Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Another reiteration of the soundness of my recommendations: DC's Central Library

Since 2001, revitalization of DC's Central Library, the Martin Luther King Junior Library on G Street NW in Downtown DC (pictured at left) has been a top of mind issue.
  • The Downtown Action Plan of 2001 recommended that the library be expanded into a premier cultural asset for the city.
  • A few years later it was suggested that the current library be abandoned for a new building as part of what is now CityCenter DC.  Many people opposed the move because it called for a smaller library and there was a lack of trust that the city would follow through.
  • A few years ago, the library system did a put up job, commissioning a study by the Urban Land Institute who accepted the scope given to them that a renovated library could happen, but should be smaller, and could involve mixing unrelated commercial or residential space within the building footprint.
  • Afterwards they commissioned a study to see if this were possible.
  • And then had a design competition to further elucidate the concepts and to pick a winner, which is Mecanoo, designer of the Library of Birmingham in the UK and the Dudley Square Municipal Building (which I wrote about here, "Public buildings as vehicles for community improvement (continued)") among others.  
I argued against mixing unrelated use, but have no problem with mixing for profit uses related to media, communications, publishing, education, and culture and laid out the argument here ("Civic assets and mixed use: Central Library edition" and "The DC Central Library, the Civic identity and the public realm") and in various meetings with advocates and library officials, including the new director.

And I criticized having a design competition without a planning process beforehand.  Although later I came around to the value of having architects-designers involved earlier rather than later, because the drawings and renderings help to make the argument in favor of funding an improved library.

Imagine my surprise to see that according to the Washington Business Journal ("D.C. rethinks its central library plans, goes bigger") the Library system now believes--after a public comment process--that they need to expand the building and its cultural functions.

Unrelated mixed use still a potential element of the project. Although there is still talk of the potential for adding a three-stories of unrelated space on top of a building expanded to five stories.

I think that's a bad idea as argued above.  The Central Library is a community's most prominent cultural and civic asset.

DC is an odd case, because it is a national capital and a local city, so some of the more prominent cultural assets, like the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, are federal.  But for the city to have its own identity, it needs to develop, enhance, extend, and coordinate its own set of civic and cultural assets.

The Central Library is it.

And no major city in the world has put unrelated mixed uses within the building footprint of its central library or city hall.

Medillin as a counter-example.  While not a national capital, Medillin, Colombia exemplifies the point of utilizing libraries as a key element of a network of civic and cultural assets focused on uplifting citizens and improving neighborhoods through the expansion of cultural, parks, and public space and services with a library as the anchor.  See "A city rises, along with its hopes," from the New York Times and "Library Parks Foster Community to Colombia" from Pacific Standard.

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6Ps, Walmart in DC and "I hate to say I told you so"

DCist has a piece, Business Owners Near Georgia Avenue Walmart Seek City's Help," in response to a report by Ward 4 Thrives about how businesses in the vicinity of the Walmart on Georgia Avenue NW in Washington, DC are seeking extra-normal assistance from the City Government, because since the Walmart opened 11 months ago, they are experiencing business difficulties.

The 6Ps = prior planning prevents piss poor performance.

FWIW, I co-chaired a committee convened by ANC4B to study the proposal for a Walmart at that site and to provide guidance about the matter which the ANC would consider and submit to relevant DC Government agencies. It was a great committee, and while I wrote the bulk of the report and recommendations, by no means are all the recommendations and analysis mine.

We prepared both a full report and analysis as well as a summary list of the 37(!) recommendations. We did not address "yes or no" on Walmart because it was a legal use for that site.

About 25% of the recommendations specifically discussed the need to provide technical and other assistance to the businesses and buildings near the "Walmart site" to address the likely negative impacts that would ensue, to decrease the likelihood of business failure and building vacancy--8 of the 37 recommendations addressed economic impact mitigation, 1 recommended that Walmart share parking with adjoining businesses, and 2 suggested that the Office of Planning more significantly address economic impacts in the Large Tract Review process going forward.

The Office of Planning ruled that "economic impacts" were not "neighborhood impacts" as defined by the Large Tract Review regulations. Not having the economic means to challenge this determination, which is counter to how most other jurisdictions interpret such regulations and "environmental assessment" processes, the project sailed through.

But then again, at the time, the Office of Planning and DDOT were ordered to "make Walmart happen," not to ensure the best possible results for all impacted parties.

FWIW/2, "I hate to say I told you so" is the title of a song by the Hives. But that report is 3.5 years old, and these negative impacts were predicted. And I wrote a bunch of pieces about the process, learning from it, and the need to change various DC planning review processes, regulations, and practices:

-- Lessons from Walmart's foray into Washington, DC
-- Piling on City Council for Walmart
-- I hope for Aspen Hills' sake that Montgomery County is smart enough to learn from DC's planning errors with regard to Walmart's entry"
-- op-ed piece, Washington Business Journal, "Temper Walmart glee with planning"

The recommendations...

Transportation Demand Management

11. Walmart should agree to explore with the DC Department of Transportation setting up a shared parking situation with the on-site customer parking spaces, perhaps through the creation of a “transportation management district” to manage this and other transportation demand management initiatives in both this and the Walter Reed commercial nodes on Georgia Avenue.

Neighborhood economic impact recommendations

27. Based on this preliminary review, it is recommended that the Office of Planning conduct a more detailed and complete analysis of the neighborhood economic impact of a Walmart
general merchandise/supermarket combination store in Ward 4, as a legitimate (but novel) interpretation of the provisions of the Large Tract Review process concerning minimization of adverse neighborhood impacts. If potentially negative impacts cannot be expected to be reasonably mitigated, denial of the application in whole or in part could potentially be justified.

28. A mitigation program, funded by the developer and/or Walmart, should be created for Ward 4 businesses (a separate program could be created for Ward 1, but such a recommendation is not within the purview of this committee) to limit potentially negative impacts on extant retailers, as well as to leverage to as great an extent as possible, in a proactive manner through various commercial district revitalization activities, the entry of Walmart into the Georgia Avenue corridor generally, and into the Missouri Avenue-Piney Branch commercial district node specifically.

29. Funds should be made available for technical assistance to merchants, façade improvement projects, marketing, and other initiatives, in advance of (and after) the opening of the Walmart store, to better prepare retailers to face and address competition. (The Main Street commercial district revitalization program, such as the program in Old Takoma, serving both DC and Maryland, is one such model for this type of program.)

30. A revitalization coordinator should be hired, paid for by Walmart/Foulger-Pratt, for at least a three year period, to develop and manage this program, in association with merchants, residents, and other stakeholders. This person could be assigned to work as part of the Deputy Mayor’s Office for Planning and Economic Development, the Office of Planning, or in the Ward 4 Councilmember’s Office.

31. A master database of all commercial properties should be created, with data on lease terms, property size, building condition, revenue potential/s.f. and other items, for use in the execution of this program.

32. A recruitment and development program to attract new businesses and new development should be executed simultaneously with development and implementation of the technical
assistance and support program for extant businesses and properties.

