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Posts from the "Urban Planning" Category

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Streetsblog’s Brand-New Podcast: Episode 1

Behold, Streetsblog’s brand-new podcast! In what we aim to turn into a recurring feature, Reconnecting America’s Jeff Wood and I recently chatted about the week’s news in livable streets, urbanism, and sustainable transportation. The topics are drawn from Jeff’s excellent daily compendium of transportation and planning links, The Direct Transfer, and from stories we’re tracking at Streetsblog Capitol Hill. It’s a treat for me to get back to producing audio — I was a radio reporter before joining Streetsblog.

This podcast is still very much in beta — we haven’t even settled on a name for it yet (suggestions welcome). But we want to share it with you and get your feedback and ideas about where to take it.

This week, Jeff and I discussed whether regional planning matters, the odd timing of Florida Governor Rick Scott’s decision to reject federal high-speed rail funds, and drawing fantasy maps for the transit and bike infrastructure your city needs. Have a listen, let us know what you think, and join the conversation in the comments.

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Jeff Speck: America Has So Many Problems. Walkability Solves Most of Them.

In the ineffable way of all TED talkers, urban planner Jeff Speck, author of “The Walkable City,” has made a concise, urgent, and oddly charming argument for walkability. In just under 17 minutes, Speck has articulated the economic, epidemiological, and environmental arguments to end automobile dependency and start using our feet again. It’s worth a watch (and a re-tweet). A few highlights:

  • The worst idea America has ever had is suburban sprawl, and it’s being emulated — like many American values, both good and bad — around the world.
  • We’ve doubled the number of roads in America since the 1970s — and the proportion of our household income we spend on transportation.
  • Portland went against the grain of suburban sprawl and highway expansion and has been a magnet for college-educated young people who want to live in a city that prizes biking and walking. Portland’s VMT peaked in 1996, with each person driving 11 minutes less per day now.
  • One out of three Americans is obese, a second third is overweight. “We have the first generation of children in America that are predicted to live shorter lives than their parents,” Speck said. “I believe that this American health care crisis that we’ve all heard about is an urban design crisis and that the design of our cities lies at the cure.” Studies show that obesity correlates more strongly to inactivity than to diet.

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Richard Florida: Seniors Want Vibrant, Livable Cities Too

Image: Atlantic Cities

When he settled on Miami as his designated spot to escape Toronto winters, urbanist Richard Florida said he expected “all young people with a lot of gel in their hair.” What surprised him was finding a pocket of baby boomer urbanites from cities like Washington, DC, who came to Miami for its arts, diversity and walkability.

“Everyone said the same thing: We want a little bit of warmth, but we don’t want the warm, traditional Leisureville. We want an exciting community with arts and culture and mixing,” Florida said Thursday at the AARP-hosted “Conversation on Generations,” with Atlantic editor Steve Clemons.

The wide-ranging chat between the Atlantic guys (Florida co-founded Atlantic Cities) explored the trends boomers could follow as they age — and how governments should get ready.

Right now, “too many leaders are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach,” said AARP’s Nancy LeaMond, in her introduction. Half the country’s jurisdictions, she said, aren’t preparing for the so-called “silver tsunami” of aging boomers. And that can’t be very smart when over 10,000 Americans are turning 65 every day.

Florida’s take on his peers (born in 1957, he’s on the cusp of boomerhood) is that they don’t want to live in isolated homes or communities. On a fundamental level, that means seniors are choosing to live close to good airports, quality healthcare services, and, increasingly, the homes of their children and grandkids.

But there’s more to it than that. Florida and Clemons talked about an aspect of “cool” that hasn’t been traditionally associated with aging, with boomers in many ways replicating the trends of younger generations. Florida sees a craving “for a more experiential community … with coffee bars and restaurants and music clubs and street-level vibrancy,” and a diversity of ages. Losing steam is the notion that older adults only want to venture downtown for evenings at the opera.

Boomers also seem to get that walkability is key not only to creating this “interactive potential,” he said, but also to ensuring healthier lifestyles that promote longevity.

