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.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Bike Wars -- segment on HBO "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel"

The latest edition of the HBO show "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," has a segment called "The Bike Wars."  It discusses the conflicts between bicyclists and motor vehicle operators in the US and then does brief segments in Copenhagen, Denmark and Amsterdam, Netherlands, where in those places, a majority of trips are accomplished by bike, complemented by walking and public transit.

An extra online clip with Megan Hochman covers more ground, including how she holds classes for law enforcement officers on cycling and the law.

The story doesn't say much that's new to people involved in the issue, but it's well articulated and should resonate with people who aren't familiar with the intricacies of the argument.  The images are nice.

In terms of relating the European "cities" to the US experience, they missed the key point about the difference in opportunity between cities and suburbs in opportunity to capture bike trips.  The greatest opportunities to capture trips by bikes are in the cities, but most people in the US live in suburbs--despite the recent bump upward in city populations. 

Plus, they didn't discuss infrastructure much in terms of the US context.  That the US is not city-centric the same way that Europe is makes a big difference in terms of infrastructure.

Nor did the mention at all the fact that gasoline prices, parking prices, excise taxes on cars, the cost of getting a driver's license, etc., are all much higher in Europe, compared to the US.  This affects the willingness to bike also.

They ended the segment making the point that 1/3 of commuting trips are no more than 5 miles in length.  They also didn't discuss the difference between recreational cycling and racing and biking as transportation, and how this has shaped attitudes on "both sides." 

I'd like to see a follow up segment on the Idaho Stop.  It's a shame they didn't do a bunch of additional online segments.
"Why would you ever ride a bike when you have a perfectly good car?"  -- Megan Hochman, formerly a cycle racer, now a lawyer representing cyclists

"Why should I have to share the road with you?"  -- Megan Hochman, on the attitudes of motor vehicle operators

-- 20% increase in deaths of cyclists in the US over the past 3 years
-- in 47 states, killing a cyclist is a misdemeanor offense

-- 50% commuting by bike
-- fully protected bike lanes with dedicated signals
-- dedicated long distance 
-- cyclists stop at lights

What's special in the US is the failure to understand that the mobility network has been constructed to favor and privilege the automobile.  As long as that doesn't change, the conflict between motor vehicle operators and sustainable modes--walking, biking, and public transit--will not abate.

The difference between Denmark and the Netherlands is that those countries made the decision 40-50 years ago to re-articulate the mobility network to privilege sustainable mobility ("The Dutch ThinkBike project in DC").

-- 60% of people use bikes for trips every day
-- so many people bike there isn't enough parking
-- adding 40,000 legal

"Perhaps, fittingly, the question for biking is one of 'balance.'"

Minneapolis only US city ranked in top 20 bike cities in the world

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City of Richmond, Virginia not making much economic return from holding Redskins football practices

-- "Redskins return amid renewed concerns about economic performance," Richmond Times-Dispatch

A friend's uncle was a high level government official in a capital city government in Central America.  They were dealing with a landfill contract and they got technical assistance from an  international technical assistance organization. 

One of the provisions the group suggested including was about restricting radioactive waste.  They reacting, saying, "we don't have any nuclear facilities in our country." 

The reply was "nothing prevents an international firm from depositing such waste in a facility in your country without your restricting it."

They realized it made a lot of sense to seek help from people with a lot more experiencing negotiating such contracts.

I am not party to high level government agency decisionmaking, but I often wonder whether or not similar levels of technical assistance are available within the US, since so many local governments get on the wrong side of contracts with business interests.

It doesn't seem like it.  

Because small and very large governments seem to be on the wrong side of such contracts more often than not.

A small city example is Richmond, Virginia, which so far finds that the economic benefits from sponsoring and subsidizing the Washington Redskins summer training camp are one-sided--although had they specified the number of training sessions open to the public, when they are held--morning sessions have less economic impact than afternoon sessions, etc., the city could have better protected their interests.

But it's also large cities like Chicago, which got its clock cleaned in the contract where in return for upfront payments--to be used to cover budget problems--they leased city owned parking structures and parking meters to a Wall Street group--giving up hundreds of millions of dollars in favor of private interests ("Revisited: Private financing of public infrastructure is good business for business").