33. Note that while the Washington DC Economic Partnership is tasked with the development of marketing materials for various DC commercial districts, they have not created promotional materials for the Missouri Avenue to Piney Branch Road commercial node on Georgia Avenue. They should be directed to create such materials forthwith. ** {Actually this has since been rectified.]

Recommendations for rectifying gaps in Planning and Zoning regulations

34. The Large Tract Review process does not adequately address potentially negative economic impact of projects generally. The LTR process is also deficiently because it is essentially advisory, without the ability to directly mandate action or deny approval. These defects in the Large Tract Review process should be addressed and the process made more robust.

35. DC should create a new mandatory review process (“Large Retail Impact Review”) to address the various economic and other impacts of large scale retail projects in excess of 75,000 square feet.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bicyclist fatalities report (not detailed enough to be useful)

The problem with the report, Spotlight on Highway Safety: Bicyclist Safety, from the Governors Highway Safety Association, which found a 16% increase in bicyclist fatalities from 2010 to 2012, is that it doesn't distinguish between urban, suburban, and rural spatial conditions.

Data at the state-level doesn't say enough to be actionable, although the report does say that since the 1970s, urban bicyclist fatalities have increased from 50% to 69% of the total.

For example, bicycle sharing could be a factor in the rise, although according to Reuters ("After 23 million rides, no deaths in U.S. bike share programs") there haven't been fatalities associated with the introduction of bicycle sharing in the U.S.

For example, it would be very interesting to calibrate bicycle accidents and deaths against the recent Census report, Modes Less Traveled—Bicycling and Walking to Work in the United States: 2008–2012, that looks at the rise of bicycle commuting in the 50 largest metropolitan areas.

By looking at the data at a more granular level, it's possible to make more focused recommendations that can have some impact.

As an example, the Boston Globe recently did a study, "Bike fatalities rise in Greater Boston’s suburbs," of all bicyclist accidents across the state, by town or township.

For what it's worth, while I do think it's likely that as bicycling for transportation increases, as a percentage of rides accidents will fall even if there is an increase in accidents/deaths, I can understand there being an increase in accidents and deaths because most motor vehicle operators have limited experience driving around bicyclists, and/or in center cities, and a preponderance of regular bicyclists are in center city locales.

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November 5th is #lovelocalsf (San Francisco) Day

The San Francisco Chronicle newspaper has partnered with the Mayor's Office to sponsor "the first ever city-wide celebration of San Francisco on #LoveLocalSF day, November 5, 2014!"

 According to the website:
#LoveLocalSF is a city-wide celebration of San Francisco on Wednesday, November 5, 2014. This will be a day to honor all of the things that make our great city so unique -- be it our diverse communities, our eclectic history, our trendsetting nature or our commitment to innovation. Everyone is invited to show their San Francisco pride through events, art, music, special promotions, parties, and, of course, by wearing our signature color, red.

SFGate is helping to organize this citywide celebration, which includes over 120 businesses and organizations. Non-profits like 826 Valencia and SF-Marin Food Bank, renowned restaurants like State Bird Provisions, iconic shops like Goorin Bros., cultural institutions like the SF Zoo and SFJAZZ and many, many more will all be taking part in this special day.

YOU'RE INVITED to the GRAND FINALE celebration of SF at the Presidio Main Lawn on November 5th from 6 - 8 PM. Join us for live entertainment, music, food and drink provided by Off The Grid and many more fun surprises!

See the full list of celebrations here.  To host an event, sign up here.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A "Vision Zero" agenda for DC

GGW has a piece "Vision Zero won't be easy," about traffic safety initiatives proposed by DC's mayoral candidates.  Vision Zero is a traffic safety initiative pioneered in Sweden, although I first heard of it through promotional initiatives by the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota, which has developed a "Towards Zero Deaths" initiative in Minnesota.

More recently, a Vision Zero initiative has been promoted in New York City.  Towards the end of the Bloomberg Administration, "Neighborhood Slow Zone" policies were put in place for those residential districts that favored the change, instituting a 20 mph speed limit (past blog entry, "The Plight of Pedestrians").

More recently, Mayor De Blasio made traffic safety an issue, although the focus at first was more on blaming pedestrians for jaywalking.

Since then a more formal Vision Zero initiative has been created, and the State Legislature approved the city's proposal for reducing the prevailing speed limit on city streets from 30 mph to 25 mph.  The city did not have the authority to change the speed limit unilaterally.  This will go into effect next month, on November 7th ("Bill de Blasio signs law to lower speed limit to 25 mph during emotional ceremony," New York Daily News).

As Councilmember, Muriel Bowser did push an initiative a couple years ago that I thought was a bit too cute, to institute a speed limit of 15 mph on residential streets, in association with CM Tommy Wells ("Pedestrian safety and the proposed 15mph residential speed limit in DC: Part One").

I think a 20 mph speed limit makes more sense, and is in line with various urban speed limit reduction initiatives elsewhere such as in Graz, Austria and Montreal ("One more thing about Montreal as a bike city").

According to the UMN CTS report Evaluating the Effectiveness of State Toward Zero Deaths Program
Successful TZD programs have five characteristics: 1) an ambitious goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries; 2) high levels of inter-agency cooperation in pursuit of the TZD goal among state departments of transportation, public safety, health, and other relevant agencies; 3) a comprehensive strategy addressing all 4 E’s – engineering, enforcement, education, and EMS elements of traffic safety; 4) a performance-based, data-driven system of targeting resources and strategies where they will have the greatest impact in reducing traffic fatalities; and 5) policy leadership from relevant entities, including the Governor, the state legislature, and the heads of state agencies.
According to the report, programs in Minnesota, Idaho, Utah and Washington have been in place long enough to have enough data to evaluate program impacts, and they found a positive impact on fatality reduction.

My proposed Vision Zero Agenda

In the comments on the GGW piece, I sketched out a pretty complete Vision Zero agenda for DC, which I don't think is hard to do programmatically, but is difficult politically.

1. Put signage up at the major entry points into the city, stating that the prevailing speed limit is 25 mph, unless signed otherwise.  (A big problem on city streets concerns suburbanites driving fast, and their lack of familiarity of driving in places where there are more pedestrians than cars.)

20 mph speed limit sign on Stanford Ave. at East Ave in the Town of Chevy Chase, Maryland
20 mph speed limit sign on Stanford Ave. at East Ave in the Town of Chevy Chase, Maryland.

2. Make residential street speed limits 20 mph. And prioritize pedestrian rights on residential streets. (This would be comparable to the "Neighborhood Slow Zones" in NYC; note that Chevy Chase and Kensington sign neighborhood streets with a 20mph speed limit.)

3. Change the roadway materials (like Belgian Block, etc.) for the streets around pedestrian predominated places e.g., commercial districts, parks, squares and circles, libraries, and Metrorail stations.

This will provide visual, aural, and physical cues for motor vehicle operators to drive at speeds congruent with the land use context and the presence of large numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists.