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Bill Peduto, Rising Urbanist Star, Wins Pittsburgh Mayoral Primary

He’s a “top urban influencer.” He promoted parking reform in his campaign to become Pittsburgh’s next mayor. And on Tuesday, City Councilman Bill Peduto won the Democratic mayoral primary, making him something of a shoo-in for the city’s highest office. (Pittsburgh hasn’t elected a Republican mayor since the 1930s.)

With the election of Bill Peduto, Pittsburgh streets could soon become much more walkable and bikeable. Image: Post-Gazette

Just to give you a taste of how tuned in Peduto is to what makes a city work for walking, biking, and transit, we pulled some excerpts from a candidate interview he did with Bike Pittsburgh. Sit back and prepare to be envious.

Here’s Bill Peduto on increasing bike and transit mode share: “The best way to achieve this is to make sure that the bulk of new housing development that occurs in the city is transit oriented and is located within reasonable walking distance to a transit hub.” PennDOT has set a goal of 5 to 10 percent of trips by bicycle downtown and 5 percent of all trips under three miles, but Peduto says he thinks “we can do even better,” indicating that he’d like to see bicycle mode share as high as 10 percent. Currently, it’s at 1.4 percent citywide.

Here he is on pedestrian safety and traffic enforcement: “We’re going to get more police officers on bicycles and on foot patrols so they will have a stake in bike/ped safety.” “We also have to revisit our police policies and make sure that all of our officers are trained in bike/ped safety laws and the proper enforcement of them.”

On protected bike lanes: “We need to start to incorporate physically separated bike lanes where appropriate. We need to institute traffic calming measures.”

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A “Movement For Movement” Puts Walking Front and Center

Six weeks after my daughter was born, my midwife asked me if I was getting any exercise. I confessed I wasn’t. I hadn’t figured out a new routine that included exercise, my old activities weren’t baby-friendly, I just didn’t have the time, and I wasn’t up for anything high-impact.

She recommended I try walking for 20 minutes a day.

“Oh that,” I said. “I do that.” As a car-free family with a baby too little to ride a bike, all we ever did anymore was walk – far more than 20 minutes most days. It just hadn’t occurred to me that it counted as exercise.

This “unintentional walking,” as walkability evangelist Chris Leinberger calls it, is the key to getting more people active. At a day-long conference yesterday on pedestrian advocacy, Jane Ward of the George Washington School of Public Health made this sensible point:

We can’t be successful with the majority of the population if walking is something stuck on to a list what people are already doing. I think most people know that they should be getting more exercise, but if they think they have to make time in their already too-busy day, they’re not going to do it.

So, I think to focus on the useful walk, and walking as active transportation that should have equal consideration in transportation planning, with all other modes of transportation, is the way that we will reach the most people.

Yesterday’s conference was sponsored by a diverse group: the health care provider Kaiser Permanente, the American College of Sports Medicine, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Everybody Walk!, and America Walks. It was held at Kaiser’s DC headquarters, home to a huge, two-sided, interactive digital wall with information on walking.

Walking’s health connection can’t be overstated. “Being physically active is the most important thing all Americans of all ages and weights can do for health,” said Joan Dorn of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We recognize the benefits of all kinds of physical activity, but we picked walking as an area on which to focus because it’s something that almost all Americans can do.”

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Why It Can Be More Affordable to Live in an “Expensive” City

So, how did Washington, D.C. — widely perceived as one of the most expensive cities in the country — end up topping a “most affordable” housing list?

First and most importantly, adjust for average income levels. Then, factor in transportation costs. Using that formula, the D.C. region is tops among 25 American metro areas in a new study from the Center for Housing Policy and the Center for Neighborhood Technology that looks at the ability of moderate-income households to shoulder the burden of housing and transportation costs [PDF]. The notoriously pricey Boston and San Francisco also make it into the top six.

