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How Two Regions Reined in Job Piracy — And Two Others Failed

They call it “intra-regional job piracy” — when one town uses tax breaks to lure employers from neighboring towns.

Job poaching in the Kansas City region has been called a "border war." Photo: Wikipedia

Job poaching in the Kansas City region has been called a “border war.” Photo: Wikipedia

Job piracy is very common in regions across the United States. And it almost always results in employers moving farther from the central city. As the D.C.-based think tank Good Jobs First has shown [PDF], this job sprawl generates traffic, reduces the effectiveness of transit, inflates infrastructure costs, and impedes access to opportunity for low-income people.

Many metro areas have also grappled with how to solve this problem, and some are performing better than others. A new report from Good Jobs First [PDF] highlights how some regions have wrestled this problem under control, while others continue to let it run rampant.

Here’s a look at the best and worst approaches examined by Good Jobs First, starting with the success stories.

Denver

Greater Denver is a model of regional cooperation, and it’s paying off for the economy, Good Jobs First reports.

Business recruitment in greater Denver is handled by a regional economic development corporation representing 70 cities, counties, and economic development groups dedicated to promoting the region as a “single economic entity.” All members of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation sign an ethics agreement, stressing the principles of transparency, cooperation, and respect. The ethics guide is designed to ensure member entities are promoting the wellbeing of the region first, ahead of their own self-interest.

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Uncle Sam Wants You to Drive: 5 Tax Breaks for Cars in the U.S. Tax Code

It’s April 15. If you bought an electric car in 2013, you can claim a tax break today. If you bought a plug-in hybrid, you can get a tax break today. But if you don’t own a car and walk to work instead? Sorry, Charlie.

Bought a shiny new electric car? Congratulations, you get a huge tax break. Photo: StockMonkeys.com

There’s a whole array of goodies in the U.S. tax code for drivers, the automobile industry, and oil companies. Here are the ABC’s (and the DE’s) of these tax-day gifts that help clog our streets with cars.

Alternative vehicle logistics. President Obama wants to extend the tax break for people who invest in properties involved in the production of advanced vehicles or the fuels they use. The Treasury Department argues that the $2.3 billion allocated for this incentive under the 2009 stimulus wasn’t enough, and that it didn’t reach more than two-thirds of eligible applicants.

Biofuels. You can get a dollar from Uncle Sam for every gallon of biodiesel you produce, though this is the last year for that one.

Car commuting and driving for work. The granddaddy of all tax incentives for driving is the $250 per month that car commuters can claim in tax-free income to cover parking expenses. Once you’re on the clock, your driving expenses are also eligible for a tax deduction. The IRS lets you write off 56.5 cents for every mile you drive for your job. As Turbo Tax’s fact sheet says plainly: “More miles, more money.” You can even write off trips to search for a job, see a rental property you own, or do volunteer work (though that one gets a lower rate). In some cases, you can even claim deductions for car washing and polishing.

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How to Measure the Economic Effect of Livable Streets

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Retail sales on the section of Columbus Avenue with a protected bike lane (the green line) outperformed retail sales on a parallel stretch of Amsterdam Avenue and an adjacent part of Columbus with no bike lane (the pink line). Image: NYC DOT

When a street redesign to prioritize walking, biking, or transit is introduced, the headlines are predictable: A handful of business owners scream bloody murder. Anecdotes from grumpy merchants tend to dominate the news coverage, but what’s the real economic impact of projects like Select Bus Service, pedestrian plazas, road diets and protected bike lanes? How can it be measured?

A report released by NYC DOT last Friday [PDF] describes a new method to measure the economic effect of street redesigns, using sales tax receipts to compare retail activity before and after a project is implemented. DOT and consultants at Bennett Midland examined seven street redesigns — including road diets, plazas, protected bike lanes, and Select Bus Service routes — and compiled data on retail sales in the project areas as well as similar nearby streets where no design changes were implemented.

While the authors do not claim that all of the improvement in sales is directly caused by street redesigns (there are a lot of factors at work), they did conclude that a street’s “gain in retail sales can at least in part be attributed to changes stemming from the higher quality street environment.” The study also found that the impact becomes apparent relatively quickly: Retailers often see a change in sales within a year of a project being implemented.

