Thursday, September 30, 2010

SFpark Project

SFpark Overview from SFpark on Vimeo.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Central Challenge to Transportation: a 15 Minute Writing Exercise

The central challenge for transportation is a variety of things. A major challenge is coping with sprawling developments in order to take advantage of alternative transportation and density. Land use and transit go hand in hand. To achieve a sustainable infrastructure – developments must cluster to allow a variety of transportation modes. Sprawling development supports automobile dependence and vice versa. People desire high levels of accessibility supported by their complex life styles.

Automobiles do not necessarily equal transportation. Although, automobiles may superficially provide freedom to citizens, in actuality citizens are burdened by their automobile dependence and sprawl induced development. Automobile costs are significantly expensive when factoring in payments, maintenance and insurance. Often, these costs provide a barrier for low income or minorities. Continuing to invest in an automobile dependent society leaves these citizens in exile with few modes and means to find employment.

The issues facing transportation are increasingly complex. A major challenge for transportation are traffic and congestion issues. The frequent saying goes something like, “time is money.” Consider all the money sitting in rush hour on the interstate closest to you. And it is not just the cost of inconvenience, think of all the goods that are also sitting bound up on the interstate to nowhere. The current situation is dominated by the automobile and lacks a sense of balance. The dependence on oil and foreign production is unsustainable and quickly depleting. Our health also dwindles as obesity rates rise along with diabetes, asthma and other illnesses related to automobile pollution, including deaths and injuries from automobile induced accidents. There are social impacts and limitations for those without access to alternative transportation methods. The considerable lack of cooperation and collaboration is “driving” us to few alternatives. Transportation is a right, not a privilege.

Walmart “Neighborhood Market” Simply a Façade

Knowing how Walmart treats its employees, that its business model has wreaked havoc on local small businesses, and that the majority of its products come from over seas with little quality – the “Neighborhood Market” concept is not tempting me. Walmart is still Walmart and at the end of the day, any purchase is contributing to the machine. Walmart is still catering to suburban auto-dependent clientele, which is typical, and painting with a wide brush, then throwing the term “urban” and “marketplace” to lure in customers. There is nothing different here. And, I am not letting the New Urbanist façade and small scale fool me. For more information, see Kaid Benfield's post.

Photo Courtesy of Sixstep's Flickr

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

HOT Lane – Making Interstate 680 Sexy in the Bay Area

The Bay Area’s first express lane will be unveiled next Monday. The 14 miles express lane will start at Highway 84 in Sunol and end at Highway 237 in Milpitas, operating from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Motorists will have a one mile warning before entering the lane, and tolls are announced prior to entry. The lane allows single occupancy vehicles to travel with those carpooling for a fluctuating toll based on congestion. Tolls will range from “a minimum of 30 cents when traffic in the other lanes is light to a maximum of whatever it takes to keep traffic flowing at 50 mph or faster. Express lane officials estimate that cost will average $4 to $6.

The HOT Lane is only separated from traffic by two white lines painted on the pavement. There will be a few designated entrance and exit points as well as California Highway Patrol watching for violators. If vehicles are found in the lane without a transmitter, police will pull the vehicle over - “citations start at $381 and vary by city and county.”

The lane provides drivers with an option. Mark Green, Union City mayor and chairman of the Alameda County Transportation Commission adds, "If you're late to a job site, if you're late picking up your kids, if you're late getting to Little League baseball practice. It's a tremendous opportunity for people."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How much is a bus line worth?

With MTA’s recent transportation cuts in New York City, property values are taking a hit. In an article by the Wall Street Journal, one real estate agent in Astoria said apartments that “easily sold for $500,000 with the express bus nearby are now languishing on the market at prices about $420,000.” That is an $80,000 decrease, multiply that along the potential length of the route and the result is a huge financial impact – an amount far greater than the cost of maintaining the line.

MTA does not reap any rewards from the surrounding property value, atleast on the balance sheet. Stephen Smith points out in Internalizing Transit Externalities, that at “the turn of the century, when America’s great mass rail-based transit systems were being built, they were often built by developers who had large stakes in land around their stations.” Also, he adds that Japan and Hong Kong are backtracking and investing in land around their transportation hubs to generate high ridership. It is unlikely that the rail in NYC will become privatized. However, private bus services are trying to make a comeback and deemed a “palatable stepping stone.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Exploring the National Infrastructure Bank

C-Span interview with Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program. Interview answers tough questions on the newly proposed National Infrastructure Bank and calls for the depoliticizing of the national transportation system.