But somehow there must be a lot of pressure to not protect a government's interest in these kinds of contracts. 

Instead, there's a lot of wishful thinking, cf. "'The Art of the Con:' how scammers dupe art collectors and run off with millions"  (Post) where about people believing in the 'too good to be true" when it comes to art forgeries:
Amore, head of security at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, provides chastening examples of people ignoring each of these warning signs and others nearly as blatant. The sad fact, as he writes in his introduction, is that the art market’s con artists never have any trouble finding marks who “believe, against all indications to the contrary, that they have actually stumbled on the rare deal that is both too good and true.” 
I think the same goes on when it comes to many municipal-private sector deals, because except in the case of minor league baseball stadiums, there aren't many examples of local, regional, and state governments benefiting significantly from providing stadiums, arenas, and practice facilities to professional sports teams.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Prince George's County considers moving county government center to Largo Metro station

For awhile I've argued that Prince George's County, which claims a new interest in transit oriented development, needs to overhaul completely its land use and transportation planning paradigm. 

According to a Washington Post article "Baker wants to move government headquarters to Largo, lawmakers say:" 
The Prince George’s County government wants to move its headquarters from sleepy Upper Marlboro to Largo, an area near the Capital Beltway that is more bustling and Metro-accessible, according to County Council members who were briefed on the plans this week.

Such a move would bring government leaders closer to a growing commercial center in the county, including the site of a proposed regional hospital that officials say should be a major economic catalyst.
I made that recommendation in a 2011 blog entry, "A recommended new planning direction for Prince George's County."  I thought that was a pretty pathbreaking suggestion, but acccording to the Post article, the county has been moving in that direction for a long time, buying properties in the vicinity of the Largo Metrorail station, and moving government agencies there, which is depicted in the graphic.

Still, this is what I wrote 4 years ago:

One of the things I would recommend in a presentation that I might create called "Prince George's County: Transportation and Land Use Planning Beyond the Purple Line" would recommend relocating the County Seat to one of the transit station districts, maybe at a place like New Carrollton, which will have heavy rail, railroad (MARC and Amtrak), and light rail service.

This is not unlike what Gresham, Oregon did over time. My understanding is that they were originally skeptical about the location of a light rail station in their downtown as part of the Portland MAX service. But over time, the community changed its attitude and through the creation and execution of a neighborhood plan, they built a new city hall, conference center, and plaza adjacent to the transit station, which opened in 1996. From the website:
The 130-acre district arose from an ambitious plan to create a new model of an urban, civic neighborhood in the heart of the city. Built around the MAX light rail line, Gresham City Hall, trendy, high density housing and a contemporary shopping center, the neighborhood has flourished beyond expectations.

Relocating the County Seat to a location with high quality transit service is only one of the steps they should undertake.

Reorganizing bus services to focus on transit stations, upon the opening of the Purple Line light rail system is another.

Acknowledging complete streets and sustainable transportation policies is essential.

Changing the land use spatial development paradigm towards compact development is another.

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Average size of the US house building is growing again

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune published a story, "After years of downsizing, big houses make a comeback: Low interest rates, higher incomes and longer wish lists contribute to sprawling new single-family homes," about how the average size of houses is growing again, after having "shrunk" on average for a few years after the real estate crash of 2007.

This is an issue for center cities, not just suburbs, because (1) larger houses cost more to build, buy and finance, (2) as housing prices escalate in high demand neighborhoods, more tranches of the housing market are priced out, (3) households continue to shrink in the number of residents, (4) therefore cities need more housing to accommodate the same number of people, (5) especially as the number of single-person households continues to increase as discussed in Eric Klinenberg's Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone ("Eric Klinenberg on the Trend of Living Alone," New York Times; "Eric Klinenberg on Going Solo," Smithsonian Magazine).

