Tag Archives: Transit Oriented Development

Comments on the Transit Center Proposal

I was glad to see the preliminary design for the Transit Center proposal released a few weeks ago. Given some of the comments that I’ve seen expressed, and my previous posts about this particular RFP I have decided to make a few early points. There is a lot of information I don’t know about the development constraints and the motives behind the developers decisions. Therefore, I am basing all of my comments below on the information that  has been made public.

First let me express the things I like about the proposal.

  1. A dense residential high-rise in the Central Business District.
  2. $800 studio rentals; of course we don’t know the unit size but they are likely 450-500 Sqft. Given the $82 million development budget this is the low end of what the building needs entry units to perform at, and is competitive with other Downtown rentals.
  3. At 390’ tall this would be the 4th tallest building in the State, and take over 44 Monroe for tallest residential. I think it is good to see some competition amongst developers.

Second, I have concerns with the following items but don’t see it worth holding the project up over.

  1. The building will shade the park in winter. I did two quick models to show what the current proposal would look like on December 31st (See Below). I also looked at moving the building South to Van Buren to show full sun on the main lawn. I am making the assumption that a North/South alignment is out of the question for the developer because of view sheds and direct East/West sun into the units. (Yes, there is a reason many of our buildings are oriented this way.)
  2. I would like to see Polk made back into a through street, at minimum a one way, or at least continue its use for some bus functions.
  3. The bus stops seem to be haphazardly moved in front of the historic Security Building across Van Buren. At best this appears to be an after thought, and at worst a perceived desire to disperse bus riders from the development site.
  4. I have no problem with a public dog park in the location shown, but a building exclusive dog park along Central Ave is not appropriate. This distinction is unclear from the site plan.

Finally, there is the item that concerns me most. The proposal needs to meet the Urban Form Code, and the current design appears to fall short. All references are from The Downtown Code-Chapter 12

  1. The maximum setback on Van Buren is 5 feet. A conservative measurement puts the building at 10 feet. Given the narrow sidewalks at this location this may be a variance worth pursuing.
  2. On Van Buren the building must front 75% of the lot. The site plan does not reflect adequate building frontage along Van Buren.
  3. The maximum setback on Central Ave and 1st Ave is 10 feet. The site plan reflects approximately 40 foot setbacks along each of these major urban streets. Due to these deep setbacks it is hard to argue that the building has any frontage along these streets, let alone the required 75%.
  4. The building does not enhance the major pedestrian corners as it is required to. These are two prime corners that would not be activated.                                                                                                        Enhanced Corner Guidelines. The uses that generate the highest pedestrian traffic should be located on enhanced corners and provide the following: +2

1.A primary entrance that faces both streets and serves the greatest number of occupants. 

2.Additional building articulation that emphasizes the corner and promotes activity. *2 

3.Active uses identified on the Land Use Matrix (Section 1204.D) should occupy the ground floor level. +2

5.   The tower should have a distinctive base. Base guidelines. 

a.All buildings over four stories in height should be designed with a base that is differen-tiated from the remainder of the building in order to relate to the street. The base may be between one and four stories in height, and should be scaled to the immediate context. 

b.The base of a building(s) should be placed parallel, and not at an angle, to the street. 

c.Building form guidelines. 

.(1)  Above 65 feet, tall buildings should not have massing that is boxy, bulky, and elon- gated. 

.(2)  Upper floors should be served by common entrance lobbies that shall be accessed from the Front or Pedestrian Street. 

.(3)  Large floor plates should be articulated to break down the mass of the building, cre- ate “street interest” and enhance skyline character. 

.(4)  Building towers should have a minimum separation of 20 feet. 

.(5)  The reflectivity of windows should be limited to 20 percent. 

.(6)  The uppermost floors of high-rise buildings should be articulated to achieve a dis-tinctive skyline profile. 

 In my opinion, all of these problems stem from the fact that this size of development is not appropriate for an entire city block. Below are some possible fixes.

  1. The tower should shift over from the middle of the property to either directly onto 1st or Central. Especially if it is kept on the Polk side, so that the building has some public street frontage.
  2. The development should only take half a block. Either focusing on the Van Buren side or the Polk side of the lot.
  3. The parking garage would need to possibly go up 2 more stories or underground 2 stories to keep approximate square footage and include street level activation. It is unclear how tall the current proposed parking structure is.
  4. The remainder of the block could be left in tact for continued transit functions or future development projects.

