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.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The fine line between urban/center city chaos and order

There are a couple of pieces, one not quite a screed ("The UWS is falling apart, and lefties seem too woke to care," New York Post) and the Bloomberg Opinion column, "New York and San Francisco Can’t Assume They’ll Bounce Back," about the decline in urban order in the face of rioting, violence and looting around Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

Crime is rising in a number of US cities right now, in particular shootings and murders, but not so much other crimes, and there are a variety of theories for why this is so ("The murder spike in big US cities, explained," Vox).

WRT BLM-related violence, it seems to be perpetrated by a preponderance of whites ("How reckless White allies could lead to the reelection of Trump," Washington Post), but also recognize that some of it is fomented by supremacists seeking to spark disorder and discredit BLM, such as in Minneapolis ("Minneapolis police say 'Umbrella Man' was a white supremacist," Minneapolis Star-Tribune) and Oakland ("Suspect in officers' killings tied to Boogaloo group," Los Angeles Times).

Looting I think was more opportunistic and tended to be a more racially "diverse" phenomenon.  Clearly some groups organized specific forays against businesses, seeing the opportunity.

While I understand the need to seriously reconfigure how we deliver public safety services:

-- "Is it too late to change the messaging on "Defund the Police"? How about "Reconstruct Policing"?," 2020
-- "Towards a public safety model that is broader than policing," 2020

the idea of "defund the police" scares the hell out of me, because I have first hand experience of living with widespread disorder, from 1987 into the early 2000s, living in Washington, DC, when the 1990s were especially terrible because of the crack epidemic, bad policing, and other problems.

I can't provide a full recounting of all the bad experiences with crime that I dealt with during that time, but they include:
  • at least three muggings (I happened to get away each time, although my glasses were broken once and I was punched another time)
  • attempted muggings
  • a crazy assault when I was locking my bike which caused blood and injury (I got the guy arrested and he served time, but the reality is that he was mentally ill)
  • stolen (rental) car
  • multiple stolen bikes or stolen bike parts
  • thefts from my yard
  • thefts of my stuff when at restaurants
  • multiple burglaries of my house
  • rape of my then wife during the commission of a burglary (which led to our divorce, although we might have gotten divorced eventually anyway)
  • etc.
Besides my personal experiences with criminal acts, the neighborhood where I lived was full of disorder, from trash to vacant houses to a major crack distribution area. 

There were at least a dozen murders a year in the neighborhood, some within a block of my house at particularly bad corners or at businesses.  The H Street commercial district was pretty gnarly too, with a lot of crime, vacant properties, street robberies, robberies of businesses, tons of litter etc.

(As a result, community policing matters were some of the issues I aimed to address when I first got involved in neitghborhood issues around 2000.  A few years later, I was featured in a Washington Post article on Labor Day in 2003, about city advocates fighting the overconcentration of liquor stores, the sales of singles, etc.  It's oddly not available online, but is in articles databases.)

So arguing that police have no legitimate role in maintaining order makes no sense to me.

Furthermore, doing some experiments of my own picking up litter, and seeing the impact of nuisance properties led to my fervent belief in the theoretical basis of broken windows theory--that better maintained places are safer than those that aren't.

Obviously, the "Capitol Hill Occupied Protest/Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" ("The CHAZ Has Become America’s Fascination," Seattle Met) in Seattle was no bed of roses ("Capitol Hill residents and businesses sue city of Seattle for failing to disband CHOP," Seattle Times) even if alt right media blew it out of proportion.

Even in the best of circumstances, some people join in and seek to take advantage of the situation for their own purposes.

Getty Images.  

And the reality is that not everyone is pure of heart.  Some people are evil.  Others have mental health or substance abuse demons that make it difficult for them to function in society, etc.

So we need forces to help us maintain order.  And volunteers don't normally measure up when it comes to dealing with serious disorder.

That traditional police forces need to be much better controlled, trained, and resourced is another issue.

And I am the first to argue that public safety service delivery should be conceptualized much differently from at present:

-- "Crime prevention through environmental design and repeated burglaries at the Naylor Gardens apartment complex," 2013
-- "Los Angeles police department "Community Safety Partnership"," 2014
-- "Night-time safety: rethinking lighting in the context of a walking community," 2014
-- "Crime time re-revisited: a set of programs focused on reducing crime," 2015
-- "The state of "broken windows" versus "problem oriented policing" strategies in 2016: Part 1, theory and practice," 2016
-- "The state of "broken windows" versus "problem oriented policing" strategies in 2016: Part 2, what to do," 2016
-- "Police response to mental health matters," 2016
-- "Who identifies problems and addresses them at the metropolitan scale? No one, at least when it comes to mental health-related police shootings," 2016
-- "Revisiting intimate partner violence/murder," 2017
-- "Seattle Times article on the need for changes to 911 services and emergency response," 2018
-- "Broken windows/collective efficacy: Baltimore; Newark; Grand Junction, Colorado; Pittsburgh; Albany," 2019
-- "Social urbanism and Baltimore," 2019

I wrote this in the second Broken Windows piece from 2016:

One of the problems that many people ascribe to the #BlackLivesMatter agenda is a kind of "nullification" as it relates to crime ("Black Lives Matter should also take on 'black-on-black crime," Washington Post).  To an outsider, it appears as if there is a kind of preconceived notion within the movement that anything "the government" does concerning crime and public safety is anti-Black and moreover, unjustified.