This has many implications for housing policy, (1) in terms of allowing the construction of smaller units on affordability grounds, (2) legalizing accessory dwelling units, (3) general opposition of residents to housing types different from what they are familiar and comfortable with, out of the belief that accommodating "different" people willing to live in smaller units can lead to a diminishment of the quality of the neighborhood, and (4) microunits, which are even smaller than what used to be considered "small" ("Micro-units help DC renters live to the max," Washington Post).  Seattle has experienced a great deal of construction of microunits ("Seattle's micro-housing boom offers an affordable alternative," Seattle Times); "Are apodments ruining Seattle neighborhoods?," Seattle Magazine).

Another element is the teardown of smaller houses, generally on smaller lots, in favor of much larger houses on the same lot.  Residents often oppose this because it changes the character of a neighborhood ("Teardowns: Tearing apart or building up the neighborhood," Washington Post)..

I do wonder about the municipal finance implications.  Some could make the argument that bigger houses with fewer residents draw less in the way of city services than the same size building with multiple units with more residents, even if they are smaller households.  It's an interesting question to research.

-- The Macro View on Micro Units, report, Urban Land Institute

Below is a figure put together by the MST showing data for average house size in different areas of the country.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

7 Proven Principles for Designing a Safer City

This blog entry by Ben Welle, 7 Proven Principles for Designing a Safer City," is reprinted with permission from the World Resources Institute, which just published a report, Cities Safer by Design, on this topic.

I'd say this isn't exactly new, but it's always important to reinforce the argument, prettify it with great graphics, etc., especially for people new to the argument.

And for those of us familiar with the argument, it's always useful to read other interpretations, to refresh our thinking and perhaps to touch off new understandings and appreciations.

For example, it makes me realize I do need to add a much more in-depth discussion of the safety element to my "Signature Streets" concept.   (E.g., after this recent piece, "All Walks DC calls for removal of unsignalized crosswalks," I've been thinking of how the city, were it really committed to Vision Zero initiatives, would take Connecticut Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue re-engineer them to prioritize the pedestrian-centric environment.)

Traffic crashes kill more than 1.2 million people every year, nearly the same amount that die from HIV/AIDS. But there’s an undervalued approach to making the world’s roads safer—good urban design.

While most traffic safety initiatives tend to focus on behavioral approaches—such as helmet- and seatbelt-wearing campaigns—a new publication from the EMBARQ sustainable mobility initiative of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities finds that seven design principles can help cities dramatically reduce road deaths. Here’s a visual look at how local officials and planners can design safer and more sustainable urban environments:

1) Avoid urban sprawl.

Cities that are connected and compact are generally safer than cities that are spread out over a large area. Compact Stockholm and Tokyo have the lowest traffic fatality rates in the world—fewer than 1.5 deaths per 100,000 residents. Sprawling Atlanta, on the other hand, has a death rate six times that, at nine fatalities per 100,000 residents.

Cities should aim for smaller block sizes, pedestrian-oriented streets, and dense housing that allows for convenient, walkable access to transport, entertainment and public spaces. Doing so reduces the need for car travel and ensures a safe space for walking and cycling.

2) Slow down road traffic.

Lower automobile speeds, particularly below 25-31 miles per hour (40-50 kilometers per hour) drastically reduce the risk of fatalities.

Cities can implement low-speed zones and “area-wide traffic calming,” including speed humps, curves in the road called “chicanes,” curb extensions and raised pedestrian crossings. Research shows that speed humps can reduce vehicle speeds from more than 22 mph (36 kph) to less than 15 mph (25 kph). Paris, for example, has been using this kind of tool to design roads citywide to meet 30 kph (19 mph) speed limits.

3) Ensure main streets are safe for everyone, not just cars.

Ensuring safety is particularly important for main roads, where pedestrians and motorists often mix. A growing movement for “complete streets” means that all types of users have safe crossings and dedicated road space.

For example, refuge islands and medians give pedestrians a safe place when crossing the road. Mexico City found that for every one meter increase in unprotected road width, pedestrian crashes increased by 3 percent. The city recently rebuilt its Avenida Eduardo Molina as a complete street, featuring dedicated transit, bike lanes and a green central median for pedestrians. Similar but less dramatic changes in street design in the city have resulted in a nearly 40 percent drop in fatalities.

