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Choose Your Own Utopia: What Will We Make of Driverless Cars?

Cross-posted from the Frontier Group

A century ago, a new transportation technology burst onto the scene that threatened to disrupt everything: the car.

Thinkers of the day, along with boosters of the new technology, dreamed grand dreams of the utopia it would bring. General Motors’ Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair (shown in the amazing 1940 promotional film, To New Horizons) envisioned a nation criss-crossed by broad highways engineered for “safety – safety with increased speed”; American cities that were “replanned around the highly developed, modern traffic system”; and a network of urban express highways with rights of way “so routed so as to displace outmoded business sections and undesirable slum areas whenever possible.”

Sound familiar? The vision of the future dreamed up by General Motors largely came to pass… but utopia did not follow. Missing from Futurama, as from most utopian visions, was a full understanding of the trade-offs involved — the gutting of city after city for the construction of urban freeways; the expenditure of trillions of dollars over the last half-century on the highway system; the loss of roughly a million lives to motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. since 1990 alone (so much for “safety with speed”); environmental degradation and public health damage from vehicle exhaust and fossil fuel production — the list goes on and on.

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Via Streetsblog California
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Late Late Show’s James Corden Opens Fire on Coronado Bike NIMBY’s

Mocking people who fight safe streets improvements and bike lanes is hardly a new sport. From the subtle humor of the bicyclist crashing into Stephen Colbert’s desk to Jon Stewart’s rant about Dorothy Rabinowitz and the freakout about Citibike.

If you don’t already know him, meet James Corden, host of the Late Late Show. Corden focuses on America’s Most Famous NIMBYs, the white-haired residents of Coronado who took to City Hall to stop the influx of safe street projects graffiti-ing the streets.

I’ve been a fan of Corden since he appeared in Dr. Who a couple of years ago, so I highly recommend watching the entire clip. If you can’t here are some highlights.

“The problem of too many bike lanes ranks somewhere between, ‘my new BMW’s air conditioner works a little too well,’ and ‘The Starbucks near my house doesn’t take $100 bills,'” Corden exclaims near the start of the clip.

Later, after a woman compares a plan to increase the number of bike lanes to taking her daughters to a tattoo parlor for full-body-tattoos, Corden snarks, “If you are going to town hall to complain about bike lanes, you’re kids are definitely going to get tattoos.”

But he save the best for last. After a thirty-second call to arms where he promises a ride to Coronado to paint our own bike lanes if the NIMBYs win the day, Corden channels his inner-Braveheart when he declares, “You may take our bike lanes, but you will never take our freedom…to ride in those bike lanes.”

Incidentally, if someone from the Late Late Show is reading this, and you are planning to do more on Coronado, drop me a line on Twitter @damientypes or leave a note in the comments. Let’s talk…and ride…

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Talking Headways Podcast: Louisville’s Urbanism Derby

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This week’s guest is Branden Klayko, founder of Streetsblog Network member site Broken Sidewalk, which covers transportation and urbanist issues in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville is one of the oldest American cities west of the Appalachians, and we discuss the history of the city and its urban heritage. (Is it southern? Is it in the Midwest?)  While many may know Louisville for bourbon, the Kentucky Derby, or college basketball rivalries, Branden gives us another view of the arts and culture that make the city great.

Streets-wise, there’s a lot happening in Louisville, with the coming of bike-share, the city’s focus on pedestrian and bicycle safety, and the legacy of freeway opposition in the city. Branden also reminds us of great local figures in urbanism such as Grady Clay, who was Jane Jacobs contemporary and featured in Death and Life of Great American Cities (check pages 161 and 195).

And if you’re ever in town, make sure to travel the Big Four Bridge, which proved to Louisville residents that you don’t need a car to cross the Ohio River.
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Is This a Downtown Street or a Surface Highway?

These plans for roads new downtown Indianapolis aren't much of an improvement for pedestrians. Image: Urban Indy

This is the plan for West Street in a part of Indianapolis that’s supposedly becoming more pedestrian-friendly. Image: Urban Indy

Indianapolis recently decided to convert two downtown streets — West New York and West Michigan — from one-way speedways to calmer, two-way streets. The changes should help make the city’s downtown campus area more walkable, but now it looks like the city is compensating for those traffic changes by turning another street — West Street — into even more of a surface highway.