While I can see why many people would have strong reason to believe that, it is in fact a stretch or overstatement.  There is no question that the current paradigm isn't working (past blog entries: "Police misconduct and grand juries: a separate prosecution and grand jury system is necessary," "How police departments become corrupt," and "Police officers aren't always the best placemakers")

But at the same time there is no question that there is crime and it disproportionately impacts low income communities and people of color.

I believe that communities need a strong agenda for dealing with crime while recognizing that the public safety agenda is often built on a racist foundation, and much more resources need to be put towards community improvement, simultaneous with and not subservient to "order maintenance."

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Monday, August 10, 2020

Michigan politics as an illustration of the impact of the decline of industry on social capital

The Washington Post has launched a series of articles on swing states vis a vis the Presidential Election, and the first article is on Michigan, "Michigan's political geography."

Reading it reinforced the fact that I need to read Sugrue's Origins of the Urban Crisis, which is about the decline of Detroit, but dates the start of the decline to the 1940s, but also touched on Chapter 5, "Common Ground," in Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life by Eric Klinenberg, which is about social capital and social infrastructure as essential elements to a functioning society in the United States.

Michigan was the heart of the American automobile industry and still is home to the US-based manufacturers (GM, Ford, FCA--now the owner of Chrysler).

Detroit and its suburbs especially in Wayne County, Flint (GM started there, Buick was based there, many parts manufacturing operations were based there), Bay City, Pontiac (Pontiac was based there), Saginaw, and Lansing (Oldsmobile was based there), Dearborn where Ford is based and nearby River Rouge where Ford had a plant that even milled its own steel, especially were known for how those communities were dominated by the auto industry, suppliers, and related firms.

But even before the "gasoline crisis" of 1973 when Saudi Arabia nationalized the oil industry and raised prices, the auto companies were shifting operations out of Michigan.

They did this because they realized that the preponderance of facilities had at least one negative consequence, lots of employees who were members of the the United Auto Workers union, and in supplier plants too, of the UAW and other unions.  And for the most part, these workers voted for Democrats, especially in Congress and the State Legislature, and usually for Governor.

By deconcentrating the industry away from Michigan and spreading it out around the rest of the country, the power of the UAW (and other unions) declined, especially in Michigan, where for much of the past few decades, Republicans have controlled the State Legislature and usually the Governorship.

The effect on Michigan and especially cities like Detroit, Flint, Pontiac and Saginaw has only intensified through technologization of jobs--the typical plant has one quarter or fewer of the jobs it had it the late 1960s, consolidation, outsourcing, and the success of "foreign car companies," many now with manufacturing operations in the US.

In short there are significantly fewer mass manufacturing plants in Michigan--especially in Detroit, which had 15 such plants in the 1950s and two now, Flint, which once had almost 90,000 people working for GM in and around the city and now has fewer than 9,000 employees working there, Lansing--no more Oldsmobile, and Pontiac--the Pontiac brand was dissolved so there's no need for plants and headquarters operations.   Etc.

The Post article discusses how much of the State of Michigan now votes Republican, except in the cities, which are much reduced in population size.  It also discusses the phenomenon of conservative blue collar workers--the so called "Reagan Democrats" in Detroit's suburbs, but particularly Macomb County.

Chapter 5 in Klinenberg's book is really interesting, because it discusses how large scale work sites ,in particular manufacturing plants, ended up being social levelers and platforms for equality and augurs of democracy, bringing together people who otherwise differed greatly on racial, ethnic, and religious terms.

But working together, sharing not only union membership and activities, but "wakes, funerals, retirement parties, weddings, and a host of family activities over the course of their lives in the mill" brought about social bonding and what Klinenberg calls "bridging social capital" that supersedes intragroup solidarity.

"Taverns, athletic fields, and political clubs were especially important sites of social bonding.  Some tended to attract mainly people from one ethnic group, but many others were places where white ethnics, Mexicans, and African Americans came together regularly to converse, commune and compete."

Not only did people discuss work issues, but family, personal matters, community and political issues as well.  Sure plenty of churches, social clubs, and neighborhoods remained exclusionary, but for many their world did not have to be quite so delimited.

