Skip to content

Recent Comments



    I wonder if they relied ion bus schedules or real travel times during commuting periods, accounting for the delays in transfers that invariably occur because our buses run in mixed traffic . . .


    Aaron Priven

    Considering how generally sprawl-y San José is, I’m surprised.



    There’s plenty of vacant and underutilized land (two-three story buildings and parking garages) in the loop at the moment and then to the fringes to the south and west there is a fair amount of vacant land and quite a bit of new office construction as well as conversion of older industrial buildings to office use.



    The gap in Cal is also partly due to seismic resonance of 7-12 story structures. Those have to be build far stronger to the forces as seismic waves move up and down the structure.



    Paris’s suburbs were designed by modernists and are filled with high-rises. They would be more livable if they were designed in a traditional style and limited to six stories.

    For information about one Paris suburb where people love to live, see
    It is working out very well for the people in the Paris suburb of Le Plessis-Robinson



    Nice faux would-be intellectual condescension, there!

    Only oooBooo understands the secrets to the universe! Bike infrastructure = conspiracies!

    Reminds me of Dan Maes’s totally-sane insistence that bikeshare in Denver is the first step towards UN Domination. Of Denver. Because…bikes.

    If only everyone else could see the light!



    Change is really hard for some people.

    But the bikelash sometimes may be occurring precisely because it has successfully brought in new people to the fold:



    Wood frame construction is cheaper, so in the name of affordability, we should be allowing a ton of low-rise wood construction. But limiting cities, especially large cities, to 6 stories is bad… just ask anyone living in Paris’s suburbs how it’s working out for them.



    I’ve heard about the “gap” between 75′ tall wood frame & steel/concrete high-rise, but I think it’s only applicable in California, where seismic detailing requirements make steel/conc construction significantly more expensive. In places where seismic loads are lower, you can get away w/ more precast concrete & plain bolted steel connections, so mid-rise buildings are perfectly feasible.



    Of course, developers in Manhattan build high-rises on 50′-75′ lots…



    The new downtown neighborhoods in Vancouver, B.C. are a good example of height (20-30 stories) with amenity. They require that residential towers include “ground=based” (ground floor entered) housing, they require setbacks at various heights, and they provide high quality public space on the street. If you plan and design a tall building as part of the urban fabric, rather than as a freestanding sculpture or beacon, it can work.



    As I thought, oooBoo.

    When all you can muster is repeating what you’ve already said, including your intellectually lazy references to platitudes, it is once again time to stick a fork in you – you’re obviously done.



    The conventional thinking is that taller buildings do more to limit environmental impact, while the Paris model provides a more attractive city with a better quality of life.

    But it is not necessarily true that high-rises are superior environmentally. Michael Mehaffy points out that:

    The research shows that negative effects of tall buildings include:
    —Increasingly high embodied energy of steel and concrete per floor area, with increasing height
    —Relatively inefficient floorplates due to additional egress requirements
    —Less efficient ratios of common walls and ceilings to exposed walls/ceilings
    (compared to a more low-rise, “boxier” multi-family form — as in, say,
    central Paris)
    —Significantly higher exterior exposure to wind and sun, with higher resulting heat gain/loss

    He also points out these effects on adjoining properties:
    —Ground wind effects
    —Shading issues (especially for other buildings)
    —Heat island effects — trapping air and heating it, placing increased demand on cooling equipment
    —”Canyon effects” — trapping pollutants, reducing air quality at the street

    We tend to think high-rises are environmentally superior because they reduce sprawl and reduce the need for transportation, but the Paris model does this almost as well. Mehaffy concludes that, if we also take into account their negative environmental impacts, more precise quantitative studies are needed to determine whether high-rises are environmentally superior to the Paris model.

    Mehaffy summarizes these issues at

    I would add that the Paris model is often more acceptable politically. If we identify smart growth with high rises, there is a danger of turning people against smart growth.

    If typical suburbanites hears that a Parisian neighborhood might be built on the land of a nearby shopping center, they are likely to welcome it.

    If they hear that buildings like those sterile glass towers in Arlington are going to be build on a nearby shopping center, they are likely to think that this is just what they moved to the suburbs to get away from. If this is smart growth, then they will go with electric cars.

    Those glass towers in Arlington look like they also use more energy because of high heat-gain and heat loss. Even with double-paned glass and modern coatings, there is more heat gain and loss through windows than through solid, insulated walls.

    Of course, you could also build high-rises with solid walls and smaller windows, but it is revealing that this article discusses those Arlington buildings without considering heat gain and loss. It shows that high-rise advocates consider only a subset of the environmental issues involved.