While it makes intuitive sense that a better pedestrian environment and high-quality transit and bikeways will draw more foot traffic in a city environment than a car-dominated street, evidence that livable streets are good for business tends to be indirect. Customer intercept surveys have shown that most people in urban areas (including New York) walk, bike, or take transit to go shopping. While customers who drive spend more per trip, they also visit less often than shoppers who don’t drive. The net result: Car-free shoppers spend more than their driving counterparts and have a bigger impact on the bottom line of local businesses. Nevertheless, merchants tend to overestimate the percentage of customers arriving by car and insist on the primacy of car parking as means of access.

With this study, DOT used a third-party data source to see how well sales are actually doing in two large categories: retail outlets like grocery stores, clothing stores and florists, and hospitality services like bars, restaurants, and hotels. The study uses state sales tax receipts because they are available on a quarterly basis can be categorized by business type, allowing for an up-to-date and detailed understanding of how retailers are faring on a particular street. Results can be examined before and after a street design change, and compared with sales trends both borough-wide and and on “control streets” nearby that did not receive street design changes.

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Mr. Money Mustache on Retiring at 30 By Riding a Bike

His claim to fame is that he retired at age 30. He swears that you can achieve greater financial freedom too, if you follow his example by eliminating unnecessary expenses and investing wisely. He calls himself Mr. Money Mustache. And he says nothing is more essential to his philosophy and wealth-building strategy than riding a bike.

Mr. Money Mustache rides through the snow with 85 pounds of groceries. Pin this picture up next to your car keys. Photo: MMM

Mr. MM (his real name is Pete, but that’s no fun) has been dishing out lifestyle advice on his personal finance blog for two years to a faithful following that now numbers about 300,000 regular readers. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, he counseled prospective early retirees to live close to work and “of course, ride a bike.” In fact, MMM says, it’ll take you forever to retire if you keep wasting money on cars. He estimates it costs a person $125,000 and 1.3 working years’ worth of time to drive 19 miles each way to work.

Living so far from work that you “need” to drive is a result of bad planning, he says, and should be remedied — or “optimized” — as quickly as possible. Riding a bike is the boiled-down essence of everything he preaches. He rejects the idea that his readers can “just follow the rest of his advice, while ignoring the bike parts.”

“It’s time for this silliness to come to an end,” he wrote earlier this month. “You must ride a bike. We all must.”

I’ll let you read on your own about how driving a car is like throwing away 24 blackened salmon salads, and the three questions you should always ask yourself before getting behind the wheel.

Streetsblog caught up with Mr. Money Moustache recently to talk more about how sensible transportation decisions fit into an economically sound lifestyle — and, of course, early retirement for us car-free Streetsblog editors.

Tanya Snyder: Last month was Anti-Automobile April. What did that consist of? How did it go?

Mr. Money Moustache: Anti-Automobile April was a little experiment where I tried to make the readers of my blog track their own driving for the month. My hope was that they would become more aware of it and hopefully consider canceling some of their trips, combining some of the smaller trips into fewer ones, and most importantly, replacing some of the local ones with bike trips.

TS: You take a refreshingly reasonable view of cars — that if a trip’s benefits outweighs its costs, it’s worth it, but most don’t. But obviously, there are times when you find taking a car worthwhile. What are those times?

MMM: Yeah, I am certainly not an anti-car zealot. I secretly love those machines. I love driving them, sitting in them, and reading about them. And for some reason, I have the technical stats for almost every model available in the U.S. memorized.

But you just have to realize what they’re good for.

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Study: Homes Near Transit Were Insulated From the Housing Crash

Percent change in average residential sales prices relative to the region, 2006-11. Image: APTA and NAR

If you live close to a transit station, chances are you’ve weathered the recession better than your friends who don’t.

Your transportation costs are probably lower, since you can take transit instead of driving. Transit-served areas are usually more walkable and bikeable too, multiplying your options. And while home values plummeted during a recession that was triggered by a massive housing bubble, your home probably held its value relatively well – if you live near transit.

The National Association of Realtors and the American Public Transportation Association commissioned the Center for Neighborhood Technology to study the impact of transit access on home values during the recession. For the report, “The New Real Estate Mantra: Location Near Public Transportation” [PDF], CNT looked at five metro regions — Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, and San Francisco.