As firms consolidated, closed, and moved out of the cities, these platforms for communal introduction and interaction declined and disappeared as well.

In Michigan, industry centered on Southeastern Michigan specifically, dominated by Detroit which had a peak of 1.8 million residents which today is about one-third, and "Lower Michigan" more generally.  And this population and political domination of Lower Michigan over the rest of the state was deeply resented.

Buick City--the section of Flint dominated by Buick manufacturing operations--in its heyday.

The population decline in major Michigan cities as "work disappeared" and a spread of the population within the state away from Southeastern Michigan has contributed significantly to the changing political demographics of Michigan.

Within Michigan as a whole, too there is an element of political payback to Southeastern Michigan, whose political and economic might once controlled the rest of the state. 

You saw that with Governors like John Engler (a former Congressman who went on to disgrace himself as the out of tune interim President of Michigan State University) and Rick Snyder, and with Snyder, state management takeover of cities like Detroit and Flint through bankruptcy proceedings.

(It was Republican state management of Flint that brought about that city's massive water system failure.)

And with the denigration of cities as cesspools of Democratic control and "failure," without acknowledging that when work disappears so do tax paying residents and businesses.

-- "John DeLorean, R.I.P (Rocking Revitalization Part II)," 2005
-- "The rise of Oakland County is built upon Detroit's fall," 2014
-- "Ford Motor Company as a transportation company not a "car" company: bike share and small scale transit," 2016
-- "The real lesson from Flint Michigan is about municipal finance," 2016
-- "Poletown, GM, the Archdiocese, etc. and the closure of the Detroit Hamtramack GM plant," 2019
-- "Revisiting stories: the death of L. Brooks Patterson, County Executive, Oakland County, Michigan," 2019

In 1987, I ran for City Council in Ann Arbor in a ward that was traditionally Republican, because that year, the Democratic candidate who typically ran, a lifelong resident, wasn't interested.  (Back then the election was in April, to diminish the power of the student vote.  Now it's consolidated within the national election cycle and Democrats pretty much control the city's politics.)

I went to Ann Arbor more as a moderate Republican (although at 12 I was a fervent McGovern supporter) and voted for some Republicans including for Governor the first time I voted.  Although then Michigan had an honorable moderate Republican tradition which has long since been abandoned in the state and by the party more generally.

Soon enough I became more progressive and Democrat in my politics, especially by the time I ran for office.  Talk about voting in that Ward always centered on the massive turnout in two Republican precincts out towards I-94, somewhat distant from the city center and very typically suburban.

Having changed my politics, I didn't understand why Oakland County--where I lived during junior and senior high school--was so Republican.  When I started door knocking in those two precincts in Ann Arbor that were so reliably and fervently Republican, I understood.  Those houses and subdivisions looked just like where I lived in Troy.

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Sunday, August 09, 2020

Progressives in Congressional elections: Missouri

Post columnist David Von Drehle has a piece, "What Lacy Clay’s primary loss reminds us about generational house-cleanings," commenting on the defeat of "moderate" William Lacy Clay in a St. Louis-focused Congressional district primary by Justice Democrats-endorsed Cori Bush. 

He argues that Clay took the position for granted--between he and his father, a Clay held the office for more than 50 years--but that there is something to be said for moderation. 

That's true, but I think there is a difference between moderation and not doing very much at all.

What happened in Ferguson, Missouri, not just the death of Michael Brown, but the spawning of the Black Lives Matter movement and the months-long demonstrations in St. Louis County as a result, ought to have been a wake up call to William Lacy Clay.  If not Ferguson, definitely the success of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018, especially after he faced similar opposition in the 2018 primary, also by Cori Bush.

Just off hand, from what I know about St. Louis City and County and/or subsequent press coverage (e.g., "Policing for Profit in St. Louis County," New York Times), I'd say there should be a very clear agenda, including:
Granted these are local issues, and theoretically a Congressman doesn't lead on those kinds of issues. But Representatives have a platform and can be a convenor-leader.

While I don't agree with his politics, The Next American City: The Big Promise of Our Midsize Metros by Mick Cornett, the former Mayor of Oklahoma City, outlines a great approach to rejuvenating a city.

The OKC program is called "Metropolitan Area Projects" and is a great example of what I call Transformational Projects Action Planning.

Each round--there have been four--focus on significant capital projects that have transformed the city's downtown, the Bricktown canal district, center city schools and neighborhoods, and the Oklahoma River waterfront, among others.  Another example, building an arena, but without a tenant enabled the city to land an NBA team.

One of the most recent capital projects that has been delivered is a downtown streetcar.  They are already working on expansion.

Similarly, Hennepin County Minnesota created a program called Hennepin Community Works to reinvest in Minneapolis to staunch population loss and disinvestment.