4. Change the speed limit around Metrorail stations to 25 mph (or 20 mph). (In the outer city, the Gray Administration upped speed limits on arterials to 30mph, from 25mph, although this was also done on 13th St. within the L'Enfant City.

5. Change winter snow clearance practices to support walking, biking, and transit use.

6. When possible separate through traffic from arterials that are also neighborhood serving.  See the past blog entry "Tunnelized road projects for DC."

While it would be expensive, for example, the commuter-through traffic elements of North Capitol Street-Blair Road should be put underground. There are other streets with similar conditions, e.g., 16th Street, where commuting traffic has a deleterious impact on the quality of residential life (ie. see the argument in Appleyard's _Livable Streets_ about how community interaction decreases with the increase in traffic).

7.  Collect, maintain and present detailed data on all traffic accidents of all types (comparable to the recent Washcycle/GGW piece on biking), and put it in real-time on the DDOT Dashboard. The traffic safety "data" presented on the DDOT dashboard is not actionable or useful.

For a time the Toronto Star had a data-assisted reporting project and one thing they did was map all traffic accidents and maintained the data in real-time.

8. Analyze all traffic accidents and incorporate the PEDSAFE and BIKESAFE Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection Systems AND OTHER TRAFFIC SAFETY ANALYSIS PROTOCOLS to shape physical and programmatic changes as necessary, when structural-design problems have been elucidated.

9. Retrain police officers with regard to bike and pedestrian accident analysis.  Currently, officers are likely to presume that the motor vehicle operator is not at fault, unless the driver is impaired.

10. Legalize the Idaho Stop for bicycling ("Davis, California needs to legalize the Idaho Stop").  In return, require a bicycle endorsement on local drivers licenses. Consider license plates for bicycles. (If only to get motor vehicle operators to shut up.) Add refresher tests to drivers license renewals with specific questions on pedestrian and bicycle safety.

11. Develop and deliver a curriculum for traffic safety (bike, walk, transit, drive) for K-12 schools: elementary; junior high; and senior high schools.

12. Change the legal framework with regard to motor vehicle operation to require that automobiles--as the heaviest and most powerful mobility device--have the most legal responsibility with regard to accidents, comparable to the relatively new (20 years or so) Dutch policies.  See "Traffic safety and Stage 4 of moral development theory."

13. Up the penalties for motor vehicle accidents that injure, maim, or kill pedestrians or bicyclists. Generally, motor vehicle operators are charged and tried only when they are impaired (drugs or alcohol) but not for negligence. Charge enforcement practices and prosecute motor vehicle operators for negligent action which injures, maims, or kills.

14. Except for the fact that they probably have their hands full already, bring back the traffic enforcement division of the police department as a special unit, and move the unit to DDOT. (DC's traffic safety unit was subsumed into "Special Operations.) a few years ago.)

15. Give parking enforcement officers the training and legal authority to ticket for driving infractions. For a variety of reasons, busy police officers in cities don't spend a lot of time enforcing traffic safety even though many cities have dedicated traffic safety units.  Parking enforcement officers are on the streets all day.  Giving them the training and authority to ticket traffic violations would increase the "eyes on the street" focused on traffic safety.  More enforcement would reduce the number of infractions over time.

In comments on my original list at the GGW entry, charlie made the point that Vision Zero is about all deaths, not just pedestrian and bicyclists.  That's true, so I added point 16 and modified point 13.  For the most part, these changes will improve traffic safety generally.

The PEDSAFE and BIKESAFE "countermeasure" systems will identify general design and engineering problems.  But point 8 should be modified to include "AND OTHER TRAFFIC SAFETY ANALYSIS PROTOCOLS".  Note though that most of the countermeasures in such analysis programs are more for suburban settings.  DC's street design has safety built into its foundations.  The problem is that it was designed for the most part when the prevailing speeds for cars were 15 to 20 mph.

16.  Require specialized training for heavy vehicle operators (e.g., concrete trucks, dump trucks, etc.) with regard to driving in urban conditions, and with pedestrian and bicycle traffic.  Note that DC government does this for heavy vehicle operators, as does the Metrobus system.  This training needs to be extended to private sector operators.

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Friday is UN-Habitat's World Cities Day

Friday is the UN-Habitat's World Cities Day and Guardian Cities is hosting the World Cities Day Challenge, which will showcase 36 cities around the world and their best ideas.

From Guardian Cities:
We really want the whole day to be as interactive as possible, with heaps of discussion about how urban initiatives from some cities could inspire others – and in general how we can collaboratively build a better urban future. We're encouraging people to cheer on their city or grill the participants about the projects and initiatives they're representing.

We'll be covering the whole day on @guardiancities and the day's hashtag is #CitiesDay.
It will be interesting to see what the 36 "best ideas" are...

The cities:

  • Auckland
  • Bhubaneswar (India)
  • Helsinki
  • Tallinn
  • Paris
  • Johannesburg
  • Manila
  • Addis
  • Hong Kong
  • Ismir (Turkey)
  • Beijing
  • Fiskars
  • Manchester
  • Seville
  • Istanbul\
  • Brussels
  • Kumasi (Ghana)
  • Mumbai
  • Florence
  • Berlin
  • Porto Alegre
  • Nottingham
  • London
  • Croydon
  • Toronto
  • Indianapolis
  • Barcelona
  • Buffalo
  • Mexico City
  • Washington DC
  • Bogota
  • Chicago
  • Calgary
  • Monterrey
  • South San Francisco
  • Vancouver

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(Public) History/Historic Preservation Tuesday: Museums and Modern Historiography

Last weekend we went to the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, in Westmoreland County, Virginia.

Interestingly, it is a re-created place, not unlike Colonial Williamsburg, and both places share John D. Rockefeller Jr. as a donor.  Rockefeller gave money to the Birthplace a few years before he was enticed to fund the preservation and re-creation of Virginia's original state capital.

It was interesting that the bookshop had a couple of titles that challenged the mythology around George Washington, and the exhibit, while very simple, started off with a section on "myth vs. fact" about George Washington.

The books, Here, George Washington Was Born: Memory, Material Culture, and the Public History of a National Monument and Inventing George Washington: America's Founder, in Myth and Memory, discuss the role of George Washington as an element of nation building and the national "story" and mythology around the founding of the United States of America, and the promotion of patriotism.

Last year, visiting Gettysburg, I was spurred to read a bunch of books about the Civil War, having been first primed a few years before by the Valentine Richmond History Center in Richmond, Virginia, and their exhibit on the historical themes of the city, which pointed out that during the Civil War era, Richmonders--remember that their city was the capital of the Confederacy--voted against entering into war with the Union.

Modern historiography of the Confederacy makes hash of the "Lost Cause" myth.   Even I remember reading one of the chapters of Barrington Moore's Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World in my sophomore year in college, and how "the Civil War was necessary to make over the US as a modern industrial economy."