    Wood-frame construction brings its own issues, though – most allow a ton of noise to transmit between floors and walls (footfall, conversation, television noise, stereos, etc). Working families with young children do not want to be subjected to the noise of their neighbors 24/7. Who wants to work all day, pick up a kid from child care, and come home to dinner while being subjected to a neighbor’s stereo system coming through the wall? The required sound transmission factor in our local building codes are simply too lenient. I’m not even getting into the issue of window thickness requirments and street noise (car alarms)?

    This is absolutely a factor that drives urban families into single family homes in the burbs. Once these shoddy buildings go up, developers leave town and the community is stuck with them for generations.



    Here’s another consideration, you can build a 2 to 6 story building on a much smaller lot. However, to build a highrise you have to assemble quite a bit of property. Unless you have a parcel large enough, you will never get the height. A lot of buildings currently in Chicago along business streets are already 2 to 4 stories high. So depending upon the neighborhood, buying a 2 to 4 story building, tearing it down and then building up 6 stories does not make a lot of economic sense unless the building is in one of the hot areas. At most, many of these buildings/parcels are 50 to 75 feet wide and at a depth of 125 to 150 feet.

    So you either have to go the route of assembling quite a few parcels to get a large enough parcel to build a highrise or you keep things the way things are, or you buy the parcel, tear it down and get a few more units.


    Scott Adams

    Building height is also dictated by materials and their costs. Developers tend to prefer buildings that are less than 75 feet tall (wood-frame construction, 6 stories @ 12′/story) or greater than 180 feet tall (steel-frame construction, 15 stories @ 12′/story). Given these construction material constraints, any building between 75′ and 180′ tends to be a money-loser, as you’re paying for steel-frame construction, but not getting enough stories/units of space to recoup costs.

    Wood-frame construction buildings, at 2-6 stories tall, are much more feasible from a cost and community-acceptance standpoint in most American cities and suburbs outside of glass-and-steel CBDs.



    Fungible is irrelevant. The oil is useless unless sold for $. If the USA burns oil but ISIS never sells a drop, you’re still railing against the USA. So this is nothing but some irrational USA-derangement syndrome.



    Instead we have these tasty visions of Paris. As for unappealing suburbs. Unless the city works to improve its school system, there will be a constant turn over in young parents heading for the burbs, once the discover that the can’t afford private schools, pay the mortgage and save for college if the can’t get their children into one of better selective enrollment schools in the city.

    Lastly, getting a large amount of suburban employers to return to the city is also an issue. A lot of prime office space in downtown Chicago went condo over the last few years. The central core will soon be out of prime office space. Where will these jobs locate? That again is never discussed. And while Manhatten has a history of families living in highrises, gaining acceptance for raising a family in either highrise or low rise may be a tougher sell beyond New York.



    Using Arlington, VA as an example of urbanism that can be a blue print for everywhere else cracks me up. Only if you’re in a high paid professional will you be living there.

    In Chicago, yes there are lots of three/four story buildings along business streets that could be converted to housing on the upper floors. In fact many of these buildings have apartments over the first floor busineses. But, certainly these older buildings would need significant rehab to attract the younger crowds that expect their marble counter tops, walk in closets, air conditioning and elevators. By the time you get done rehabing a 10 unit building, you may have six attractive apartments. But many of the older buildings are built on zero lot line, from sidewalk to alley. Yeah, give them a deck on the roof then.

    But what to do with the former tenants of the smallish apartments that currently live in these buildings? That’s never included in any of these discussions.



    No you haven’t. You repeat platitudes.



    Height is almost irrelevant. The most important factor is how the building relates to the street. Does it have high transparency at ground level? Does it have frequent entrances and small shops? Are the entrances at the sidewalk level (ideal) or a few feet above (poor design)? When you’re walking next to a building, you rarely notice anything over a few stories anyways.



    I don’t know about maps, but I know MANY people don’t bike due to lack of signage. If you vaguely know it’s theoretically possible to take a path or lower-traffic route, but the entrance to that route is nowhere near main boulevards and hidden in a residential area, you’re not going to take the path. Signage is hugely important!


    Larry Littlefield

    FYI outside of Manhattan below 110th Street, New York is overwhelming a 2-3 (narrow side street) and 6-7 (wide street) story city, because that’s the way you maxed out the pre-1961 zoning.

    The 1961 zoning encouraged “towers in the park.”

    All the rezonings since have sought to undo it, and get back to the 2-3 and 6-7 story buildings.



    I was just in Boulder for several days. They are leaps and bounds ahead of San Francisco in bike amenities, and B-Cycle (their bike share system) was everywhere I wanted to go.

    I think I put more miles on B-Cycle in less than a week than I have on Bay Area Bike Share in over a year of being a member.

    Drivers were polite to a fault, and seemed to drive slower in general than I would expect.

    As to bike helmets, most of the motorcyclists there weren’t wearing them, so who would expect a bicyclist to go out of their way to do so?

    The contra-flow protected bike lane on 13th was beautiful and felt safe. Better than Polk from Market to City Hall in San Francisco.