Yes there is generational change.  But Nancy Pelosi is 78 years old, and she's kicking butt.

Still, I am super impressed that Justice Democrats figured out that they could win in heavily Democratic seats, and from those positions, could shift the national agenda in a progressive agenda.

Although they haven't figured out that those kinds of seats are a relatively small set of the total number.  That it's not likely they'll win in seats that aren't so overwhelmingly Democratic.

Still, a number of JD-endorsed candidates have won primaries in this cycle so that the number of hard core progressives is likely to at least double.  Rashida Tlaib easily held off her primary challenger, currently the chair of the Detroit City Council.  Although we won't know til next week if Ilhan Omar will hold her seat in Minneapolis.  I'm thinking no, but we'll see ("Rep. Omar faces well-funded, moderate challengers in heated District 5 Democratic primary," Duluth News-Tribune), although with four challengers she may well squeak by.


Friday, August 07, 2020

The suburbs aren't what we think: Politico interview with Thomas Sugrue

Politico has an interview ("Trump Doesn't Understand Today's Suburbs—And Neither Do You") with NYU Professor Thomas Sugrue about "the suburbs" in response to President Trump's overturning of a HUD funding rule that was supposed to encourage the production of more affordable and lower income housing in the suburbs.

I know about Professor Sugrue's work about Detroit, but haven't kept up with his writing and research otherwise.

The discussion is particularly good on how most people take for granted the various federal policy preferences and actions that subsidized the building of the suburbs and their racial demographics.

As an example, the massive developments by William Levitt, the Levittowns, were pretty much whites only.  See "A 'Forgotten History' Of How The U.S. Government Segregated America," NPR, and "Memories of Segregation in Levittown," New York Times.
Levittown in 1957, image from promotional brochure

I know that I was really surprised when I learned about this more directly, but not til about 20 years ago, in a book of papers published by the Brookings Institution.

(Recently, when the U of Michigan Alumni Magazine sent out their e-letter about recent writings about "anti-racism" I wrote an email back about segregation of dorms at the school, which I never learned about while enrolled, but uncovered a few years ago in an NYT obituary, "Jewel Plummer Cobb, 92, Dies; Led a California Campus."  They never responded.)

The basic points, besides the subsidy and creation of the suburbs as white enclaves:

  • that suburbs aren't monolithic
  • that the wealthy and most concerned about whiteness keep moving farther out more at the exurban edge of metropolitan areas
  • that inner suburbs in particular are more diverse as they decline relative to newer areas farther out
  • that immigrants increasingly are drawn to the suburbs for job opportunities, rather than first living in the city, etc.

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Thursday, August 06, 2020

"The Con" documentary on the 2008 Great Financial Crisis triggered by a crash in the real estate market

"The Con" is a five part documentary series on the real estate crash element of the 2008 "Great Financial Crisis."

-- "Wall Street Docuseries 'The Con' Set for Virtual Premiere," Hollywood Reporter
-- "'A failure of our system': inside a damning take on the Great Recession," Guardian

There will be a two-week exclusive streaming run in North America starting tomorrow, Friday August 7th and a targeted digital rental release on August 21st.

More bicycling #3: Bike sharing stations in parks especially because of the pandemic

Bike sharing systems are designed to support utilitarian bicycling, that is transportation, mostly to and from work, and errands.

That works in Europe and especially Asia, where mobility systems are more balanced and not designed primarily for automobility.  In the US, bicycling is still seen as primarily for recreation and bikes are seen as toys.

Given the rise in bicycling that has been reported as one of the responses to the pandemic (personally, here in Salt Lake I don't see it), and how many communities have created new spaces for pedestrians and cyclists from roadways, I think that recreational use of bicycles needs to be recognized by US bike share systems and sharing stations need to be placed in or by large parks where people may wish to cycle.  (I seem to recall the Bixi system in Montreal tends to place large stations by parks.)

The stations should be specially set for hour long use periods (normally trips are set for 30 minutes; although some systems provide 30 minute trips for occasional users and 45 minute trips for regular members).

One of the early bike share programs, Tulsa Townies, was set up not for transportational cycling but to support recreational cycling for health and other benefits, within the park and trail system along the Tulsa River.  Various systems do seem to include parks in their station footprint.

Washington Park, Albany.

For example the bike share system for Albany and Troy, New York has stations in at least 8 parks.

The parks department in Mercer County, New Jersey negotiated with Zagster to deploy bike share in three parks.

Montgomery County Maryland Parks also did a Zagster-based implementation in some of their parks.  Although I don't understand why they didn't do this through the existing Capital Bikeshare system, of which the county is already a member.

Using CoGo bikes on a trail in Greater Columbus.

The CoGo bike sharing system in Columbus, Ohio is unusual in that its website promotes destinations and attractions "that you can reach by bike," including Centennial Park in the Downton.