But that interpretation still hasn't  percolated down much within the South more generally.  One example is the City of Petersburg, Virginia and its presentation of various Civil War sites under the control of the city.

Confederate flag.  Given that a nation's flag is very much a symbol, the ongoing controversy over display of the Confederate flag is another example of the clash between reflexive "patriotism" and an unwillingness to consider all relevant elements of said symbol vs. considered reflection.  How can the flag of the Confederate States of America not be seen as a relic of racism and slavery?

More recently, the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History has gotten caught up in this controversy.  Danville was the last "capital" of the Confederacy, and the Confederate flag flies on the Museum's grounds.

The Museum's strategic plan calls for presentation of an inclusive history and so the display of the flag is seen as incongruent with their goals and objectives and they requested from the city permission to take it down.  That has touched off great controversy and the local newspaper has a great number of articles about it (e.g., "Museum marches on with upcoming sesquicentennial commemoration," Danville Register-Bee ).

From the article:
The newly adopted strategic plan includes a vision “to be the Dan River Region’s leader for integrated awareness of history, culture and community,” according to a Sept. 30 letter from Board of Directors President Jane Murray to museum members. ...

Burton, in a Sept. 30 letter to the city, asked Danville City Council to remove the flag from outside the building to inside for an upcoming exhibit of the history of Confederate flags. The museum’s board of directors had voted Sept. 25 to make the request as part of its new three-year strategic plan.

The request caused an uproar among Confederate heritage organizations and other supporters of keeping the flag on display outside the museum. The move re-ignited a debate between flag supporters and those who see the flag as a racist reminder of past enslavement of African-Americans.

During an interview Friday, Burton said the Confederate flag exhibit that will be part of the sesquicentennial will go on as planned. People have “politicized the flag,” she said, but the museum’s board is merely trying to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone.
The comment threads are particularly interesting and there have been a number of pro- and con- letters to the editor as well (e.g., "Confederate flag must come down").

Right:  Georgia II by Leo Twiggs.

By contrast, there is an exhibit of paintings by an African-American artist at the Greenville (South Carolina) County Museum of Art ("SC artist sees heritage, hate in Confederate battle flags," Greenville News).

From the article:
Some see heritage. Some see hate.  When artist Leo Twiggs looks at the Confederate battle flag, he sees both of those things — but also a vision for a more harmonious future. 
Twiggs' 11 large depictions of the flag at the Greenville County Art Museum are at once beautiful and tattered, reflecting a shared Southern history of pride and pain. 
"In our state, I think the flag is something that many black people would like to forget and many white people would love to remember," Twiggs said. ... 
Through the repeated image of a torn and tattered flag, Twiggs addresses subtle issues about the shared Southern history of African Americans and whites, and the continued complexity of race relations.
History curriculum not patriotic:  Colorado. While interrogational historical interpretation is accepted in the academic world, it is still controversial in the K-12 educational arena, as witnessed by the recent proposal by a local school board in Colorado to make over the district's AP history curriculum because they didn't believe it is "patriotic" ("Changes in AP history trigger a culture clash in Colorado." Washington Post ).

The Board backed down after widespread protest led by students.  Image from the AP story "Colorado students walk out in protest,"

Of course, the dichotomy between patriotism and "revisionism" or a broader interpretational framework for history and "social studies" is a major thread in national discourse

Personal history.  Speaking of rocking my world, and personal historiography, because of my tragic childhood, I don't have a lot of details about my own ethnicity, although I have some clues, stuff I remembered, which Suzanne decided to follow up.  So while I thought half my heritage was German/Russian, it turns out that I am Polish-Russian/Belorussian on my father's side of the family.

And looking at old records of the family, while I thought always that Hamtramack, Michigan, a Polish enclave surrounded by Detroit, was 100% Catholic, the reality is that the area also attracted, at least for a time, Polish Jewish immigrants also.  Some of my relatives likely lived for a time in the "Poletown" neighborhood in Detroit that was eradicated in the 1980s for a GM manufacturing plant.

On that note, the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews has opened today in Warsaw  ("A new Warsaw museum devoted to Jewish-Polish history," Financial Times). The museum's core galleries address the place of Jews in Poland's history, focusing on integration but acknowledging anti-Semitism, recovering memory that was eradicated finally by the Holocaust.

Crowdsourcing museum curation/the public in public history. The Wall Street Journal has a piece on crowdsourcing art exhibits, "Everybody's an Art Curator," which can be controversial when familiarity can trump artistic evaluation and merit. On the other hand some museums have experienced a significant uptick in visitation, membership, and funding when they increase public engagement through such methods.

In terms of community history, I have had some problems with the "everyone's a historian" focus of some of these kinds of initiatives. I do think that historians need to step in when it is warranted and provide greater context, and acknowledge developments in history at multiple scales (commmunity, metropolitan area, region, state, nation, globe) so that important events aren't lost at the expense of the familiar and popular. See the past blog entry "Thinking about local history."

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Interesting transportation initiatives on the ballot this November

I can't claim that this is an exhaustive list, the best sources would be the Center for Transportation Excellence and the Transportation Investment Advocacy Center.

But there are at least nine initiatives on the ballot next month for which the voting results will be indicators of the interest in pro-sustainable transportation policies at the local and state level.

1.  Clayton County, Georgia has put a sales tax initiative on the ballot so that the county could participate in the MARTA transit system, which currently is funded by sales taxes from the City of Atlanta, and DeKalb and Fulton County.  This is a big deal.  Clayton is where the airport is located, and there is a MARTA transit stop there.  But the County has never agreed to fund MARTA.  A few years ago it shut down its own bus service for lack of funds.  The sales tax would extend MARTA coverage to the county, and bring back bus service.

Interestingly, at the recent Washington Post transportation conference, America Speaks, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed talked about the failed referendum in 2012 (past blog entry "Failure of the transit-roads sales tax measure in Metro Atlanta") but not the upcoming vote in Clayton.  Given how the Atlanta Braves are moving to the non-rail-connected Gwinnett County, this initiative says something about how some jurisdictions in the car-centric Atlanta metropolitan area are "thinking differently."

-- Friends of Clayton Transit,"
-- Power of the Penny Facebook page
-- "Clayton’s Nov. 4 MARTA vote could shift metro growth to the south side," Saporta Report

2.  Seattle has an initiative on the ballot for King County Metro, which operates bus services in the city (rail services are operated by a different entity, Sound Transit).

Originally, a new sales tax and supplemental car registration fee was proposed for all of King County to ward off expected budget and service cuts, and a referendum was held earlier in the year, and it failed, although it passed in Seattle.  So a local initiative for Seattle-only service has been mounted.

However, since the earlier referendum and the certification of Proposition 1 for this fall's ballot, it's been determined that the forecast of the decline in revenues was wrong, so now the referendum is positioned as allowing for expanded service.  (Service has been cut quite a bit since the 2008 recession.)

