TDM work and that we’re walking the talk,” Nell Donaldson reported.

The Touchy-Feely Part to All This

This summer I finally decided to come up with an elevator speech to describe my TDM work. I did some writing and brainstorming and talking with folks and came up with, “I help people have happy commutes.” That sounds pretty sentimental for a technical field.

However, enabling happy commutes is at the heart of this work. It’s what I’ve loved about it for years and what feeds me most. As planners we have the chance to help people and businesses and communities navigate transportation choices, use their own creativity to make them work and watch them bask in the many benefits – financial savings, social connection, reduced environmental impacts and improved health.

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Entry filed under: Transportation Demand Management, Transportation Infrastucture Improvements, transportation planning.

Throwing Down the Gauntlet – businesses challenge each other for Way 2 GO MAINE!

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