Balancing cost recovery versus access.  The parks department in Johnson County, Kansas, part of the Kansas City metropolitan area spanning Missouri and Kansas, has just inked an agreement with the RideKC program to add bike share stations to some of their parks.  Although to me, the pricing isn't favorable, basically $7 for one hour

Some parks agencies have special pass programs based on the ability to pay (Montgomery County, Maryland).  I'd suggest such programs be extended to bike access in parks.

Additionally, many bicycle sharing programs already have special pricing for low income residents.

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More bicycling #2: Japanese Railway bicycle tourism and bike cars

More commuter rail networks accommodate bicycles.  Usually a few bikes can be accommodated in special racking in various cars on a train.  Although the highest ridership systems have serious restrictions, either allowing very few bicycles or no bicycles during peak ridership periods.

One of the justifications for bike sharing systems is rather than take your bike on a train, the idea is that you use a bike share bike at the end of your rail trip to get to your final destination.  (When I worked in Baltimore County, I had a DC bike and a Baltimore bike--it was 8 miles to Towson from Penn Station.)

Bike tourism.  On weekends, some "commuter rail" systems like Metrolink in Southern California or the MBTA in Greater Boston have dedicated train cars for bicycles.

MBTA train car.

MBTA has two different cars, one with seats and one without, deployed on lines serving bike tourists, and regularly deployed on the Rockport/Gloucester and Cape Flyer lines. The first car they created had seats as well as space for 20+ bikes. Now they seem to have moved to a bike-only car.

Amtrak (USA) and Via Rail (Canada) on certain routes have developed better accommodations for bikes, but not dedicated cars.

Japan railroad passenger marketing includes bike tourism.  In Japan, in the face of population decline, to justify continued operation, many of the passenger railroad organizations (a mix of big national railroads organized on a regional basis, and smaller firms often receiving subsidies from local and state governments) have focused on railroad tourism initiatives to build ridership on weekends and in tourist seasons.

In the US, for the most part regional passenger rail systems don't focus much on marketing outside of the work trip when it comes to tourism, although some systems do promote train travel to and from major events including sports (football, baseball, hockey, etc.) and concerts.  Some "commuter" rail systems don't even offer weekend service.

Bike tourism in Chiba Prefecture.  NHK World's tv show, "Japan Railway Journal," recently featured a program, "Bicycle Onboard: Cycling with JR East," on bike tourism and the special B.B. Base trainset JR East (Japan Railway East) designed to serve bike tourism in the Boso Peninsula area comprising the entirety of the Chiba Prefecture.

Normally, bikes on trains in Japan have to be disassembled and carried in a special bag (called "rinkos").  B.B. Base doesn't require disassembly.  Each train is set for 99 riders and 99 bicycles.

The rail marketing section created four routes, served by various trains, leaving from Ryōgoku Station in Tokyo. 

The trains are special event trains, meaning that they don't run every weekend for every route.  Each route is served one particular weekend each month of the service period.

Ryōgoku Station is the staging point because it has a separated platform used for special events, so bicycles can be separated from masses of riders for other trains. 

JR East prepared cycling maps (in Japanese) for each route, at three distances--short (avg. 20KM), middle (avg. 40KM), and long course (avg. 60KM). (Unfortunately, they are only available online. Printed maps would be good too.)

Trains have specially designed vertical racking for bikes, changing rooms, and non slip flooring material so cyclists can walk in cleats.

One car has open space with bench seating, so people can hang out.

Most trains have a bike tour ambassador (I think funded by the tourism agency) to answer questions and discuss sites etc.

They also have a bike rental operation at Ryōgoku Station for people who don't own bikes.  (Theoretically, it'd make more sense to have rental operations at the destination, but this way people have their bikes before the start of the trip, so that they don't have to wait around after arriving in Chiba.)

One concern though on the part of some bicyclists is missing the last train, which depending on the route is somewhere between 4:30 and 5:30 pm.

It has been suggested that single bike cars be added to later trains so that people could stay longer.

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"Government" or "advocacy" approaches: either/or vs. and/and and DC area regional trails planning

A few years ago, I was somewhat derisive of the effort by the Washington Area Bicyclist Coalition to create the "Capital Trails Coalition," linking advocates and various jurisdictions across the Washington metropolitan area to plan for trails expansion.

-- "Wanted: a metropolitan scale bikeways/trails program run by the Metropolitan Planning Organization," 2016

In comments to the National Park Service bike planning initiative around the same time--I thought the document was overly positive--I also criticized their self-lauding of participation in the trails coalition effort.

I stated that such a function shouldn't be voluntary, but required of all of the jurisdictions, that the NPS plan should state that the TPB should create a "Regional Trails Collaborative" and that the NPS would join.