While nearly everyone in hard-hit cities experienced some setback from tanking housing prices, transit-served areas were largely insulated from the worst of it, CNT found:

Across the study regions, the transit shed outperformed the region as a whole by 41.6 percent. In all of the regions the drop in average residential sales prices within the transit shed was smaller than in the region as a whole or the non-transit area. Boston station areas outperformed the region the most (129 percent), followed by Minneapolis-St. Paul (48 percent), San Francisco and Phoenix (37 percent), and Chicago (30 percent).

This is consistent with a study released last year by the Center for Housing Policy showing that access to rail transit created a “transit premium” for nearby home values of between six and 50 percent. That study, like CNT’s, looked at Minneapolis and Chicago, as well as Portland. The Center for Transit Oriented Development has also looked at this phenomenon and found transit premiums as high as 150 percent.

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Coming Soon: Full Report on Local Retail Impact of Sustainable Streets

At the beginning of the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ “Designing Cities” conference last week, NYC DOT released new data showing that retail and restaurant sales have tended to increase after streets are redesigned with Select Bus Service, protected bike lanes, and pedestrian plazas. It turns out that there’s more information on the way. Last week’s document was a teaser for a more comprehensive report due out in the next few months.

Businesses in Jackson Heights opposed this plaza at first. Now, they see it as an opportunity. New data bolsters the idea that retail businesses see stronger sales after the implementation of public plazas. Photo: Office of City Council Member Danny Dromm

DOT has hired consultant Bennett Midland to measure not just sales tax collections, but also commercial rents and property assessments after the completion of sustainable streets projects. The news came during a panel on the economic impact of transportation policy at the NACTO conference, where Bennett Midland’s Eric Lee discussed some of the report’s preliminary findings.

The research dispels a myth often employed by opponents of livable streets projects, who claim that plazas, bike lanes and a reduction in the number of parking spaces will be crippling blows to small businesses.

“We can say in New York today that bicycle lanes, pedestrian improvements and plazas — the removal of travel lanes and parking — do not do damage” to retail sales, Lee explained. Although the research does not say that bike lanes and plazas directly cause increased retail sales, Bennett Midland studied 11 retail corridors with street improvements and found that eight have bigger sales increases than nearby commercial streets and the borough-wide average.

The sales tax collections data used for the study was acquired from the Department of Finance. Now that DOT has established a channel with the Department of Finance and has begun using research service CoStar for information on commercial rents and vacancies, economic data on the impact of street design changes may make more appearances in the agency’s future presentations, alongside information on safety metrics like traffic injuries and the incidence of speeding.

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DOT: Local Retail Thrives After Projects Improved Transit, Biking, Walking

Image: NYC DOT

Leading transportation policy decision makers from around the country are gathered at NYU today for the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ “Designing Cities” conference. It’s an exciting moment for livable streets and sustainable transportation, with the people who are implementing a new generation of complete streets, surface transit improvements, public spaces, and parking policies sharing their expertise and helping to spread innovation to other cities.

Streetsblog will have coverage from the conference throughout the next few days. To start off we’ll share some of the new findings from NYC DOT about how local commerce is faring in some specific places after the implementation of safer, more sustainable streets. The case studies are part of a DOT report, “Measuring the City” [PDF], explaining how metrics like safety, transit ridership, bike ridership, and economic performance can be applied to streets — a far more productive approach for cities than purely car-centric metrics like Level of Service.

The most interesting stuff in the report is the data on retail sales and commercial vacancies, which the Daily News and the Post both picked up today. Usually, before and immediately after a new bus lane, bike lane, or public plaza is installed, you can count on at least a few naysayers among nearby businesses. No matter how dysfunctional the status quo may be for pedestrians, cyclists, bus riders, and drivers, if a project helps to solve those problems but happens to take away a few parking spaces, there will be gripes.

The case studies, using retail sales receipts from the Department of Finance, commercial vacancy data from the firm Co-Star, and surveys collected by DOT, show that the fears are misplaced. In each case, a jump in local retail activity (large chains were excluded) followed projects that improved bus service, made biking and walking safer, or added new public space. A few highlights from the report:

  • After the installation of Select Bus Service on Fordham Road in the Bronx, local businesses along the route saw a 73 percent increase in retail sales. It’s not just the tentative economic recovery that explains the improvement: Borough-wide the increase has been just 23 percent. This same project, which eliminated some curbside parking and added parking meters on side streets, was repeatedly blasted by some local merchants soon after it debuted. But with a 10 percent increase in bus ridership, added foot traffic seems to be providing a retail boost.