The joint study came up with some other surprising findings. For example, it turns out it’s more affordable to live in New York City than it is to live in Cincinnati, based on the metrics used. And in general, renters fare better than homeowners in covering their costs of living.

In all 25 cities, middle-class households spent more than half of their incomes on combined housing and transportation costs between 2000 and 2010. Miami had it worst, with housing and transportation eating up 72 percent of the average income.

The study, titled “Losing Ground,” focuses on the disparity between income levels and steadily rising housing and transportation costs. Over the decade, researchers found, for every $1 in income gains, combined housing and transportation costs rose $1.75.

“Losing Ground” follows a 2006 study from the same organizations that took the novel approach of factoring in transportation costs to gauge the affordability of different metro areas. Measuring affordable living by looking strictly at housing costs, without including transportation, “tends to mislead people,” said Scott Bernstein, president of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, in a teleconference yesterday. Gathering this information comprehensively, he said, “has profound implications for a set of policy choices.”

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Leinberger: Walkable Urbanism Is the Future, and DC Is the Model

Chris Leinberger wears too many hats to count – real estate developer, George Washington University professor, Brookings fellow – but he has one message: “Walkable urbanism is the future.”

Capital Bikeshare riders under DC's Chinatown arch. Photo: DC: The WalkUP Wake-Up Call

For years now, Leinberger has been preaching the gospel that the postwar era of automobile-oriented “drivable suburbanism” is over – and urbanism is the new wave. He’s even developed his own lingo for it: He now refers to walkable urban places as WalkUPs.

In a report released this week called DC: The WalkUP Wake-Up Call [PDF], Leinberger explores the six different kinds of “regionally significant” WalkUPs, using Washington, DC as the model. Indeed, he claims DC is the model of walkable urbanism, a pioneer of the trend.

Of the six types of WalkUPs in Leinberger’s framework, three are urban and three are suburban. Cities have the traditional downtown, “downtown adjacent” neighborhoods like Dupont Circle or Capitol Hill, and “urban commercial” areas like Adams Morgan or H Street. Suburbs have their own town centers like Bethesda, strip commercial redevelopment like White Flint, and greenfield development, like Reston.

Most growth over next 30 years will happen in strip commercial redevelopments, according to Leinberger, and at the vanguard is Tysons Corner – “the world’s largest drivable sub-urban concentration of commercial enterprises” — now on its way toward walkable, transit-oriented urbanism.

Indeed, Leinberger’s brand of urbanism largely looks outside central cities. It’s Washington’s suburbs that have really caught his attention. Of the 43 WalkUPs he identifies in the DC area, “a surprising 58 percent are in the suburbs,” comprising 51 percent of the square footage.

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CNU Hones Its Transportation Agenda in Long Beach

CNU Transportation Summit - PWPB 2012

Long Beach engineer Rock Miller, standing beside League of American Bicyclists president Andy Clarke, discussing the first test case of cycle-track facilities in the city with the CNU Bikeway Networks groups.

Preceding the start of the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference this week, the Congress for the New Urbanism met at the Renaissance Hotel across from the Long Beach Convention Center to convene their annual CNU Transportation Summit. At the summit, CNU develops its transportation agenda, including new and existing projects. Having caught the new urbanist bug in Florida at CNU 20, I was eager to have another opportunity to both learn and contribute to their dialogue.

The summit is organized in a manner similar to the “open source” sessions of the full CNU conference each year. Smaller breakout groups, with a leader for each, split off to tackle various topics in a close circle of collaboration. The summit groups included: Transit Networks, Highways to Boulevards, Transportation Reform Modeling, Regional Policy & Functional Classification Reform, Transportation Reform Research Agenda, Street Vitality Index, and Bikeway Networks. Behind many of the big ideas, reports and documents distributed by the CNU and its membership over the years, there were first small groups hashing things out together on note pads. Read more…

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The Projections Fallacy

Cross-posted from Streets.MN.

We spend billions every year in this country on our transportation network, large percentages of it based on traffic projections. This despite the fact that we have a long record of not being able to accurately project traffic. The answer isn’t better projections but a better transportation system, one that is robust to modeling error.