To both, I said, "why [the ***] isn't the Transportation Policy Board, the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for transportation matters, which has a bicycle and pedestrian committee as it is, already doing this?"

Last week, the Washington Post reported ("Government officials adopt plan to expand Washington region trail network to 1,400 miles") that the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, parent of the TPB, has voted in favor of a conceptual plan to create/expand the regional network of bicycle trails, routes, lanes, and paths.

From the article:
The 1,400-mile trail expands upon the vision laid out by the Capital Trails Coalition, a group of more than 60 nonprofits, business and government agencies that have been pushing for a connected multiuse trail system of 900 miles across jurisdictions close in to the District. The coalition has closely worked with the TPB in recent years to move the plan forward, and the proposal adopted is an expanded version of that vision. In 2018, the TPB adopted a regional trail plan connecting 60 miles of jurisdictions in the region’s core.
-- THE NATIONAL CAPITAL REGIONAL TRAIL NETWORK: Of the TPB’s 2018 Long-Range Transportation Plan Visualize 2045

In other writings about the process of social change on a particular issue, which I call the "issuespace/issue space", I've discussed how at various points, different actions and responses are required.

Usually, outside advocacy is necessary to get "more," "better" and "faster" change than if you solely relied on "the government" or people who aren't particularly motivated or independent (e.g., I came up with a great structure for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee in Baltimore County, but I didn't foresee that the County Executive would just appoint as chair someone who worked for the government and was dependent on the County Executive to remain employed).

That's why this slide mentions both trails being unfunded and that the plan is aspirational, or bigger than what has been funded (called "constrained" within transportation planning).

So while I was right that the TPB needed to take a stronger and overarching role in planning a trail network, it wasn't really either/or.   You needed the focused advocacy of the "Trails Coalition" to pressure elected officials to sign off on a plan and provide funding.  I missed that it was and/and.

You needed WABA to push the TPB, in part by organizing the local jurisdictions and committed citizens within those jurisdictions. This is pointed out within the Post article:
Political support is critical to ensure that trail projects can compete with other transportation projects that have taken priority over the years, such as fixing and building roads. Transportation advocates and officials say it has become clearer during the coronavirus pandemic that demand for trails is high and that they can take an important role in moving people around the region.
That's so true. Plenty of places have good bike and pedestrian plans. But rarely is the money appropriated to build out the planned improvements.

Now they need to think beyond trails, each year for example I try to use "Bike to Work Day/Bike Month" as an opportunity to write an entry to assess where we need to go:

Trails are key, but more is required.  This is from 2017 (there are 8 more recommendations other than those listed here):

1. As mentioned in previous posts, the Capital Trails Coalition should become an official program of the DC area Metropolitan (Transportation) Planning Organization, the Transportation Policy Board, and it should be extended to include Greater Baltimore and its MPO, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.

2. Area jurisdictions should commit to creating an integrated metropolitan and regional bikeways network, supporting cycling as transportation.  Trail expansions should be coordinated and opened in association with the launch of the Purple Line light rail and the extension of the Silver Line subway in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. 

3.  Jurisdictions should commit to the creation and printing of a "Metropolitan Bikeways Network" map and it should be posted in Metrorail, MARC, VRE, and Purple Line stations.  Sub-district maps like the Silver Spring Bikeways Map should be updated.  (I recall that Maricopa County, Arizona publishes such a map, at least they did in the past.)

4.  In the DC area, treat Metrorail, Purple Line, and MARC and VRE stations as "trailheads" for the bicycle transportation network.  Extend this treatment to Greater Baltimore, including MARC stations, as well as subway, light rail, and key bus transfer centers.

5.  Develop an integrated secure bike parking program across the region, anchored by the transit network, modeled after the Parkiteer program in Victoria State, Australia.

Centered on Melbourne, the Parkiteer bike parking is a network of 90+ secure bicycle parking cages at railroad and transit stations.  While many European, Asian, and South American cities provide similar types of bike cages, Parkiteer is different in that each cage is a node in a common network, rather than each a free standing facility with different membership and entry access systems.

6.  Upgrade wayfinding and signage systems, including the addition of map signage.

7. Add bike repair stands and air pumps to transit stations. Including air pumps and repair stands is still not standard practice for transit stations in the region. 

8. Create bike hubs as needed at PL/Metrorail/MARC/VRE stations in the DC area and at MARC, subway, light rail, and key transit transfer centers in Greater Baltimore.

9.  As part of this program, develop special bike hubs at Penn Station in Baltimore and National and BWI Airports, and a new bike hub as part of the expansion of Union Station in Washington, DCNOTE: I neglected to include Dulles Airport in this recommendation.  Since the airport will be reachable by Metrorail, it should also have a bike hub.  See "Why not a bicycle hub at National Airport?, focused on capturing worker trips but open to all."