Joe Smoker at Urban Indy was expecting that “with all of the energy devoted to pedestrian improvements, connectivity and safety, we would see the great way in which DPW is creating a more functional West Street to tie into the work on New York and Michigan.” Instead, he writes, the city is not actually tackling its legacy of creating “a confusing and frustrating one-way web of high-speed streets through our urban core.”

The plan for West Street calls for widening it so it can continue to serve as a feeder road to the interstate — and a barrier to walking. Smoker walks us through the design:

Check out this traffic pattern. The two dedicated left turn lanes on West, the ones that started at New York Street, cross over the south bound lanes of West Street creating a block long contraflow leading to an otherwise unrestricted inside turn, always works out great as a human or someone traveling by bike. The landscape medians, the small signs that life exists in this area, are otherwise obliterated and replaced with…umm…red area. Automobiles traveling southbound become the middle lanes of a traffic engineer’s boyhood dream. After getting through that mess, you will notice that we are introduced to a dedicated right turn lane from vehicles traveling east on New York Street to Southbound West Street. Don’t worry, DPW made sure it was a wide enough turn that cars need not hesitate as they motor through. Another item that always works out well for humans.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Foxx Says Plans Are Finally Moving for Hudson Rail Tunnel (NYT)
  • As DC Metro Faces Federal Oversight, Riders Say “Hell Yeah” (Progressive RR, WaPo)
  • Boehner Urged to Pass Transpo Bill Before Hitting the Road (The Hill)
  • Countdown Starts for Rail Shutdown if Congress Doesn’t Act (The Hill, Progressive RR)
  • In San Diego, Climate Plan Clashes With Transportation Plan (KPBS)
  • Public-Private Group Tackles Pittsburgh Transit Issues (WESA)
  • Will NJ Commuters Face Even More Fare Increases? (Bloomberg)
  • The Electric Bus That Could Take Over the Streets (Fast CoExist)
  • Missouri’s Katy Trail Could Expand to KC With Railway Purchase (AP)
  • How the New SunRail Stations Are Shaping Up (Orlando Biz Journal)

Will the Pope’s Visit Lead to Massive Car-Free Days in Philly?

Since Pope Francis’s visit this weekend, #pOpenstreets has become a rallying cry in Philadelphia. The hashtag has turned into a collective record of photos and insights about the surprising amount of fun and freedom that city residents enjoyed when 4.7 square miles of the city center went car-free.

The Pope's visit to Philadelphia closed the streets to cars and opened people's eyes about the city's unrealized potential. Photo: Patrick Miner at Rebuilding the Rust Belt

The pope’s visit to Philadelphia closed the streets to cars and opened people’s eyes about the city’s unrealized potential. Photo: Patrick Miner at Rebuilding the Rust Belt

Impromptu soccer games and bike rides, a lot of relaxed strolling — it’s really easy to see how much people loved this new way of interacting with their streets.

Now a grassroots group inspired by the event is pushing for more. In the past three days, the Open Streets Philly Facebook page has been “liked” 5,000 times. Locals are using that page, the hashtag, and a petition to try to push for more and bigger open streets events.

What they’re asking for is car-free streets on a scale never seen before in the U.S., but much like what happened in Paris last weekend. About 3,500 people have signed the petition, addressed to the Democratic nominee for mayor, Jim Kenney.

“Everything’s kind of open to negotiation,” said Jon Geeting, one of the organizers, who also writes at Plan Philly. “We’re asking for at least like a quadrant [of the city] — we’re asking for a pretty big thing.”

There’s a lot of momentum, including a barrage of positive press. And in the wake of #pOpenstreets the idea is gaining serious political traction. So much so that the current mayor might beat the next mayor to the punch.

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Boulder Cyclists Ride to Protest Bike Lane Removal

Yesterday's protest. Photo:

Yesterday’s protest. Photo: Moishe Lettvin

Cyclists in Boulder took to the streets yesterday to protest the City Council’s unanimous decision Tuesday night to undo a large chunk of the Folsom Street protected bike lane.

A four-to-three-lane road diet and flexible posts to separate the bike lane from traffic had been installed on a 12- to 18-month trial basis, part of what the city called its “Living Labs” initiative, aimed at increasing the city’s bicycle mode share to 30 percent by 2035. Segments of the road diet and bike lane protection will now revert to the previous design after a scant couple of months.