-- Save King County Metro Facebook page
-- Municipal League of Seattle webpage (they, like the Seattle Times, don't favor the proposition)

While the State of Washington has authorized local referenda for car registration fee increases to fund local transportation beyond the $20 amount that can be imposed without a vote, not one such vote has been successful.  So it will be interesting to see what happens with this particularly initiative.

There's also a monorail proposal on the ballot, to provide rail service to West Seattle.

3.  Pinellas County, Florida (located within Greater Tampa Bay and home to St. Petersburg) has a wide-ranging transportation initiative on the ballot, focused on supporting transit development.  A similar initiative failed in Hillsborough County (home to the City of Tampa) in 2010 ("What Pinellas can learn from Hillsborough's failed 2010 referendum," Tampa Bay Business Journal).  Stakeholders argue that Pinellas has learned from the earlier effort.

-- Greenlight Pinellas

4.  San Francisco has a bunch of initiatives on the ballot, including a pro-car referendum put on the ballot by Republicans and Silicon Valley interests--most of the money behind the initiative comes from Sean Parker (pictured below at right), who isn't necessarily cool even if Justin Timberlake played him in a movie.  For 40 years, SF has had a charter amendment that specifies "transit-first" transportation policies.

This new initiative, "Restoring Transportation Balance," claims that a transit first agenda is imbalanced.  But most of the elements of the proposed amendment are focused on supporting parking--such as ending parking meter charges on Sundays, making it harder to expand variable pricing, and requiring all parking meter revenues be spent constructing parking garages.

-- Restore Transportation Balance
-- "Vote NO on Prop. L, a right-wing attack on biking and safe streets," Bikers Blog, San Francisco Chronicle

5.  Massachusetts gasoline tax indexing.  The Massachusetts Legislature passed a bill to increase the gasoline excise tax and to index annual increases based on inflation, which means that the tax will increase annually, without requiring a vote by the Legislature.  A referendum has been certified that, if passed, would overturn the indexing provision, which would make the gas tax pricing static, unless the Legislature were to vote on an increase. 

Some say that indexing the tax is an easy out for legislators, that they should have to vote on every gas tax increase.  Given how hard it is to organize the political capital necessary to get such a vote to begin with, and the reality of gas tax practice over the past 25 years, indexing makes a lot of sense.

6.  Maryland and Wisconsin have ballot initiatives that would protect transportation trust fund monies (usually derived from gasoline excise taxes) from being raided by the state government for purposes other than transportation.

7.  Texas has an initiative to direct some of the state's tax revenues from oil and natural gas production to the Transportation Trust Fund, for use on road and transit projects.  (Currently, some of this revenue stream is a major source of funds for the University of Texas and Texas A&M.)

-- Move Texas Forward

8.  Austin, Texas has a separate bond referendum to fund rail transit to the tune of a $600 million, which is a significant amount.

-- this entry from Hypstercrite, "AUSTIN’S PROP 1: SHOULD I VOTE FOR OR AGAINST THE TRANSPORTATION BOND?," is a great sum up,  listing organizations and articles for and against.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Today is the Mayoral election in Toronto

The likelihood is that John Tory, a more traditional candidate will win as all four of the major local newspapers endorsed him over Olivia Chow, Doug Ford, and other candidates ("There's no excuse to skip this Toronto campaign-season finale," Globe and Mail).

Christopher Hume, the urban design writer for the Toronto Star, suggests that Olivia Chow would be a better choice, because while transit was perhaps the biggest agenda item ("Transit tracks high as voter priority but platforms underwhelm," Star) during the campaign (other than Rob Ford and the Ford Nation), dealing with poverty and inequality is perhaps one of the city's most serious issues going forward.

Toronto's municipal politics have been insane for the past four years with the election of suburban resident Rob Ford as Mayor.  He junked the "Transit City" expansion initiative of the previous government--although it turns out in a weak mayor system he didn't have that power--and on transit and most other issues, including his false statements that billions of dollars of waste present in government would allow for significant tax reductions, and government move towards standstill.

Over the past couple years, Ford was implicated in drug use, and he took a leave of absence for a stay in rehabilitation.  He was running for reelection, but then was diagnosed as having cancer, so he stepped out of the campaign for Mayor and asked his brother Doug to run in his place.

Suburban-urban divide.  Interestingly, the election of Rob Ford shows one of the problems that can come from the merger of center city and suburban jurisdictions into a consolidated "center city" as the suburban electorate tends to be larger than the number of residents in the center city.

In the case of Toronto and London, the suburbs vote Conservative and the inner city votes progressive ("Life after Ford: A City As Divided As Ever," Toronto Globe and Mail).  Although note that the outer suburbs and cities, not part of Toronto's consolidated city, are expected to vote for candidates affiliated with the Liberal Party ("Red wave of mayors expected to sweep across 905 cities," Globe and Mail).

From the article
Mr. Ford’s simplistic promises to fight for taxpayers, run city hall like a business, and “stop the gravy train” struck a chord with many voters. If he had a history of off-kilter behaviour and ugly rants, many voters were too fed up to care. Mr. Ford took 47 per cent of the vote, easily besting second-place George Smitherman, a former Ontario deputy premier, who took 36 per cent. “People took the biggest hand grenade they could find and they threw it,” says pollster Darrell Bricker, chief executive of Ipsos Public Affairs.

Their anxieties and frustrations have not gone away. Toronto is, by almost any measure, a fantastically successful city. ... But as it grows, Toronto is changing, and not everyone is happy about it. Established, older residents in the car-dependent suburbs see their way of life under threat amid all the chatter about the evils of the automobile and the virtues of urban density. New immigrants often find it hard to get a foot on the first rungs of the economic ladder. Young couples despair of ever owning a house in a market where a narrow Victorian on a treed downtown street can go for more than a million dollars. People everywhere fume about the congested roads and crowded subways, buses and streetcars.
Would allowing local municipal political parties help Toronto?  At the local level, Ontario doesn't allow for the formation of municipal political parties ("Province urged to allow municipal political parties," National Post). In other provinces the rule is that provincial and federal parties can't have municipal affiliates.  Instead, locally focused parties can be created and are distinct from national and provincial parties.

Montreal and Vancouver are known for having particularly active and municipally-focused parties. And while local politics isn't necessarily perfect in those cities (Montreal went through a massive pay-for-play bribery scandal recently) by contrast in Toronto, it's a free for all.

Having local parties would be less worse than the current practice of political disaggregation and disorganization.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Speaking of bridges

As has been reported in the media, the team of OMA and Olin has been selected for DC's 11th Street Bridge Park project ("Architects OMA and Olin Studio selected to design 11th Street" and "Shaping the City | DC bridges to be site of mixed-use projects," Washington Post), which I'll get around to writing about at some point.

-- I did write a bunch of pieces on the project in July and August.

And every year, the American Society of Civil Engineers releases a report on the state of good repair of the nation's infrastructure.