As the DPJ article states, the city is in negotiations with the developer. I hope that some of these issues are being addressed during that process. Below are some possible site massing, and the winter shade analysis pictures.

– Current Site plan 12:30pm December 31st Shade Shade2   – Rotated Site plan 12:30pm December 31st Shade Shade1 Suggestion #1 Van Buren focus Mass1   Suggestion #2 Polk focus Mass2

Jeffery is a native Phoenix area resident and lives in the Downtown Evans Churchill neighborhood. He has a Masters in Globalization and Development from The University of Sussex – Institute of Development Studies and a Political Science B.A. From A.S.U. He currently works as a Project Manager for a Phoenix based small business. All opinions are strictly his own. All rights on written and creative ideas are reserved


The Central Station Transit Center Development RFP: Considering the Future- Part 1

As the city looks at development opportunities for this parcel of land, there are two interconnected points that I would like to express.


Part I. Key Points

With the South Central and Capitol West light rail extensions still under study it is too early to quantify this site’s true value. The RFP for this parcel should be put on hold until a better understanding of how these new alignments, and subsequent passengers will interact within the current downtown station configuration.

Part II. Key Points

This site should be considered for joint development (PPP). A properly structured deal would allow the city to benefit from this site’s long term earning potential while adding to our urban vibrancy today.

-Part I.

First, I feel that the city is premature in its desire to develop this property. I personally would love to see this parcel developed to its full density tomorrow, and given its location within the city, a utility value alone would bring in millions of dollars for city transportation projects. However, the bus and light rail lines give this property extra value in the form of access, and while all city services are considered access in the economic sense; in an urban setting, transportation access is typically of most value. Hard transportation infrastructure like light rail and subways, provide developers and business owners a confidence in longevity that soft transportation infrastructure e.g. bus routes cannot. These are the basic economic principles behind Transit Oriented Development(1). Because this station receives more boardings than any other within the light rail system the TOD potential for this parcel is very high.

With Valley Metro still studying how it will integrate the new South Central and Capitol West lines into the existing system, I contend that the value of this land will likely increase substantially, especially if the Transit Center starts to be used as a transfer station for separate rail lines. This is because pedestrian traffic increases greatly when comparing a destination station and a transfer station. It seems inevitable to me that Valley Metro will need to have a line transfer station somewhere downtown, and given the current track configuration the transit center is the most logical spot. Here is why.

It is unlikely that Valley Metro will run individual trains from Mesa to South Phoenix, West Phoenix, North Phoenix and in turn trains from these segments back to all other quadrants of the city. Simply because of timing issues, this would be inefficient even if trains were to run 100% full. Most likely the system will be divided into 2,3, or 4 individual lines determined by needed directness vs efficiency within current engineering limitations. Therefore, certain trips will require passengers to disembark and switch trains, just as in every major mass transit system around the world. Given our current system, this transfer load could be distributed over multiple stations in downtown. However, this typically makes timings and connections more difficult, unless you’re running trains and buses every 3-5 minutes which is unlikely given the current system demand and operation budget. This leaves a single station with connected line platforms as the best option for sequencing train timings, and reducing transfer cost(2). The transportation center therefore is the obvious first choice that meets these criteria, while additionally already servicing connections between the light rail system and metro bus system.

It is imperative for this reason that the city knows how this station will work into the greater Valley Metro configuration before any RFP is accepted. This is important not only for how pedestrian traffic may flow through the site or if any possible station configuration modifications may need, but it is also an economic concern. If the analysis shows substantially more boardings per year at these two stations, then the retail earnings potential of this site increases dramatically, and in turn the value at which the city can profit from the land is increased. I would suspect that the original developer who approached the city on this project has likely already made this calculation.


1 I am quickly summarizing economic rents as applied to urban land (George, Ricardo, Smith)

2 ‘Transfer cost’ being all of the externalities that come from individuals switching between transit modes or lines.

Jeffery is a native Phoenix area resident and lives in the Downtown Evans Churchill neighborhood. He has a Masters in Globalization and Development from The University of Sussex – Institute of Development Studies and a Political Science B.A. From A.S.U. He currently works as a Project Manager for a Phoenix based small business. All opinions are strictly his own. All rights on written and creative ideas are reserved.