4) Create dedicated spaces for pedestrians.

More than 270,000 pedestrians lose their lives each year on the world’s roads. If pedestrians lack quality space, they are exposed to greater risk. Basic sidewalk space is necessary, but pedestrian-only streets and street plazas can also be effective tools for protecting walkers.

In the past few years, New York City has led a global shift toward eliminating street spaces for cars and turning them into “street plazas,” improved sidewalks and car-free areas. For example, a large section of Times Square is now only accessible to walkers and cyclists. The city saw a 16 percent decrease in speeding and a 26 percent reduction in crashes with injuries along streets with pedestrian plazas.

5) Provide a safe, connected network for cyclists.

Studies from several cities find that injury rates go down and more people bike when there is dedicated infrastructure like off-street trails and dedicated bike lanes. These cycling networks should also connect residential areas to business and retail, schools, parks and mass transport.

Bogota, Colombia found that adding more than 100 km (62 miles) of bikeways helped reduce bicyclist deaths by 47.2 percent between 2003 and 2013, and increased bicycle use from just over 3 percent of all daily trips to more than 6 percent.

6) Ensure safe access to high-quality public transport.

High quality public transport carries more people, and experiences fewer crashes than private vehicle travel. Research shows that a bus rapid transit (BRT) system can reduce traffic deaths and severe injuries by 50 percent.

It’s not enough to just provide this public transit, though—city planners must also ensure safe access for commuters. Belo Horizonte, Brazil recently launched MOVE BRT, carrying an estimated 700,000 passengers per day. The city rebuilt streets in its center and created dedicated bus lanes with clearly marked crossings and easy pedestrian access. This system makes it safe for commuters to ride the bus, as well as to wait for and get onto the bus.

7) Use data to detect problem areas.

Cities can use data analysis to identify key streets where all the above solutions can be integrated. This means having good traffic crash data that can be mapped and analyzed, seen below in Eskisehir, Turkey, using PTV Visum Safety software to create heat maps of crash locations.

London also used data analysis and mapping to analyze its crash data. City officials learned that a rise in cyclist deaths came from crashes with large trucks delivering goods into the city center. The city has since developed a pilot program to reschedule deliveries for low-cyclist hours.

Safer Streets for a Safer World

We live in a rapidly urbanizing world, with cities expected to hold 70 percent of the global population by 2030. Designing safe cities now can protect current residents, as well as those to come.

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"I'm never ever going to do X again": Bicycling, crimes, women and safety and living in the city

The Post has a brief article ("Pregnant woman stabbed while biking home from work in DC") about how a recent arrival to the city, a woman, 7 months pregnant, who lives in the Hill East/Potomac Avenue of Southeast DC/Capitol Hill, was stabbed by a pedestrian while riding home from work.  From the article:
Police are looking for a black man between the ages of 30 and 40 and about 5 foot 11. He was wearing a black shirt and black jeans at the time of the stabbing at about 5 p.m. Tuesday, police said.

The victim said she does not know what the man’s intentions were — perhaps he was trying to steal her backpack, she said. She said that she is in the Coast Guard and just moved to the District from Hawaii about a month ago.

The stabbing makes her feel less safe in her new neighborhood.

“It will take me a while, I think, to get comfortable again. And unfortunately, I won’t be commuting to work anymore on my bicycle,” she said.

FWIW, I don't think the guy was trying to rob her.  Likely he has mental health issues.  The impolite way to refer to the guy is "he's crazy."

I say this because something similar happened to me about 20 years ago on the 1600 block of L Street NW, in an area with far more people and positive street activity. 

I was cycling to work, "on the sidewalk," less than 100 feet from where I was about to lock my bike, on a signpost outside the office building where I was working at the time, when a black guy in his 40s or 50s, "swung a bag" at me, and hit me in the head.

I was prepared to just go about my business, chalking it as one of the many indignities of urban life, when I rubbed my head and I was bleeding.  It turned out that the bag had tools in it.  He just kept walking on, in the other direction.