-- ASCE'S 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure

In the meantime, the Ohio University Online Masters program in Civil Engineering has produced a nifty infographic about the five different types of bridges, which helps us understand some of the particulars behind bridges, which are key connecting "devices" in many cities, given that some of the world's biggest cities sprouted around rivers and bays.
  • Clapper Bridges:  Made of unmortared stone slabs built on piers in the water and are amongst the oldest around.
  • Beam Bridges: In their simplest form, Beam Bridges are two piers at either end with a plank spanning the gap. Beam bridges rarely span more than 250 feet.
  • Truss Bridges: Truss Bridges are composed of load bearing triangular structures (a truss) with the platform on top.
  • Arch Bridges: Arch Bridges have an abutment at either end and are shaped in the form of an arch.
  • Suspension Bridges: Suspension Bridges use cables suspended from large anchorage structures connected to the ground.

Ohio University Online

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Hollaback! International Survey on Street Harrassment

Hollaback! is an organization focused on ending street harassment.  They have teamed up with a professor at Cornell University and have launched a survey on people's experiences with street harassment for which they want respondents.

Separately, a women-based taxi service in Greater New York City, modeled after the service in Mexico City ("Mexico launches fleet of pink cabs - driven by women, for women," New York Daily News) which was launched in 2009, is not quite ready to open.

-- "New Service Offers Taxis Exclusively for Women," New York Times
-- Needing More Drivers, Taxi Service for Women Delays Start," New York Times

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

MARC commuter railroad could implement daily bike service on the Camden Line

The MARC commuter railroad line serves Maryland and DC, primarily moving commuters from Maryland to DC, with two lines from Baltimore and one from Martinsburg, West Virginia.  The Penn Line, which starts in Perryville, is heavily used, the Camden Line, from Baltimore to DC, is lightly used.

According to a post on Greater Greater Washington, MARC just announced that they are converting two cars to accommodate bikes, and they will put one car in service on the Penn Line on weekends. If this is successful, they will extend service to the Brunswick Line on Friday afternoons.

According to the Washington Business Journal ("MARC sets ridership record in April"), the Penn Line has about 25,500 daily riders; the Camden Line has 4,450 daily riders; and the Brunswick Line has 8,150 daily riders. Last year, the Penn Line added weekend service, and intends to increase service based on its increasing success.

MBTA bicycle car, Boston Globe photo.

I am not sure on the details, but it's probably somewhat similar to a train car set up in 2006 by the MBTA in Greater Boston (Boston Globe story) for weekend service in the summer on the Newburyport-Rockport line.

They took out half the seats of one car (42 seats) and installed 39 bicycle racks in their place.

Why not add a bike car to the Camden Line for Monday through Friday service?  The Camden Line runs three trips in each direction, Monday through Friday.

Most of the riders get on in either Baltimore or Washington, although the line serves other nine other stations in between, including College Park and Greenbelt.  The ridership isn't particularly high. Every time I've ridden the Camden trains, there are plenty of empty seats.

Metrolink bicycle train car
A Southern California Metrolink train car wrapped in a promotion to market bicycle access ("Metrolink launches 'bike cars' to transport cyclists," Metro Magazine).

The comment thread on the GGW entry, it occurred to me that the low passenger ridership on the Camden Line, which starts in Baltimore and ends in Washington, is an opportunity.

A bike car could be added to this line without impinging substantively on ridership and capacity.

It could even draw riders to the line--people who want to bring bicycles could take the Camden Line--while simultaneously providing a slight capacity increase to the Penn Line.

Potential problems.  Another GGW commenter says certain Camden Line trains are pretty full. Perhaps an additional car could be added to the train.  Or bike service could be provided only on specific trains, that normally experience fewer riders.

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DC needs to add a runoff element to the elections process

I have a master list of steps DC could take to improve the local political and governance process ("Continued musing on restructuring DC's City Council (mostly)") although it's in need of a wee bit of updating.

For example, one recommendation is that the primary be moved from April to June or July, and another is that special elections for ward seats could shift to the mail, since it costs many hundreds of thousands of dollars to run such an election, and generally turnout is low, as it was earlier this year for the special election for the Ward 8 seat on the State Board of Education ("The Little-Known Election That's About to Cost the District $300,000," Washington City Paper).

(In Oregon and Colorado all elections are conducted via the mail, which is good for the Postal Service.  In Washington State, state and national elections are conducted by mail, and counties have the option of running their elections by mail, and most do.)

Ward-based special elections.  For Council seats, because so many people run, the person who gets elected wins without a majority of votes.  In the Ward 6 race in the late 1990s, there were close to 20 candidates.

In the special elections in 2007, for Ward 4 after Adrian Fenty became mayor, there were 19 candidates and in the Ward 7 election which was held because Vincent Gray moved up to Council Chairman, there were 18 candidates.  Muriel Bowser won the W4 seat with about 40% of the vote and Yvette Alexander won the W7 seat with about one-third of the vote.

In the 2012 special election for Ward 5, Kenyan McDuffie won with about 42% of the vote, and of the eleven other candidates, two had vote totals in the double digits.

This year's at-large City Council race.  The way at-large seats work is there are two seats up every two years.  In the General Election, people vote for two candidates.

The Home Rule Charter specifies that at least one of the positions has to be held by the non-dominant political party--in this case the Democrats.  In the recent past such seats had been held by Republicans (Carol Schwartz, David Catania) or the Statehood-Green Party (Hilda Mason).

But in 1988, then Democrat William Lightfoot figured out he could run as an "independent" and still be eligible to be seated upon election, and that has unleashed a large number of Democrats switching to independent and running that way.

Now, Republicans and Statehood-Green candidates are outpolled by Democrats running as independents for seats as At-Large Council Members.

Because David Catania is stepping down from his Council seat to run for Mayor, this year's at-large Council race has 15 candidates, as most feel that they might have a shot running for seat without an incumbent running.

In all likelihood, Democrat Anita Bonds will win one seat.  The other seat will go to whoever gets the highest number of votes who is not a Democrat.  (In theory, a party candidate from the dominant party could be outpolled by two other candidates and therefore not be elected, but that hasn't happened yet.)

The likelihood is that the winning "independent" or non-dominant party affiliate (the Republicans, Statehood-Green, and Libertarian Parties all have candidates on the ballot) will win with a preponderance or plurality of votes but not a majority.

Anita Bonds is running as Democrat, Eugene Puryear for the Statehood-Greens, Marc Morgan for the Republicans, and Frederick Steiner as a Libertarian. The other 11 candidates are running as independents, and many have been traditionally affiliated with the Democratic party. Those candidates are Michael D. Brown, Wendell Felder, Calvin H. Gurley, Graylan Scott Hagler, Brian Hart, Eric J. Jones, Khalid Pitts, Kishan Putta, Elissa Silverman, Courtney R. Snowden, and Robert White.

Council Chairman race.  There are five candidates, but Phil Mendelson, the current office holder and stalwart Democrat, is likely to win in a landslide.

Attorney General race.  There are five candidates running for this newly created elected position.

Normally, the seat would have been part of the primary election cycle, but this year because of unusual circumstances, that did not occur.  So all five candidates are running as Democrats in the General Election, when normally only one Democratic nominee would be on the General Election ballot.  The likelihood of one candidate winning a majority of the votes is remote.