The projections say California's I-710 isn't wide nearly enough yet. Photo: Cameron Bevers / Can Highways

My home town newspaper recently ran the standard repeat-what-the-engineer-says article on traffic projections. Essentially, the report indicated that we’re going to be inundated with traffic. As things continue to “full build out” (it was in quotes so I’m assuming it is an engineering term), traffic is going to increase by 75 percent, an astounding amount since most locals will attest we are already drowning in traffic (we’re not, but most would attest that we are). The recommendation for dealing with all this traffic seems sensible: make some prudent investments today to acquire more land for future road expansion and then, as they are built, oversize the roads to meet this future demand.

A lot of the rationale for these projections — as well as the public’s acceptance of them — comes from the fact that growth has been robust. In fact, if you go back decades and look at the projections that were made for the present time, they are laughable in how dramatically they underestimated the amount of traffic. We projected out based on what our experience had taught us to anticipate, but we were wrong, and it cost the city a lot of money to retrofit all of the places that were inundated with cars.

This reality fits a national trend. My experience is backed up by studies demonstrating that, the higher the functional classification and the larger the traffic volumes, the greater the degree of underestimate. This correlates with work by Patron Saint of Strong Towns Thinking, Nassim Taleb, who has made the same observations of economic systems, governments, etc… (For one example, go to the 5:10 mark of this recent video.)

Amazingly, the fact the we have been so consistently wrong doesn’t make us any less confident today, either in my hometown or nationwide. We’ve “enhanced” our models now and believe we have it figured out this time, revising the data upward to reflect what we have experienced in the “real” world. This is the essence of modeling, and what else could be more rational?

Or more foolish. In these models, we’ve taken something that is unpredictable — driver behavior — and treated it as if it were actuarial science, akin to estimating life expectancy or your odds of drawing a face card when the dealer is showing fifteen. The idea behind our hubris is that, while one driver may be unpredictable, the average driver will react in a predictable way and, thus, we can model based on a normal distribution. These models are failing to account for things like consumer preference, the ability to access financing, overall market growth, cost of construction materials, gas prices, government employment levels, and on and on and on…. We assume all drivers make predictible traffic decisions. They don’t.

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Arizona DOT Study: Compact, Mixed-Use Development Leads to Less Traffic

Image: Arizona Department of Transportation

Does walkable development really lead to worse traffic congestion? Opponents of urbanism often say so, citing impending traffic disaster to rally people against, say, a new mixed-use project proposed in their backyards. But new research provides some excellent evidence to counter those claims.

A recent study by the Arizona Department of Transportation [PDF] found that neighborhoods where houses are closer together actually have freer-flowing traffic.

Researchers compared some of greater Phoenix’s denser neighborhoods – South Scottsdale, Tempe, and East Phoenix — with a few of its more sprawling ones – Glendale, Gilbert, and North Scottsdale. Some interesting patterns emerged.

In the more compact neighborhoods, the average household owned 1.55 cars, compared to 1.92 in more suburban areas. Residents of higher-density neighborhoods also traveled shorter distances both to get to work and to run errands, the study found.

The average work trip was a little longer than seven miles for higher-density neighborhoods; in the more suburban neighborhoods, it was almost 11 miles. Residents of the three compact neighborhoods traveled just less than three miles to shop, while residents of sprawling locations traveled an average of more than four miles. All of this led the more urban dwellers to travel an average of nearly five fewer miles per day than their suburban counterparts.

The density divide also played an important role in transit use. Rates varied from as high as eight percent transit ridership in high-density neighborhoods to as low as one percent in the more sprawling areas.

All of this translated into a reduced strain on roadways in the places that had more people — running counter to one of the strongest objections to mixed-use development. Comparing one suburban corridor to two of the streets in the more dense neighborhoods, the study found that on the more urban streets, traffic congestion was “much lower,” or about half as high (measured by the ratio of the capacity of the roadway to the actual volume of cars on it).

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