Sunday, July 11, 2010

Internet Hiatus

I will be away from the computer through August 10th to participate in a meditation intensive in Vermont. Don't fret, I will return. Stay tuned…

L.A.’s 30/10 “a template for the nation”

The City of Los Angeles moves ahead with it’s progressive 30/10 Initiative. The initiative proposes to jump start L.A.’s economy by completing 30 years of transit infrastructure upgrades into 10 years of construction. There are many benefits including the annual reducing pollution emissions by 521,000 pounds, decreasing gasoline usage by 10.3 million gallons and diminishing vehicle miles traveled 191 million. President Obama touted the initiative as “a template for the nation.”

The 30/10 Initiative will “use federal funds – some combination of interest rate subsidies, loan guarantees, and direct loans, among other possible mechanisms.” The funds would allow L.A.’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to build 12 projects spanning across the city. L.A. is not only receiving local support, MTA voted unanimously to support the 30/10 Initiative, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is intensely supportive, looking for any way to help expedite the project, stating the Initiative “has the potential to transform the way we invest in transportation projects across the nation."

The Metro Rail Exposition Corridor Phase 1 project to Santa Monica is already two-thirds complete. The light rail project has excellent anchors such as Sony and the University of Southern California. The light rail line has already stoked the designs of local transit oriented developments within walking distance to the stations. The TOD designs aim to increase density but also integrate into the existing fabric. Alan I. Casden, a local developer believes, “Los Angeles is going to go vertical… That’s the only way you can go. There’s no more land.” Density is also required for successful alternative transportation, “Space is important to the way Angelenos live and breathe” from Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Los Angeles County supervisor, however “The projects are needed to drive ridership and make the rail line cost-effective.”

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Conservatives for Alternatives

Via Sean Barry with Transportation for America, this month’s American Conservative magazine article promotes alternatives to automobiles featuring various special authors including William Lind. Lind, featured in the article “Rail against the Machine – What’s so conservative about federal highways?” recently released a book in collaboration with Paul Weyrich titled, “Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation.” Lind reaches the pith of the matter stating “there is nothing inherently conservative about favoring highways — and nothing un-conservative about alternatives to the automobile,” and Barry adds “pointing out that 100 years ago, Americans relied on a variety of systems, including intercity trains and streetcars, all of which were privately owned and free of government support.” He feels it is wise to diversify our transit portfolio, giving people options and creating transportation infrastructure that requires less government support.

Also, Lind makes the compelling statement that “traffic isn’t fun, even if you are driving a BMW.” Time is money and commuting by rail allows one to check e-mails, read the paper or relax – all things not possible behind the wheel. Lind, citing Russell Kirk, finds value in prudence, and if faced with another cut to our oil supply like in 1973 or 1979, establishing transportation policy to excite alternatives would be wise. Lind offers a few prescriptions, one to revive the dilapidated network of trains and buses, he also envisions the resurgence of bus and urban streetcars.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Our Addiction, Our Fault

Few have really reported about the Gulf Oil Disaster in a way that really speaks to me, until William Rivers Pitt in “Our Fault, Too.” I was standing in a café a few weeks after the Deepwater Horizon’s initial blowout, reading a bulletin asking people to boycott BP and I thought to myself ‘if people boycott BP, that would mean they drive cars, and regardless, are part of the problem.’ Pitt feels the same and I insert a large part of his article:
But here is something to remember: it's our fault, too. Yours and mine.
If you own a car, it's your fault. I own a car, so I own a share of the blame. If you own more than one car, or own some gargantuan gas-guzzling SUV, it's your fault. If you ever thought a Humvee was cool, or ever owned one, it's your fault.
If you ever voted in an election based on the high price of gasoline, it's your fault.
If you ever voted for a politician who went on to deregulate the oil industry from their seat in a committee, it's your fault. If you didn't vote to remove that person from office after they voted to deregulate such a dangerous and polluting industry, it's your fault.
If you eat food that is not grown locally, it's your fault, because your food had to be brought to you on the backs of trucks that need gasoline to travel. If you eat food grown on an industrialized farm, it's your fault, because the machines used to cultivate that food need gasoline, too. Even if you eat food that is grown organically and locally, they still use gasoline and oil, so basically nobody is safe from judgment.
If you fly on airplanes, this is your fault.
If your home has oil heat, this is your fault.
If you eat fast food, this is your fault….

This must change. Until it does, it's our fault, too.

Our addiction to oil is historic, Jon Stewart sums up the issue in this nice montage.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
An Energy-Independent Future
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

America knows it has a problem with oil, and yet Congress still spends time debating where we will find the next source. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) wants to turn down oil from Canada for various reasons, we do not want to rely on foreign oil, but… alternatives simply do not take hold. It will take a catastrophic disaster to curb our driving habits, no pun, and to change our lifestyles, as we know them today.