I followed him for a couple miles, on buses off buses, etc., until he, me and police were in the same place, and I got him arrested.  He was convicted and spent half a year in jail.  But at the court hearing, where I testified, it was clear he was mentally ill.  I was glad he got his "just desserts" but in the end I didn't feel particularly vindicated.

In any case, yes, I know I am a man, not a woman, and that impacts my cap/ability to get about the city safely.

But after that incident and many others (muggings, etc.) I did not stop biking, or get a car, or stayed inside, etc. 

I did continue to learn how to take care of myself "more better."  (I remember reading research from the Annals of the Academy of Political and Social Science from the late 1980s or early 1990s about how young men are more frequent victims of crime because they frequent areas where crime is more likely to occur.  I was living truth of that theory...)

DC--way safer today than it was in the early 1990s or late 1980s--is still a city and you have to take precautions in order to be as safe as it is possible in a place where people rich and poor and some with a propensity to commit crimes live in close proximity.

Even today, I am reasonably fearless about riding in most places in DC, although there is no question I feel less comfortable in some places more than others (e.g., riding up Morris Road SE or on Mount Olivet Road NE always makes me feel like an outsider, even up Maryland Avenue NE to go over to Aldi, past all the "loiterers at the Starburst intersection, bus stop, and along the curb).  And being a white guy, stopping to take photos on Alabama Ave. SE or Good Hope Road SE can be pretty conspicuous, and not in a good way.

But I think the lady is wrong to make an irreversible decision about commuting by bicycle.

It's reasonable to change your behavior and actions (e.g., I finally stopped biking down K Street NE late at night by the old Thomas apartment building in the Sursum Corda area after many problems, but I didn't stop biking, what I did was divert around 2nd St. and ride around the back of the Gonzaga campus instead of on K St.).

But I don't think that has to mean stop biking, even if you're a woman. 

Even if I would argue, when you're less mobile because you're seven months pregnant, if you normally travel in a less safe area, it might be reasonable to not bike, until you're no longer less physically capable of taking care of yourself.

And I might even argue sometimes,  in certain places, I would argue it isn't safe to bike, and I wouldn't recommend it.  But Hill East, generally, isn't one of those areas.

(E.g., something similar came up in Petworth last year.  I wrote on a listserve that it doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman, being out on the street very late at night, drunk, with limited ability to take care of yourself, is a poor decision.  This was in response to a sexual assault.  I was challenged on this, about "blaming the victim" and I replied that in a city, to not take care of yourself increases the possibility of your becoming a victim and that precautions must be taken--like how I argue to "not use an ATM or buy gas late at night in cities, at least in particularly vulnerable, problematic areas.)

With regard to "globalizing" or "I'm never ever going to do X" in response to a particular event, some people in my extended circle have a habit of making these kinds of statements, and I am always perhaps too quick to make fun of them about it...

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Recurring problems on trails because of continued failures to address problems

There were news reports today on NBC4 about the inability of direct police to a point on the Metropolitan Branch Trail in response to a crime, because there was "no address."  This was in response to a recent mugging on the trail (2 teens arrested for robbery of bicyclist on Metropolitan Branch Trail," Fox5).

A bicyclist on the Metropolitan Branch TrailIn 2007, at a public meeting I said there should be a security plan for the trail.  I don't know if even today there is one.  There should probably be cameras at access points, and there are not.

Years ago, I suggested that the MBT be treated as a street, with block numbers, e.g., between R and S Streets NE should be "the 1700 block of Metropolitan Branch Trail NE."  

For example the access point on the west side of Rhode Island Avenue from the shopping center would be approximately the "2300 block of Metropolitan Branch Trail NE."

Treating MBT as the equivalent of a street would be more useful than the "mile markers" touted in the story on NBC4, because mile markers on a trail don't correspond to how the street network is organized and the way that the trail and access points (such as at L, M, N, New York Avenue, R, S, T, etc.) intersect.

(Note that in the entry below I suggested mile markers too, but as indicated, I no longer think that's the right direction.)

Frustration #1: every year at the start of Spring, crime upticks on trails. Why aren't police proactive about it? (June 17, 2013)

If you were to review news reporting about trails (shared use paths, used by bicyclists and pedestrians) in the DC area over the course of a year, for multiple years, you would see an increase in crimes reported every Spring.