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TA Survey: Customers on Foot Bring Big Business to East Village Retailers

Among East Village shoppers, 95 percent arrive on foot, by bike or by transit. Image: Transportation Alternatives

On the heels of launching New York’s first “Bike Friendly Business District” in the East Village and Lower East Side, Transportation Alternatives has released a new study [PDF] showing that people who walk, bike and take transit to the East Village are local retailers’ best customers.

In a random survey of 420 East Village pedestrians, 95 percent of respondents said that they usually walk, bike or take transit to the neighborhood, with only 5 percent using a taxi or private automobile. TA asked respondents how often they visit the area and how much they usually spend per visit, using the replies to calculate how much each person typically spends per week in the area. The interesting patterns emerge when you segment that information by how the respondents got to the neighborhood. It shows that bicyclists and pedestrians are bigger spenders than those who arrive by taxi and car.

That’s because the people who come to the area most often typically arrive by bike or on foot. Nearly two-thirds of pedestrians and bicyclists – but only 44 percent of drivers – visited the area five or more times per week. Although the subway is the most popular way to get to the East Village, only a third of subway riders visited the area five or more times each week, reducing each rider’s spending impact at retailers.

TA staff and volunteers conducted the surveys during the morning, afternoon and evening on weekdays and weekends in July. Nearly three-quarters of respondents were Manhattan residents, with more than half coming from East Village zip codes. “Respondents skewed younger and male,” said TA, with 53 percent under age 35.

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Tennessee DOT Moves Past Road-Widening as a Congestion Reduction Strategy

In the late eighties and nineties, every traffic issue the Tennessee Department of Transportation faced was assigned the same solution: a bypass. But over the years, the department has come around to a new way of doing things, according to 40-year TDOT veteran Ralph Comer. Comer says the current commissioner, John Schroer, wants to become known as the “no-bypass commissioner.” He simply believes there are usually more cost-effective ways of solving transportation problems.

"Context sensitive solutions" preserve main streets like this one in Franklin, Tennessee instead of turning them into high-speed thoroughfares. Photo: Westhaven

This way of thinking led Schroer, Comer, and the department into a conversation with Smart Growth America. They teamed up to examine the state of Tennessee’s transportation system and devise a path forward, bringing together an impressively coalition, from the Tennessee Disability Coalition to the Sierra Club, the public transit association to the road builders association. One irrefutable fact brought them together: The TDOT project pipeline would cost nine times more to construct than available funding would permit. Something had to change.

Tennessee is in better fiscal shape than most states and is one of a small handful of states with zero debt – meaning it pays zero percent of its budget toward debt service, leaving a lot more for infrastructure. That’s a luxurious position in today’s economic context. So if a close examination of cost-effective transportation strategies can be transformative for Tennessee, just imagine what it can do for states even more desperate to get costs under control.

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Brookings: Inadequate Transit and Sprawl Cut Off Workers From Jobs

Transit access to employment is especially weak in the Midwest and South. Source: Brookings Institution

If there’s a problem connecting workers with workplaces, it stands to reason that there’s a problem connecting workplaces with workers. A new report from the Brookings Institution has teased out the subtleties of this side of the transit/jobs equation.

Last year, Brookings found that, on average, 70 percent of jobs in a metropolitan region are inaccessible to a typical resident via transit. Or at least, it would take over 90 minutes each way to get there.

This time around, Brookings looked at how large a pool of potential employees each employer has access to, assuming those employees would use transit to commute to work. And just as only 30 percent of jobs are accessible to most workers, only 27 percent of workers are accessible to most jobs, they found.

In terms of general access to transit, 70 percent of people in metropolitan areas live in neighborhoods that are served by transit and more than 75 percent of jobs are served by transit. Not surprisingly, the big divide is between suburban and urban locations within those metro areas. In cities, 95 percent of jobs are in transit-served neighborhoods, while in suburbs, only 64 percent of employers have transit service.

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