Unveiling the Ergonomic Crosswalk

A new crosswalk design was proposed at the Seoul International Design Competition based on pedestrian behavior. Pedestrians rarely cross streets in a straight line and to provide for their safety, Jae Min Lim designed the curving ergonomic crosswalk. (Pictured here courtesy of Design Boom.) With the advent of the complete streets movement, it is important to understand how each user interacts with their space. Acknowledging how pedestrians approach and then cross a street could have major impacts on design and safety. In his article, Mathew Roth notes “These new designs begin to reflect a new consideration in street design, where cars are not the primary consideration, but people and public spaces are valued as much as movement of vehicles.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Argument for “More Transit = More Jobs”

Transportation Equity Network’s (TEN) latest report “More Transit = More Jobs” created quite a stir this past week with commentary ranging from Transportation for America, two fellows at National Resource Defense Council, Streetsblog and a whole host of others via world wide web. Kaid Benfield with NRDC chimes in “People take for granted that “shovel-ready” highway projects create jobs. But investment in public transportation may be even more effective in generating employment.” Streetsblog even boldly titles their article “Report: Investing in Transit Could Create 180,000 Jobs, for Free.” In an era where nothing is free, how does investing in transportation actually create jobs?

TEN’s report first ranks metro areas by percentage of transit spending then proposes shifting 50% of the current highway spending to fund transit projects. New jobs would be created by bolstering the alternative transportation sector and further supported by a new Transportation Authorization Act. TEN’s report concludes with six case studies analyzing: Honolulu, Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul, St. Louis, Denver, and Portland job creation potential.

On John Horner’s NRDC blog, he supports the new usage of funds and provides this example for the Bay Area improvement.

If the San Francisco Bay Area (which, as a percentage of total transportation spending, already spends above the national average on transit) were to shift 50% of its highway dollars to transit, we'd see a net increase of 23,264 jobs over five years. That's more than 20,000 just by shifting around money we're already committed to spending (i.e. No New Money!).

This is not just about transportation spending. A new study from the Michigan Department of Transportation shows “that for every 10 jobs created in the public transit sector, six additional jobs are created in the rest of the economy.” Sounds like a plan, what next?

Deconstructing an Interstate, The Claiborne Expressway

“The timing… should be perfect,” claims Neil Peirce, a member of the Washington Post Writers Group. In his recent article, Time To Accelerate Freeway Teardowns?, Peirce dives into New Orleans’ desire to deconstruct the Claiborne Expressway. Along with the Center for New Urbanism (CNU), citizens alike want to deconstruct the dilapidated 2.2 miles of elevated expressway bifurcating their city.

The portion considered for demolition is a spur highway and nonessential. The elevated Claiborne Expressway was constructed over the once culturally vibrant Old Claiborne Avenue. With its construction, business suffered and communities on either side segregated. Old Claiborne Avenue linked walkable neighborhoods and had a tree shaded median. Businesses flourished from 132 in 1960 and then dwindled alongside the interstate to a mere 35 in 2000. And typical of elevated roadways, “poverty and decay reigned, the stark expressway section creat(ed) a hostile no-man’s land around it.”

The Claiborne Expressway is aging and many are analyzing the costs and benefits to maintain the infrastructure. $50 million are needed just to repair the interchange ramps. The choice to deconstruct elevated interstates may become more prevalent as they approach their 50-year lifespan and financial support dwindles. The co-chair of the Claiborne Corridor Improvement Association, Jack Davis says “elevated roadways… are far more expensive to maintain than surface boulevards.” Not to mention the social costs of a deteriorated community. In research provided by the CNU, “regular urban grids, minus the expressways, raise property values, increase mobility, restrain sprawl, and make for far more successful cities.”