The removal marks only the fourth time an American city will remove a modern protected bike lane, according to People for Bikes. By most measures, the bike lane was working well. But City Council members caved to pressure from motorists who complained about slightly longer travel times.

The ride was reminiscent of some of the 2012 protests in Toronto when former Mayor Rob Ford ordered the removal of the Jarvis Street bike lane.

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Simple, Creative Ideas to Build a Better Bus Stop

Waiting for the bus can be a pain. To make transit more appealing, nothing beats frequent service, but studies have shown that if you’re going to wait, small improvements like shelters and information about when the next bus is coming can make the wait feel shorter.

A community group in Denver, Colorado raised money to post walking directions signs advising riders of nearby destinations that are a sort distance by foot. Photo: ioby

WalkDenver raised money to post wayfinding signs pointing the way to destinations within walking distance. Photo: ioby

That was a big impetus behind “Trick Out My Trip,” an initiative that helped transit riders in cities across America implement creative ideas to make the rider experience better. The project was sponsored by TransitCenter and ioby (in our backyards), a crowdsourcing platform for community improvements.

Ten grassroots teams raised a combined $54,000 for their projects, matched by $26,000 from the sponsoring organizations. Among the ideas that got funding: play equipment at transit stops for waiting children in Denver and bike repair stations at rail stops in Atlanta.

Here are a few cool examples.

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San Diego Planners Envision a Future With More Driving

When it comes to forward-looking transportation and planning policy, California is out in front of other states, with legislation that requires regional agencies to incorporate carbon reduction goals into their transportation plans. But not all regions are up to the challenge.

Gary Gallegos, head of San Diego's regional planning organization, SANDAG. Photo: Bike SD via SANDAG

Gary Gallegos, head of San Diego’s regional planning organization. Photo: Bike SD via SANDAG

San Diego seems to be having a hard time mustering the political will to adapt, as evidenced in this 2014 quote from Gary Gallegos, head of regional planning organization SANDAG.

We are not going to put everybody on a bike, we are not going to take everybody out of their car, transit is not going to work for every person in the region.

In a recent post, Sam Ollinger at Bike SD says SANDAG’s long term plans, which are up for a vote next week, set the stage for a future with more driving:

SANDAG’s own analysis shows an increase in vehicle miles traveled between now and 2050, which will increase greenhouse gas emissions. The analysis goes on to state that in order to meet the state goals of reducing the region’s greenhouse gas emissions, SANDAG needs to encourage “more compact development than a multiple dense cores scenario, further substantial increases in the cost of driving, and further substantial transit service improvements.”

This same document by SANDAG staff discusses induced demand, in that increasing roadway capacity induces driving (and thus more greenhouse gas emissions). The document also points out that congestion is good because it “may then lead to longer trips and a change in mode.” Between 2012 and 2050, SANDAG’s own analysis shows that they are planning to increase freeway capacity by an additional 1,757 miles of freeways…

To summarize, SANDAG’s own plan won’t meet the governor’s order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. SANDAG continues to build freeways and increase road capacity for drivers while failing to push for either a means to pay for driving use or provide an alternative that would induce San Diegans to shift travel modes.

Elsewhere on the Network today: All Aboard Ohio reports that if Cleveland doesn’t get an influx of cash, all or part of its rail system, which carries 40,000 daily riders, may have to be shut down. Cyclelicious reports that a Sacramento television station seems to be blaming the death of a cyclist on the state’s 3-foot passing law. And the Tri-State Transportation Campaign laments that highway projects aren’t subject to the same level of scrutiny as transit projects.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Driving in America Is Most Dangerous for People With Less Education (WaPo)
  • Gallup: People Living in Cities Most Optimistic About Economy
  • States Taking on More Debt to Build Highways (FHWA)
  • Dallas Staff Blame Peds for Skyrocketing Deaths; Council Member Blames Design (Morning News)
  • Anti-Light Rail Measure Will Stand in North Carolina Until at Least Year End (
  • CityLab: North Carolina State Lawmakers “Preempting” Local Governance
  • Las Vegas Needs Light Rail on the Same Corridor It Built a Monorail (LV Review-Journal)
  • California to Offer Poor Drivers With Unpaid Traffic Fines Amnesty (ABC News)
  • Scientists: Biking or Walking to Work Is the Best (Gizmodo)