    In dense (relative term) areas there were bike lanes, and along arterials in more suburban areas there were multi use paths.

    Sounds like I’m doing a sales pitch. Hopefully the SFMTA is reading.


    C Monroe

    Those sidewalks in the picture do look sterile and boring. Reminds me of 70′s planning with a little 80′s architectural flare.



    I don’t see anything meaningfully wrong with height, but things like that Central Place monstrosity pretty much nail every no-no of urban architecture. It’s fugly, mall-like, has no intimacy, dominates the streetscape, and (maybe not this one, but this often applies) makes a lot of space for parking and cars.

    DC is pretty low-scale, but its City Beautiful (before there was City Beautiful?) obsession with lawns and spacious streets ended up making it the perfect doormat for the car culture that burgeoned in Virginia and Mayland suburbs. Therefore, its walkability is rather horrendous for a city its age.



    I believe it depends on your end goal. If it’s limiting your environmental footprint, then setting firm boundaries (or having them set for you like Manhattan’s waterfront) and building up as needed is ideal. If your goal is quality of life, I think on most indicators the then lower-rise buildings like in DC, Paris and even L.A. provide opportunities that Manhattan density doesn’t.

    However, Jan Gehl was on to something when he focused on ‘life between buildings.’ To achieve livable streets, its the design and programming of what lies between building lines that is truly important, regardless of how tall the buildings themselves are.



    Benfield isn’t a planner – he’s an attorney. I don’t see any evidence that he worked as a planning practitioner at any point in his career.

    That said, I think he’s right. I would not employ high rise residential development in Manhattan as a model of appropriately scaled, livability density. These types of developments have a tendency to overwhelm their own infrastructure – from sidewalks, to transit, to the viewshed, and more. Manhattan may have 1.5 million people in it at any one time, but it’s also a tremendously transient place that is really sui generis among major cities in the US.

    I recommend reading “A Pattern Language”, as it really covers the topic of planning, design, and how they can interface with the public realm in a way that is compatible with human psychology in great depth.



    Excellent article. I’d love to see more from Streetsblog that covers and reviews density/height/place-making projects.



    I’ve already answered your question, oooBooo. In your rush to ignore the questions you’ve been asked, you’ve apparently missed it.

    Perhaps you can go back to find the answer. While you do that, see if you can finally muster an answer to the questions I’ve presented that actually do remain unanswered.


    C Monroe

    Arlington is not really a suburb(even though technically it is). It is closer to the central business district(national mall) than many part of the inner city.


    Scott Bonjukian

    Well said! Seattle is currently wrestling with this concept, even with low-rise apartment buildings popping up in the single family neighborhoods that make up two-thirds of the city’s land.



    It’s nearing the end of 2014 when Amtrak announced the new baggage cars equipped for bike storage. Any updates? Want to do this June 2015 and we are hoping it will be up and running by then.



    First off, I love this podcast. Many thanks to Tanya and Jeff for taking the time and effort to put together this thought-provoking resource and for offering it to me (essentially) free of charge. I’m not a transportation person or a planning person by trade (I work in public health), so I’ve learned a great deal about transit & planning issues from this podcast. I have found their approach to be informative, challenging at times (in a good way) and accessible.

    Secondly, I’m glad they brought up the topic of age and transit in the most recent podcast. I support their desire to extend the conversation beyond the Millenial generation. I, for one, would love to hear more about the ways in which national and global demographics influence transit usage (whenever they cover issues related to transit and planning in relation to age, race, poverty, etc. I find myself particularly engaged).

    Finally, I (respectfully) think the last podcast may have missed a little bit of an opportunity. I felt that, in an effort to present the ‘alternative’ viewpoint that focuses attention explicitly on millenials, Tanya set up a bit of a false choice: that we should focus on millenials because they’re the future and they’ll be around for years to come whereas baby boomers are going to start dying off pretty soon. The fact of the matter is, baby boomers are going to be around and influencing the economy for a long time to come – maybe not for as many decades as the millenials, but certainly for decades.

    At one point in the podcast Tanya said that the focus on millenials “helps us”, which I took to mean that it promotes an agenda that is pro-transit and pro-walkability. It seems to me that an age-inclusive approach could view the aging of the boomers as being inherently pro-transit and pro-walkability, as well. I don’t just mean the “bohemian” boomers who may choose to buy a loft downtown because they identify with the ethos of new urbanism. I mean all boomers – peeople who need to get around and who will, eventually, have to retire from driving. Walkable spaces with access to usable transit is good for people who can’t drive for health reasons, as well as people who don’t drive for economic or political reasons.