The CNU’s Highways to Boulevards Initiative is also examining the take down of ten interstates including:
1. Alaskan Way Viaduct, Seattle, WA
2. Sheridan Expressway, Bronx, NY
3. The Skyway and Route 5, Buffalo, NY
4. Route 34, New Haven, CT
5. Claiborne Expressway, New Orleans, LA
6. Interstate 81, Syracuse, NY
7. Interstate 64, Louisville, KY
8. Route 29, Trenton, NJ
9. Gardiner Expressway, Toronto, ON
10. 11th Street Bridges and the Southeast Freeway, Washington D.C.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Personal Cost of Owning a Vehicle

D.C.StreetsBlog examines the True Cost of Cars. Owning a vehicle is a major financial undertaking with upfront, insurance, maintenance and hidden costs. “By 2009, the average purchase price of a new vehicle was over $27,000.” Not to mention the interest paid by financing or other costs. Maintaining a vehicle is the 2nd highest expense for households and sometimes outweighs the mortgage or rent. Car ownership is often presented as providing an idealized sense of freedom, but in these harsh economic times, individuals are crippled with the outlandish costs.

Dealerships are known to prey on those less educated in the market. For instance, in the example provided by D.C.StreetsBlog, “A used car lot… advertised a 6-year-old Hyundai for $9,000 while the actual Blue Book value, more likely to be paid by middle class car buyers, was $2,880.” And granted, the buyer should scope the competition and do the research, but this is a major price hike, and should be considered gouging.

Likewise, car insurance can create an incredible burden for low income citizens, especially those residing in African American communities. In 2005, a survey of three large insurers “found that drivers with clean driving records in some African American communities paid nearly $1,000 more per year than did drivers with similar records living in predominantly white zip codes.” D.C.StreetsBlog further illustrates the outrageous prices stating “Car owners living in some low income areas of Los Angeles can be charged as much as $3,500 per year for insurance.” Some vehicles are not even worth that much and in order to drive, insurance is required.

Better save your money to maintain your vehicle. According to the Department of Energy, the typical two-car household drove 20,000 miles last year. With the assumption that both vehicles were mid-size sedans, and the cost of driving estimated at 73 cents per mile provided by AAA, their total cost was $14,600 for one year! “In a lifetime of car ownership, an American family will likely “invest” almost $1 million in its vehicles.”

Lastly there are the additional hidden costs to car ownership such as “tax bills for road-building, oil and car company subsidies and bailouts, local police and rescue services… costs of road congestion… or the oil-protection services of the U.S. military in the Middle East and elsewhere.” D.C.StreetsBlog makes a critical argument, one worth standing behind, that as the car companies continue to lay off workers and take bailout money, their CEO’s reap high rewards “GM’s just-resigned Ed Whitacre made $9 million last year while Ford’s Alan Mulally pulled in just under $18 million,” for instance. The disparity between the wealthiest Americans and the bottom half of the economic curve continues to grow leaving many who “can’t live with the car and they can’t live without it.”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dead Man Walking Infograph

Lived in 3, worked in 1, hit by car once and lived to tell. Why does walking and cycling mean "taking your life into your own hands?"

Renewing and Expanding America’s Roads, Railways, and Runways

In President Obama’s Labor Day Speech yesterday, he announced a $50 billion plan for “Renewing and Expanding America’s Roads, Railways, and Runways” to construct and maintain 4,000 miles of rail among other transportation upgrades to aviation, freight and roadways.

Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow at Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program, wonders if President Obama’s approach is enough “given the poor state of our transportation network today, our overall investment needs, and the urgency of repairing our broken policy apparatus.” Puentes notes that the transportation discussion this year is different, mainly in terms of the high unemployment rate in the construction sector topping 27% in February and still an outrageous 17% this month. Global competitiveness is also spurring action as the U.S. falls behind other nations modernizing their infrastructure: China, Germany, India and Brazil.

There is not a shortage of great ideas, Puentes continues, the shortcoming stems from long-term reliable investments and sources for funding. Puentes agrees with Transportation for America in the need to establish a long-term transportation bank for the future to jump start new initiatives and repair existing systems. Benefits continue on a temporary basis not suited to maintain our systems. Via the handy counter, located on the Transportation for America website, approximately 342 days, 14 hours and 30 minutes have passed since the last transportation law expired. Transportation for America notes, “The alternative is gridlocked cities, stranded rural residents, hampered freight delivery and continued over-reliance on increasingly hard-to-get oil supplies.” And Puentes calls for a “frank conversation” over funding, bluntly stating “A jump start now is no good if we stall again down the road.”