So that's why recent crimes on the Metropolitan Branch Trail in DC ("'Violence for violence's sake is troubling,' says cyclist attacked by up to 15 youths" from the Post), Flawed Metropolitan Branch Trail Cameras Not Doing Much to Fight Crime," Washington City Paper, in Virginia ("Police investigate trail attacks in Fairfax, Arlington" from the Post), and Maryland don't surprise me.

A bicyclist on the Metropolitan Branch TrailWhat bugs me is (1) generally, local jurisdictions don't have security management plans for trails and (2) they don't increase patrols at the onset of Spring, to reduce the likelihood of crime.

The whole point about "problem-oriented policing" is to use data on crime patterns as a tool for interdicting/reducing crime.

This should be an issue for local police departments as well as the parks and/or transportation departments that manage trails. 

And it is in Howard County/Columbia, Maryland, according to this ABC News story, "Horse patrols, police to keep paths safe."  From the article:
With the summer months here, the Howard County Police Department and Columbia Association are partnering to keep Columbia's 93.5 miles of pathways safe while people are enjoying the outdoors.

While police have not seen an increase in crime in these areas, these efforts are intended to increase police visibility and deter problems.

People using the pathways will have a new resource in an emergency to direct help to their exact location. The police department and Columbia Association, along with recreation and parks, have labeled all bridges on trails in the county to speed up emergency response.

New signs have been placed throughout the trail system with alphanumeric codes. When a caller connects to a 911 dispatcher in an emergency and provides a code, the dispatcher will see a marker on a computer map of that sign's location.
Why is it that the Howard County Police Department understands, but that DC area police, parks, and transportation departments do not?

Besides the fact that this an annually recurring problem, with regard to the recurring problems with DC's Metropolitan Branch Trail is that the problems [and solutions] have been identified for a long time.

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Structuring community benefits agreements

(I have been really busy with a possible project and creating a detailed proposal for it.  We'll see where it goes.  But it definitely kept me from blogging.)

I have written a bunch in the past about community benefits agreements and how in DC, a relatively undefined framework for types of benefits, with the exception of added affordable housing in return for a density benefit, allows developers to not provide very much.

-- Community benefits agreements revised (again)
-- What community benefits are supposed to be versus what people think they are about
-- Community benefits agreements and energy considerations

And lack of good process allows many different actors to take part in negotiations in ways that diffuses impact.

Not to mention a lack of a good framework means that there is too little focus on realizing extranormal long term (structural) benefits.

I was reading a Montgomery County plan and it referenced that jurisdiction's public benefits process associated with special development considerations.  It's outlined in Division 4.7, Optional Method Public Benefits, in the new (2014) Montgomery County Zoning Code, on page 4-96.

All jurisdictions should create a comparable process.  And include in district, sector and neighborhood plans a section on community consensus priorities in order to help shape and accelerate the process.

A.  Major Public Facility

B. Transit Proximity

C. Connectivity and Mobility
1. Advance Dedication
2. Minimum Parking
3. Neighborhood Services
4. Public Parking
5. Through-Block Connection
6. Transit Access Improvement
7. Streetscape Improvement
8. Trip Mitigation
9. Way Finding

D. Diversity of Uses and Activities
1. Adaptive Buildings
2. Care Centers
3. Dwelling Unit Mix
4. Enhanced Accessibility for the Disabled
5. Live/Work
6. Moderately Priced Dwelling Units
7. Small Business Opportunity

E. Quality Building and Site Design
1. Architectural Elevations
2. Exceptional Design
3. Historic Resource Protection
4. Public Art
5. Public Open Space
6. Structured Parking
7. Tower Step-Back

F. Protection and Enhancement of the Natural Environment
1. Building Lot Terminations
2. Cool Roof
3. Energy Conservation and Generation
4. Habitat Preservation and Restoration
5. Recycling Facility Plan
6. Transferable Development Rights
7. Tree Canopy
8. Vegetated Area
9. Vegetated Roof
10. Vegetated Wall

G. Building Reuse

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Friday, July 10, 2015

Quote of the day: why vehicular cycling doesn't work

There was a post the other day at GGW on vehicular cycling, "We can make our roads a lot more bike friendly, here's how."  It discusses the difference between the vehicular cycling approach, which calls for cyclists to learn how to ride in motor vehicle traffic, and to be treated just like cars versus an approach that aims to reduce cyclist stress associated with mixing in traffic.