This year's Mayoral race.   This year's Mayoral election has multiple candidates as well, the Democrat Muriel Bowser, two former Republicans who have served on City Council and are well known across the city running as Independents, David Catania and Carol Schwartz, Bruce Majors running as the Libertarian Party candidate, Faith for the Statehood-Green Party, and another independent, Nestor Djonkam.

In a normal year, the Democratic nominee would win in a landslide, with more than 50% of the vote.
This year, because of two prominent independent candidates, it is not expected that the winner will poll more than 40% of the vote ("For DC's black voters, the choice isn't so clear," Washington Post).

Recommendation:  DC should add runoff requirements for elections when the winning candidate receives less than 50% of the vote

In most special elections, people point out that the winning candidate was outpolled by other the total of two or more of the other candidates, with no candidate receiving a majority of the votes.

One alternative, which is in my master list of recommended changes, is to have ranked choice voting (a variant of proportional voting).  This would distribute the votes upward, as each candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and votes are redistributed.

But the likelihood of passing such a system is remote.  Recently, this was tried for one election in Pierce County, Washington ("The highly paid DC City Council and governance and voting systems") but was overturned soon after the 2008 election cycle.

Therefore, I recommend that DC add a runoff requirement for elections to all offices, when the top vote getter doesn't get a majority of the votes.

With the 2014 election cycle, it would mean certain runoffs in the At-Large, Attorney General, and Mayoral races.

Yes, it does add expense to the process, but it would make the elections more competitive and increase the possibility of "regime change" as in most cases, the Democratic nominee will win a plurality (the most) but not necessarily a majority of votes.

Past at-large elections.  In the 2013 special election, Democrat Anita Bonds won with 31% of the vote.  There were seven candidates and two progressive candidates had 35% of the vote between them, and Republican Patrick Mara had 24% of the vote.  A runoff would have pitted Anita Bonds against progressive candidate Elissa Silverman.

In the 2011 special election, Vincent Orange won with about 29% of the vote.  There were nine candidates total, and Republican Patrick Mara got about 25% of the vote.  Had there been a runoff, Orange and Mara would have gone head-to-head.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Seattle's launch of bike share and four interesting elements

University of Washington students can get a discount on annual memberships.  Images from Geekwire unless otherwise specified.

See "My first bike-sharing ride in Seattle was lots of fun — but not without some speed bumps" from Geekwire for real-life experiences using the Pronto Bicycle Sharing system in Seattle.

The system is run by a nonprofit, and Alaska Airlines is the title sponsor, having paid $2.5 million for a 5-year deal (press release).   Although it's only supposed to get them branding on the first 500 bikes, so I guess as the system expands they can add other sponsors.  (One of the criticisms of the Barclays sponsorship in London was that they didn't pay more as they got more branding opportunities as the system expanded.)

At this point, the stations are primarily located in the core of the city, on the east side, where population of the city is centered.  The City Government has committed some dollars to an expansion.  The launch was with 50 stations and 500 bikes.  The intent is to grow the system to more than 200 stations and 2,200+ bicycles.

Image by Joshua Trujillo,

Different bike from other Alta-run systems. While Pronto is run by Alta Bike Share they aren't using the same "Bixi" bikes used in other systems in places like Boston, Minneapolis, New York City, and Washington, due to the fallout of the bankruptcy of the original company out of Montreal, its purchase and the subsequent abrogation of the contracts with the US-based systems.

The bike is still manufactured in Quebec, by Arcade bicycles and is a bit lighter than the model in other cities. Plus the bike has seven gears, while most of the Bixi systems have three-gear bikes.  (Seattle has some serious hills, not unlike San Francisco.)

Helmet use is required.  Because King County has a strong bike helmet requirement, Seattle is the first system launched in a major US city that requires helmet use.

In Melbourne and Brisbane, Australia, helmet requirements have hindered the use of bike sharing systems and by comparison to cities in Western Europe and North America, bike sharing has been a massive failure.

It's an $81 ticket for not wearing a helmet in Seattle.  A "cabinet" with helmets is located next to each station (pictured at left) and it costs $2/day to use a helmet, although right now use is free. Returned helmets are supposed to be cleaned before being reused.

Annual members can get a free helmet.  Note that the bicycle sharing system in Salt Lake City got a local health system to serve as a "bike helmet" sponsor, so they provide free helmets to new members upon joining.  I thought that was a pretty interesting move.

Group/neighborhood bike rides as a promotional technique.  Like I used to suggest in writings and RFP responses, as an outreach and marketing tool, the system is sponsoring neighborhood bike rides as a way to introduce the Pronto system to riders and neighborhoods.

Bike shed as an element of station maps.  I haven't yet got a screenshot of an entire map, but in a "new development" in urban wayfinding mapping, the area map at each Pronto bike share station distinguishes between the walk shed and bike shed within a neighborhood, making very clear that in the same amount of time as walking, you can cover more ground by bike.

That's something I haven't thought of mapping for the public outside of plans in quite the same way, although it has been done, for example in the publication by VeloQuebec.  It would be a useful element to add to my "mobility shed" concept.
Catchment area of public transit stops for pedestrians and cyclists

Catchment area of public transit stops for pedestrians and cyclists from Planning and Design for Pedestrians and Cyclists: A Technical Guide.  (I've used this image before in presentations.)

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Are roundabouts an urban or suburban technology?

(The program sure is "neoliberal" in how it stresses technological solutions and the negatives of regulation.  And there sure isn't much opportunity to delve very deeply into any of the issues presented)  One of the people presenting at the Post conference is talking about the time wasted by queuing at intersections.  He lives in a smaller town.

He suggests that compared to traditional intersections, roundabouts work better in terms of faster throughput and increased safety.  Roundabouts are intersections that are made into circles, where for the most part, entry roads into the circle are not signed or signalized or are signed with yield signs.

In DC, we have both traffic circles and roundabouts.  Traffic circles are not roundabouts because they have traffic signals.  Examples of a traffic circle would include Dupont Circle, Chevy Chase Circle, Washington Circle, Logan Circle, or Thomas Circle.
sherman-circle, Washington, DC
Sherman Circle, Washington, DC

Roundabouts that you think are traffic circles but isn't because there aren't traffic signals, only yield or stop signs, are Grant Circle and Sherman Circle in the Petworth neighborhood.  There is a more true "roundabout" in terms of size on Brentwood Road NE.
A roundabout has been constructed on Brentwood Road
Brentwood Road NE roundabout

I use these roundabouts regularly and as a pedestrian and cyclist, I find that roundabouts are designed to prioritize vehicular traffic rather than to balance the needs of pedestrians and cyclists with the desire of motor vehicle operators to move quickly.

I rarely feel comfortable going into a circle as a bicyclist because most of the motor vehicle operators don't signalize if they are turning, and in terms of entry, often I have to move to the leftmost part of a lane to ward off traffic coming behind me.