Monday, September 6, 2010

In Cheap We Trust

In Mary Newsom’s, Losing sight of what matters in America, Do we value ‘value’ or just value ‘cheap’? She expounds upon our eroding culture, government systems, quality, lack of customer service etc. Something we could all relate to. But would all this have happened had we collectively maintained our values?

Value is defined as some thing of relative worth, merit or importance.

I could go in many directions with this piece, but what floors me most is the comment from johnsonrv stating people that make more money deserve the income because they have “spent their time in school, COMPETING for high grades, competing for the next promotion or business opportunity and staying away from the things that would distract them from their goals…”

I have a difficult time understanding this person’s opinion considering I know many individuals who have worked hard for their educations, competed for their jobs and make approximately $20k a year. I do not understand how the value of hard work is associated with high income. Is sitting behind a computer all day at a corporate job necessarily hard labor? There are plenty of dirtier jobs out there full of competition johnsonrv. He continues, “Again for the most part, they didn't become a 'have' by whining about their position (in) life when things didn't go their way. They did something about it….” Not to sound trite, but it seems johnsonrv is the only one wining here and he considers himself a ‘have’.

I have a lot in life, I certainly do not make six figures and I am not complaining about it. The richness in life is not provided by income and that is my value. Some people are dealt a poor hand unfortunately, those people still deserve a fair shot at great schools for their children and access to park lands etc. I am not sure when prejudice became so prevalent – that a person is worth what they work in society, I think is a terribly poor outlook in life and appears similar to the caste system. Until we realize as a society that we are no better (and no worse) than the homeless person on 2nd Avenue, we will continue to have the sharply contrasting partisan views that are truly corrupting the nation.

And someone reading this might wonder what it has to do with transportation?! Similar prejudice is applied to those residing in communities with inadequate transportation modes. If you were an undereducated person looking for a job and lacked the means to travel to the major economic center in your area, your options for employment are limited. People making minimum wage and even well above that struggle to make ends meet some deemed well educated and competitively worthy no doubt. They may be limited by location and affordability of housing or the complete erosion of our transportation systems. Either way, their opportunities for economic mobility and success are limited and largely out of their control.

How Interstates changed the Nation: 1-95

NPR recently completed a series of articles exploring Interstate I-95 which is the longest highway traveling North to South in the United States. In just a few short articles, NPR examines how the 1,920 mile interstate influences cuisine and migrant work culture as well as the interstate’s future. Here is an interesting interactive piece provided by NPR.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dark omen for Atlanta?

The boom and then bust of manufacture-based economies and now the crash of service-based industries, how will cities like Atlanta fare? A piece provided by the Economist examined just a few concerns for the city’s future including: growth rate, looming water shortage, and pending highway plans. “All of which makes me wonder whether Atlanta is simply approaching a point beyond which it cannot efficiently grow.”

Being a native Atlantan, the days of efficient growth have long since passed. The traffic was unbearable over fifteen years ago and a once striking skyline has surrendered to the automobile induced haze. Looming above the aging streets are full buildings deemed vacant. Adding lane upon lane to the already hemorrhaging infrastructure did little to curb the drivers commuting twenty-five miles or more outside of the city. The list could go on. Not to over simplify the problems, but these issues mainly stem from past cultural choice. When gas prices rise to over $4 a gallon again, Atlanta will face a different gridlock, one were cars never leave the garage.

What is your Transit Score?

Designed as an expansion to Walk Score, Transit Score measures your connection to alternative transportation modes. The web based application also provides the transportation costs for your community. Currently, Transit Score is available for 40 U.S. cities.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

More Cyclists = Safer Roads

Study in Montreal finds that more cyclists make for safer roads. Safety in numbers for sure. More cyclists on the road increase visibility and helps change the cultural dynamics between driver and cyclist.

I could not agree more. I have only been in Davis for a few hours now and have already seen two young girls unattended riding along, probably going home from school. Later I saw a large pack of middle schoolers high tail it off school property and into the H Street bike tunnel. The safety here in Davis is largely in part due to the increased awareness brought on by such a mass of cycling behavior.