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Wednesday, August 05, 2020

John King, urban design writer for the San Francisco Chronicle isn't impressed by current "restaurant seating in the street" initiatives

-- "Restaurants are taking over parking spaces. Here are 6 ways to make them better" (pretty hard firewall, you might need to access this article through a public library database)

Few newspapers have urban design or architecture "beat" writers anymore. John King is an exception, and as always, he's great.

He's one of the first people to have written about the Rebar (now defunct) Parking Day initiative when it first launched in San Francisco in 2006.  More than a few of his pieces, including "Great architecture, clean streets, culture -- it must be Minneapolis" and "Opening Day Distraction Why the ballpark was a great idea, four years later," both published in 2005, I still reference, etc.

WRT the restaurant patios in the street (which I wrote about in June, "From more space to socially distance to a systematic program for pedestrian districts (Park City (Utah) Main Street Car Free on Sundays)"), his point is that in the SF area, restauranteurs aren't much concerned about aesthetics.  The current article is a follow up to an earlier piece from June.  From the article:
But as the parklet-like nooks proliferate — there probably are at least 100 in San Francisco alone — we’re seeing an ad hoc transformation of such commercial strips as Chestnut Street in the Marina, Valencia Street in the Mission and Green Street in North Beach.

Some are elaborate constructions. Others have a flimsy, spur-of-the moment air. Your table might be on a wooden platform, a carpet of artificial grass or stark, unadorned asphalt. Many have plastic or wooden partitions between widely spaced tables. Some — how shall I be polite about this — take a dangerously lax approach to the need for safe social distance.

In a strange way, this is urban design for the pandemic age. Which means there’s a genuine need for basic standards that businesses should aspire to, no matter how ad hoc the tools. Otherwise, blocks could end up looking so cluttered and desperate that potential patrons won’t want to visit once the novelty wears off.

Turning parking spaces into outdoor dining areas can have an ad hoc air, as with this restaurant on Columbus Avenue in North Beach, San Francisco

The dining pods at the Progress at 1529 Fillmore Street have solid walls higher than what new city guidelines recommend — effectively walling off everyone not buying a meal

By contrast, I was struck by today's New York Times food section piece, "Chinatown Is Coming Back, One Noodle at a Time," which mentions the Rockwell Group's design initiative for outdoor restaurant spaces.  From the article:
Working with the city Department of Transportation, the firm looked in the five boroughs to identify “locations where the operators weren’t capable of rallying resources to help themselves,” in the words of David Rockwell, the firm’s founder.

“It’s been so terrifying to look at the empty city and see it just as hardware,” Mr. Rockwell said. “In theater, when there’s not a performance, the art form doesn’t exist. In some ways, cities are like that. Walking around the city you see these big gaping wounds. And you see these pockets where people have started to dine out.”
Planning a comprehensive approach vs. ad hoc responses.  The article makes an important point, that many individual restaurants lack the capacity to do a good job with this, so the Rockwell Group stepped in.

That to me is a purpose of urban planning and city government. Rather than erecting barriers, create the "infrastructure" necessary to facilitate the desired outcome.

About a dozen restaurants in Manhattan’s Chinatown can take advantage of a communal outdoor dining area. Credit: Jeenah Moon for The New York Times.

Rather than look at this as a lot by lot or individual restaurant by individual restaurant initiative, the Rockwell Group created a communal approach, where the tables provided are not specific to any one restaurant.

(Many NYC restaurants are going their own way regardless.)

Apparently, that's the difference between NYC and SF. But it's not likely that the NYC DOT was a leader on this--although in many areas both the NYC and SF transportation departments can be quite innovative.

My sense is that the initiative came from the civically engaged private sector in this case David Rockwell and the Rockwell Group ("Famed Designer Draws Up Plan to Save Restaurants Through Outdoor Dining," Bloomberg).

But the other difference between full street use and parking space use is what can be achieved by using the full street.  Just using the narrow width of the parking lane yields more limited options.

For better aesthetics, King calls for:

-- engaging with the neighborhood architecturally and place-wise in the design
-- security can be stylish (such as with these painted street barriers filled with water to ward off cars)
-- DIY is ok, provided aesthetics are a key consideration
-- Be creative
-- Care about what you do and how it looks
-- Don't fence the space off from public space

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Next Week: Virtual Summit on Innovations in Naturally Affordable Housing

This conference by the Population Health Learning Collaborative (PopHLC) is available in multiple tiers, including free access to multiple presentations.  The sessions on Tuesday August 11th and Wednesday August 12th.

-- Invitation

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Housing Density exhibit online from the Skyscraper Museum

The Skyscraper Museum has posted the full text and images  of its exhibition HOUSING DENSITY: From Tenements to Towers, presented in the gallery from May 2019 through mid-March 2020.