Response to “F as in Fat…”

A landslide of articles were released yesterday in response to the report “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010,” sponsored by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The author writes, “Every American must have the chance to lead a healthy lifestyle” calling for “comprehensive reauthorization of the surface transportation law,” and compelling Congress to take action for the proposed Complete Streets Legislation.

The links between obesity and urban planning has gained moment over the years and taken center stage this year. The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Helping Johnny Walk to School: Sustaining Communities through Smart Policy program conducts research on community development and encourages states to site schools central to the majority of students to minimize travel distances. Their program released the study “Why Johnny Can’t Walk to School,” in 2000. In response to the pandemic, First Lady Michelle Obama organized the “Let’s Move” campaign in 2010. And yesterday, Illinois Governor Quinn signed a bill to keep cyclists safer on the roads, in hopes to encourage young and old alike to get out, ride and share the road.

Federal policy, state bills and academic research make great strides to help curb obesity. However, people have to make the choice each day to exercise or eat healthy. The state bill in Illinois is excellent for those who ride and the others who want to start riding, but what about those who do not? The one’s that are not riding altogether are our greatest concern.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Wheels on the QM22 Still go Round and Round

Last Sunday the MTA shut down 2 subway lines and multiple bus routes, which I find surprising as MTA and NYC are typically heralded as the King and Queen of transit. Riders in Brooklyn held a mock funeral for the V and W subway lines. But one young man in Queens was able to save their community bus. Ali Fadil, a 16 year old from Little Neck, Queens wrote to his local and state office with no success and turned to private bus company owner Joel Azumah. TransportAzumah took over four of the city lines including Fadil’s QM22 route. Taken from the article, Mary Apelian said "Stopping a bus like this would have been like breaking up family," she takes the QM22 to her job at a public relations firm in Times Square. "Ali, this young man, did this for us. He kept us all together."

Suburbs are Here to Stay, but

Providing a very brief response to the article “Derided no more, suburban life is turning serious.” I feel planners have taken the challenges provided by suburbs seriously for quite some time. Suburbs are serious, they create a serious problem for resources and many urban planners understand the detriment related to suburban style development. Although, university programs may focus more on the urban versus ex-urban development, all planning is related. Robert Lang, a University Nevada-Las Vegas sociology professor said "The United States is the first suburban nation" and "in the end, these are the places ... where we are going to live, no matter what." Suburbs are here to stay, but do they have to be so unsustainable?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Painted Bike Lanes – Illusion of Safety?

Yes, we want cyclists to feel safe and a colored lane may provide this notion. However, are motorists going to maintain their lane, even with a painted cycling lane adjacent? Also, will motorist understand that, when necessary, a cyclist may have to exit the painted lane? Overall, I think colored bike lanes could be beneficial. But these reminders are geared towards motorists who simply need to view cyclists as vehicles. The results from the Portland blue bike lanes project, shared by TreeHugger, show “there has been a 20% increase in motorists yielding for cyclists due to visibility and awareness.” I would like to see a more robust survey that includes the motorists in the area, what are their perceptions of bike lanes and cyclists pre- and post- colored bike lane?

Kids are Safer on the Subway

Interesting perspective, a recent study from the New York City Department of Health concluded that kids are safer on the subway. Excerpt from

Traffic accidents are the leading cause of fatal injuries for children one to twelve years old in the United States.
In New York City, where kids rely much more on public transit, they die in traffic accidents at less than one-third the national rate according to a new report from the New York City Department of Health. Injury deaths for children in NYC are about half the national average….

Riding the subway helps take kids out of cars and off the streets. Children between the ages of one to twelve would likely travel with adults on the subway, potentially helping kids stay safe as well. However, the article does point out the disparities between the fatality rate of affluent children versus minority or impoverished children. Even with many city-wide programs, the problem persists and remains an area for improvement.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fast Lane - The Slide!

Brookings finds Commute by Transit Increased

From Robert Puentes at Brookings, “On the Map: America’s Shifting Commuting Choices,” has wonderful news:

The recently conducted State of the Metropolitan America report shows that “the share of Americans that commute by transit actually increased from 2000 to 2008. That’s the first time that’s happened in 40 years.” Superb, however “the map shows that part of the increase is due to big gains metropolitan areas with large transit systems and extensive rail networks such as New York and Washington.” Good news for urban areas with already existing networks. What about the rest of America? The report shows that “increases were also seen in metros that opened new transit lines and expanded transit service in the last eight years,” such as Charlotte, NC and Colorado Springs, CO.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tassafaronga Village - Oakland, California

What I like most about LEED ND is the marrying of land use, transportation and green building. Still in the pilot phase, LEED ND has already help revitalize neighborhoods. While attending the USGBC Federal Summit this year, I listened to a presentation on the Tassafaronga Village project. The project is located in Oakland, CA and recently received the Gold certification under the LEED ND pilot program. The project partnered with Habitat for Humanity and helped rejuvenate a blighted area by creating affordable units that tie into the existing urban fabric.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Central Idea

I preface my post by stating, Cervero and Ewing are among a small group of researchers that I have followed for years. Joint and separately, these two have conducted extensive research regarding the land use and transportation field. I have many thanks to these two for their outstanding contribution to a field I find so incredibly intriguing.