    This gets to a broader point, which is that the baby boomers are just the beginning. Our country is undergoing a gradual demographic change known as population aging – in which there will be more older adults relative to younger adults and children. Population aging will influence things in many ways (from public finance to the types of products being purchased to the delivery of social services). And it won’t end with the baby boomers because once population aging is here, it will be here to stay for a long time. For instance, millenials will eventually be – like the baby boomers are now – a huge cohort of individuals about to retire. A transit system that meets the needs of aging baby boomers will probably meet the needs of aging millenials, too.

    This all gets at the concept of universal design – designing products and environments that meet the needs of the greatest number of possible users.
    I think the point Tanya and Jeff were both ultimately getting at is: if the goal is to shift our society’s focus to more sustainable forms of transportation and development, why focus on age when good design works well for everyone? This is the essence of universal design. And, in light of the fact that so much of these transportation decisions are made by political officials (on some level or another), it seems logical that a bigger umbrella is going to be more successful than a movement arbitrarily divided along age (or any other) lines.

    Thanks, again, to Tanya and Jeff for a great podcast. And I welcome any comments.



    As opposed to what happens every day on the East Bay Bike path? That Bike Path supports walkers, runner, boarders, skaters, strollers etc all without issue. I guess only time will tell.



    Bikers zigzagging around the pedestrians. How wonderful. This could’ve been designed better.



    In Oregon. 2% of land is developed. Try again.



    I’m curious why researchers from Salt Lake City would look at Portland rather than Salt Lake City, which also has light rail lines and TOD?

    Salt Lake’s light rail system is pretty fantastic, btw.



    I guess since the round in Beaverton went bad, we should all give up on govt-subsidized TODs and revert to good ol fashioned sprawl. Until all the flat land in the country is one big suburb, except for New York and Chicago and places like that I dunno. But hey walmart and Safeway paid for the roads.



    Oh, yes. Since you stated “recent”, I assumed you meant “recent”, when you meant “two years ago”. Nonetheless, they require the developer to pay for all improvements. Generally, when the improved road is turned over to the city or state, maintenance falls to that receiving entity.

    Here, for example, Walmart has built a new store, and they’re paying for road improvements including signalization. It’s pretty common. The development itself is not subsidized, which I believe was the point behind my original comment.

    By contrast, light rail and streetcar lines are entirely subsidized, as are the developments that they supposedly “spur”.


    Jym Dyer

    @MaxRedline – According to the PennDOT website the project started in Fall 2012, which suggests some amazing prescience about those June 2014 storms.



    Hi, PN: you may be unaware of this, but crime associated with the MAX line to Gresham got so bad that the mayor there devoted city police resources to patrol the area along the line. In Rockwood, we used to have a Fred Meyer center (with a dozen or so ancillary stores). All of those shut down within a few years of the light rail line going live. They cited increased thefts and assaults. A few years later, the Safeway closed, citing identical reasons.



    High winds and severe storms ripped through the area.

    - June, 2014.

    That explains the “recent work on SR 228″. Anything else?


    Jym Dyer

    @MaxRedline – Cranberry benefits from the infrastructure in adjacent Allegheny County, originally U.S. Rt. 19 and more recently, Interstate I79, plus the I279 spur that brings its retail customers up from Pittsburgh. These were of course built with piles of taxpayer money, not to mention the properties taken away by eminent domain. Cranberry has an I79 offramp to Walmart that was built at public expense following a typical Walmart threat to move somewhere else. The recent work on State Route 228 in Cranberry was paid for with state revenues, not by developers.



    Texas makes the developer build the roads, the sewage, the water, the electrical, then incorporate into a municipal utility district.

    Pennsylvania, Cranberry Township requires the developer to pay for all improvements (including increased traffic) prior to approving plans.

    Lazy Lefty, aren’t you Jym? The mating call of the lazy Lefty with no argument is: “citation needed”.


    Jym Dyer

    @MaxRedline – Research, you say? Some citations would be helpful to dispel my supposed ignorance. I shall await them with bated breath.



    Affected. Affect is the act of doing something to somebody, of having something done to you. Effect is the thing that is done.



    I urge everyone who reads this that lives in the effected (a or e, I can never recall) areas to submit a public comment.



    By “Max on the Eastside”, which line(s) are you referring to? I’d like to compare them against Google street view or other photographs to see if I can get an idea of how they look.



    That is an interesting article and I will read it. I am open to changing my theory based on facts. But before you get so rude, remember that for years the data pointed towards stronger growth in Washington County. This may be a lasting or temporary change in the trend. It should be noted that Boeing Gresham,, Nike and Intel etc have big capital investments and are less likely to move than the satelittle offices of software comapnaies opeing up in Portland.

    I am open to facts. Let’s see if the trend lasts. Where do you think we are in the economic cycle?

    Hopefully Portland won’t crater when real estate and high tech go through their periodic downturns. Intel will lay people off- but not pull up stakes. AirBnB etc- they can move easily if something changes. That’s my concern for Portland- that it is a house of cards.