This version of the show, which is also available as an interactive virtual exhibition, has more than 16,000 words and more than 120 images.

From left to right: models of Queensbridge Houses, Penn South, and Silver Towers.

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Public statue with a mask, Salt Lake City

Parley Pratt statue with a mask, 2300 East 2100 South, Salt Lake City
Parley Pratt statue with a mask, 2300 East 2100 South, Salt Lake City.

Parley Pratt was an entrepreneur and Mormon proselytizer.  He created a pass through the Wasatch Mountains that was eventually incorporated into the Lincoln Highway, a private initiative which created a coast-to-coast highway from New York City to San Francisco.

This little park is a memorial to him, has beautiful plantings, and a number of plaques on neighborhood-relevant history.

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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Jauntily painted house, Salt Lake City

Jauntily painted house, Williams Avenue, Salt Lake City

Jauntily painted house, Williams Avenue, Salt Lake City


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Side connection (easement) to Dilworth Elementary School and Park from Westminster Avenue, Salt Lake City

Side connection (easement) to Dilworth Elementary School and Park from Westminster Avenue

Dilworth Elementary School is located on a major street in Salt Lake City.  In my writings about "safe routes to schools," I do suggest that schools be located on major streets, to better accommodate transportation demand, rather than overtaxing neighborhood streets with school drop off and pick up traffic.

But main streets with lots of traffic can also be difficult places for pedestrians (although not in this particular instance).  Still, traffic is traffic, and the more traffic there is, the less willing people are to walk and bike.

I also recommend "school transportation demand management plans," but rarely are they developed.

-- "International Walk and Bike to School Day: Wednesday October 2nd, 2019," 2019

When I did a bike and pedestrian plan in 2010, the state Safe Routes to School coordinator suggested a way to improve connections to schools so that children wouldn't have to walk the long way around to access their school from their neighborhood was to buy strategically placed houses, install a sidewalk and incorporate an easement for it, and then put the house back on the market.

The auto industry has promoted drive to school for almost 100 years.
Drive children to school ad, Chevrolet, Saturday Evening Post, March 3, 1923
Drive children to school ad, Chevrolet, Saturday Evening Post Magazine, March 3, 1923.

I don't know if that's exactly what happened here, but it's an example of the concept.  (The school site was once exclusively a park, and many of the park functions remain, so it's possible this side access connection has existed for some time.)

Interestingly, they've furthered the "transportation demand management" element of this access point by setting up a "no parking school zone" on both sides of the access point, presumably for school pick up and drop off without having to go out to the main street.
Side connection (easement) to Dilworth Elementary School and Park from Westminster Avenue

(Although to best work, it'd need a small layby cul-de-sac like treatment so cars could easily turn around.)

I am not a big fan of the orange colored street crossing flags that people are supposed to wave so that drivers don't hit them, when they are crossing the street.

But some of the flags here are branded as being provided by the City Council, which I think is smart, as an example of branding and identity systems.

The biggest problem with walk and bike to school planning is that for the most part, there isn't planning for it.  School districts typically are only required to plan for school bus transportation.

A few school districts, like Boulder Valley School District in Colorado, have planners in the transportation office dedicated to sustainable mobility. 

So it should be no surprise that some of the BVSD elementary schools have greater than 50% participation in walking and biking to school.

That's one of my biggest takeaways on this issue, require schools to do what I call balanced transportation planning, and you'll get a lot more walking and biking to school.

It'd be best to do this as part of state-level legislation, but individual school districts wouldn't be precluded from acting on their own.

A great resource is the State of Washington DOT manual, School Walk and Bike Routes: A Guide for Planning and Improving Walk and Bike to School Options for Students. One of its points is that improvements for walking and biking to school also contribute positively to neighborhood sustainable mobility goals and objectives.

The State of Washington doesn't exactly mandate balanced transportation planning for schools, but they come closest as possible with the "carrot" approach. First, they require all K-5 schools, public and private, provide walk to school maps. Second, they recommend but do not require the creation of school district traffic safety committees, involving school, streets, and police planners, along with parents. Third, they allow school districts to spend transportation monies on non-school bus forms of transportation.

You Only Live Once traffic safety campaign
Typically SRTS programs focus on elementary schools and sometimes middle schools, while high schools are not addressed.

Yet the number of adolescent injuries and deaths related to traffic safety remain persistently high. Therefore, SRTS and traffic safety programs need to be provided to all school aged populations, including high schools.

Only a few school districts seem to create walk to school maps for middle and senior high schools.Seattle does. So does the Palo Alto School District in California, and a few others.

Montgomery County, Maryland schools has a campaign targeting teens with pedestrian-positive messaging called You Only Live Once.

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