NotionsCapital calls our attention to a couple pieces on the topic, "They're Small But Powerful," from the FHWA magazine Public Roads, and "Evaluating pedestrian and bicyclist risk in Minnesota roundabouts" from the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies (which is a great resource).

The UMN study finds that all is not peachy for pedestrians and cyclists with roundabouts, although the study city in the City of Minneapolis had a greater rate of vehicles yielding to pedestrians and cyclists compared to the suburban site.  From the article:
The research team identified several factors that influence drivers’ yielding behavior. Study results indicate the following trends:
  • Drivers are more likely to yield to pedestrians or bicyclists beginning their crossing in the center island.
  • Vehicles exiting the roundabout are less likely to yield than those entering it.
  • Drivers are more likely to yield to larger groups.
  • Vehicles entering the roundabout at the immediate upstream entrance are more likely to yield than those coming from other entrances.
  • Drivers are less likely to yield if they encounter another vehicle merging into the roundabout immediately before the exit where the pedestrian is trying to cross.
  • Yielding probability decreases with more vehicles present in the roundabout.
I would argue that in an environment where there is a preponderance of pedestrians and cyclists, such as in a city like Washington, that roundabouts aren't the way to move, because they preference motor vehicle traffic over sustainable modes.

Note that the Florida DOT report Roundabouts and Access Management has a review of the literature that goes beyond the above-cited publications.

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Asking the wrong question: "Fixing the Commute" edition

The Washington Post is sponsoring a conference today at their AmericaAnswers website about "fixing the commute."  The conference is focused on new technologies and services like driverless cars and transportation networked services.

While listing to the webstream, I can't but help think back to an interview with Jane Jacobs that I read after the release of her book, The Nature of Economies.

When asked why aren't there "enough roads" she responded "you're asking the wrong question, the right question is 'why are there so many cars?'

Cities weren't really designed to accommodate everyone driving.  The amount of space required for parking is costly.  

Granted that some of the people in the conference are talking about "alternative mobility models" such as car sharing and not driving, but overall, the conference is focused on cars.  I guess that makes sense, since automobile advertising is so important to newspapers.

... I was talking with Suzanne on the way to the Metro and discussing the Netherlands, Denmark, and Portland, in terms of changing mobility routines to favor transit and biking.  The point of these places compared to the general argument about "enabling choice" which someone just said on the webstream, isn't so much "enabling choice" as much as it is "enabling optimal mobility."

The difference in the Netherlands and Denmark is that all aspects of the mobility system--policies, regulations, tax polices, practices, etc.--are made to be congruent in ways that support optimality.

The way that the Netherlands and Denmark get residents to make "community optimal transportation choices" is by building a system that makes sustainable transportation options--walking, biking, and transit--both efficient and cost effective.

Partly this is by assessing charges against automobility that cover all of the costs that an automobile normally imposes on society.  So in those countries, when you buy a car, you pay excise taxes equal to the cost of the car.  And gasoline costs about $8/gallon.  These taxes not only pay for roads, but pay towards the cost of enabling other modes.

And in the Netherlands and Denmark, optimality is at a minimum bi-dimensional, for both the individual and the community, rather than how in the US the mobility system preferences individual optimality, usually by automobility.

In the US, where we provide support for "choice" by providing infrastructure for walking, biking, and transit, most of the policy, regulation, and practice supports automobility.

So it should not be a surprise that most people get around by car.

However, it is changing.

Certainly the way that Tysons Corner is reforming around transit, with the opening of the Silver Line is an example of an area rebooting for the 21st century. Yesterday, I was reading back articles from the Tampa Bay Times and one, As love affair with cars wanes, Tampa Bay stuck in slow lane of change, is on the future of motordom (not the title) and makes the point that policy today needs to focus on the future and those demographics that will be living in the city going forward, not for current or legacy residents (not the language of the column).

The article referenced an e-book, >Curbing Cars: America's Independence From the Auto Industry, interestingly by the former Detroit bureau chief for the New York Times, about the decline of car ownership and car centrality going forward.

And I think this is relevant to the parking accommodation debate going on in DC and in other cities dealing with zoning regulation rewrites.

In the 1950s, which is the period in which most "modern" zoning codes were developed, was the height of the development of mass automobility and providing parking was essential to accommodate everyone driving their cars.

People advocating for maximum accommodation of the car are planning for the future based on the past, rather than considering how things are changing now and will continue to change in the future.

P.S.  Richard Stallman points out that services like Uber should not be called ride sharing, but piecework subcontractor economy.

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Preservation Tuesday: Next month's NTHP Annual Meeting is in Savannah

Sadly, I don't think I'll be able to make next month's national meeting of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  It's in Savannah, which is a great place to visit.

The meeting is from Tuesday November 11th to Friday November 14th.  Many of the field sessions are sold out.

-- Conference Program

If you haven't been to an NTHP* meeting, I highly recommend going, as attendance can accelerate significantly your knowledge of urban revitalization, especially if you on some great tours.  It's been many years since I've attended one, but I have gone to meetings in Cleveland, Louisville, Portland, St. Paul, and Pittsburgh and I learned so much from each meeting, tours, independent explorations while there, using their transit systems, and staying for the most part in distinctive lodgings..

(*The annual meetings of the American Planning Association and the National Main Street Center are equally worthwhile.  Because these meetings move around the country, it's not too hard to attend one of the meetings when they make it to your part of the country.)

Savannah is known for being an early example of historic preservation based urban revitalization, and preservation makes up a big chunk of the story in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which has stoked tourism there.

There are some great restaurants and retailers, although I have to admit, the last time I was there I was surprised to see how much of the downtown retail district was under-utilized.  (The Leopold's ice cream shop is over rated.)

The Old Historic District is very large, the parks and squares are beautiful.  River Street is a tourist dive and not that interesting.

The city also has some interesting transportation demand management initiatives focused on mitigating negative impacts from tourism (case study within this document).

My experience with the visitor center is that they weren't all that friendly, which was notable because most visitor centers have very engaging personnel.

One of the interesting contemporary stories there is how the Savannah College of Art and Design has spurred revitalization, both in terms of the economic impact of the college and the students, as well as the properties that the college has renovated.

However, interestingly, the founders of the college own the properties separately and personally, rather than the properties being owned by the college.  See "What Art-School Kids In Savannah Teach Us About Urban Renewal" from Fast Company, "The empire SCAD built" from the Savannah Morning News" and the SCAD study on economic impact of the college.

Recent articles on Savannah

1.  The New York Times Travel section has a nice feature, "Savannah, Both Sides."

2.  The Wall Street Journal has a piece, "Savannah Preservationists Stymie a Developer's Comeback," communicating the displeasure of real estate developers who have acquired a bunch of properties on Broughton Street of having to deal with historic preservation concerns.

3.  The WSJ Magazine mentions the restaurant, The Grey, which is located in the old Greyhound bus station, which is undergoing renovation, so the restaurant is not yet open.

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