In 2001, Cervero boldly stated that sprawl is the most expensive form of residential development in terms of cost: economic, environmental, natural resource consumption etc. Sprawling American metropolises suffer to due the lack of spatial clustering. The integration of urban arrangements is not “(the) product… of happenstance, but rather of decades of carefully managed and guided urbanization” (Cervero 2001, 1652).

Over the years, these concepts have been distilled through continued research. In the popular study published in 2002, Ewing et al. examined development trends necessary in attempt to harness sprawl and promote dense land use development. Measuring sprawl proposes a considerable challenge. In the study, 22 factors were used within multiple dimensions to analyze the built environment. Components such as transportation dominance, residential density, neighborhood mixture of development, and strengths of centers, etc. were all factored in the analysis. The analysis has evolved since 2002, like in Kaid Befield’s blog this morning, “Reid Ewing on travel and the built environment” stating the importance of centralized locations. Benfield also references a recent interview with Reid Ewing conduced by Christina Hernandez for SmartPlanet, where Ewing says, “The best way to minimize driving appears to be to develop in existing centers near the core of the metropolitan area, in areas of high destination accessibility where there are a whole lot of jobs nearby. That’s the most important single factor.” Large scale analysis evaluate many land use development and transportation trends. The meta-analysis conducted by Ewing provides feedback to planners, policy-makers and citizens regarding their cities and the ways in which we use them in the hopes to shape development in more sustainable and efficient manner.

Cervero, Robert. 2001. Efficient urbanization: Economic performance and the shape of the metropolis. Urban Studies 38, (10) (09): 1651-71.

Ewing, R., Pendall, R. and Chen, D. 2002. Measuring Sprawl and Its Impact: The Character & Consequences of Metropolitan Expansion. Smart Growth America.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Re: Gentrification and Redefining Neighborhood Displacement

I have lived in Baltimore for nearly three years and development is certainly a double-edged sword. Revitalization is critical for our deteriorated neighborhoods, but the technique is equally important to not displace neighborhood culture and their long term residents. I enjoyed the piece, “Cruel Neighborhood Displacement: An Antidote at Last,” provided by Neal Perice for thecitistatesgroup, because the article focuses on unique techniques that proved successful in the gentrification of one East Baltimore neighborhood.

The Middle East neighborhood lies just north of the Johns Hopkins Medical campus. According to the article, Middle East is Baltimore’s second poorest neighborhood with only a 35% homeownership. And like many neighborhoods in Baltimore, Middle East suffers from physical decay and home abandonment.

The Casey Foundation had their doubts when then-Mayor Martin O’Malley asked for assistance to create “an 88-acre community for life sciences research facilities, retail development and market-rate housing.” Casey, the city of Baltimore and Hopkins agreed on the “primary objective of improving lives for the neighborhood’s families.”

The East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI) was formed to consult with the residents of Middle East. Establishing EBDI was a bold move. EBDI held over 300 community meetings to help the 630 families during the relocation and reestablishment three years after the move.

Granted these resources may not be available to many communities experiencing gentrification, I feel it is important to have one-on-one assistance for those being relocated. Casey has coined their response as “Responsible Redevelopment” by effectively negotiating between residents, developers and city officials. Since relocation, there has not been one lawsuit filed. In a recent post-relocation survey, residents gave an 8.5 satisfaction rate with 10 being the best. Overall, the pros far outweighed the cons in this Re: Gentrification project.

Detroit Bike Culture - Coming Full Circle?

Over the last few days, the article, “Detroit: The Return of the Repressed (Bicycling Culture)” provided by Chris Carlsson on Streetblog San Francisco has really stood out in my mind. While I have mixed feeling about Critical Mass, that aside, seeing the images of riders cruise Detroit’s abandoned streets is quite symbolic. Like Carlsson, I think to myself ‘have we come full circle?’ Carlsson points out some interesting historical facts, that “many auto manufacturers got their start as bicycle makers, notably Dodge…” and Ford too. Critical Mass sends many messages to the community, one being that the streets are not just for cars. I find it wonderful to see not only the revival of bike ridership in Detroit, but also the solidarity between cyclists and rejuvenation of bike culture.