-- Low-Stress Bicycling and Network Connectivity, Mineta Transportation Institute
-- "Portland's Bicycle Brilliance," The Tyee. This article discusses the approach laid out by Roger Geller of the Portland Dept. of Transportation. His research found that 10% of people will bike in the kind of environment provided today, but 57% more people would bike, if they didn't have to ride in high speed mixed traffic.

In an e-conversation a few years ago, sparked by this article, "Britons unmoved by pro-cycling campaigns: Most regard bicycles not as legitimate form of transport but as children's toys or preserve of hobbyists, research finds" in the Guardian, Anne Lusk, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, made the comment that it is no surprise that the two countries that have adopted the vehicular cycling approach, the US and the UK, have the lowest take up of cycling as transportation.
Barrow Street Corner
Barrow Street Corner, West Village, Manhattan.  Flickr photo by Kenneth Garcia.

And it should be no surprise that where biking is experiencing a resurgence, it happens to be in center cities, usually in those areas with urban design characteristics dating to the Walking City (1800-1890) and Streetcar/Transit City (1890-1920) eras (paper by Peter Muller), when streets were built more narrowly, and where the built environment is more balanced between people and buildings, which works to slow down motor vehicle speeds.

Caption: A bicycle boulevard on Milvia Street in Berkeley. From "Berkeley plans to increase city bike friendly initiatives," Daily Californian.

I argue that the neighborhood/local streets in such places, for the most part already function as bicycle boulevards, without having to create much in the way of special infrastructure.

And as biking becomes more of an accepted practice--just as it took 50 years to change accepted attitudes concerning living in cities as a reasonable choice--more people are riding in the places that are most conducive.

In the GGW thread, commenter Jonathan Krall hit the nail on the head about why vehicular cycling doesn't work--people motor vehicle operators already treat each other horridly, and cyclists can't afford to be treated so equally when a car is 2000 to 3000 pounds heavier and up to four times faster.
JK writes:

As for being treated like a vehicle, no thanks. Long hours of riding have shown me how car drivers treat each other. Many cyclist complaints--passing too closely, tailgating, honking, yelling--are exactly what drivers do to each other. Forrester was wrong. People on bicycles fare best when they are recognized as human beings who deserved extra care and not just "drivers of vehicles."
 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

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Thursday, July 09, 2015

Clarifying All Walks DC’s Position on Unmarked Crosswalks

I relied on the article in the Northwest Current including quotes for the piece "All Walks DC calls for removal of unsignalized crosswalks."

Now, All Walks DC says they were misquoted.

While I didn't contact them before I wrote the piece, I did review their website and blog while preparing my article. Their website didn't mention or discuss the NW Current article, which had been published almost two weeks before my piece.
From All Walks DC:

A recent news story in the Northwest Current titled “Residents call for solutions after crashes” (June 24, 2015) described All Walks DC as wanting “all crosswalks in the city without traffic signals to be studied and considered for removal”. We want to clarify that All Walks DC does not advocate for the removal of unsignalized crosswalks in DC. Rather, we advocate for safe and convenient walking throughout DC, including safe crossings at all intersections. The removal of crosswalk markings, while intended to improve safety, has the effect of discouraging pedestrians from using these intersections and reducing the ability of people to walk from one place to another. Instead of discouraging people from crossing at intersections deemed unsafe, we advocate for making those intersections safe to cross through improved street design and enforcement. We hope that this clears up any confusion.
In any case, I do think there are great opportunities to take a comprehensive approach to improving pedestrian safety on major arterials, and this "controversy" might help us move that desire up the city's agenda ladder for transportation.

walkOne of the many documents I need to read is the MoveDC transportation plan including the section on walking.

-- Pedestrian Element

It seems to read well enough.  It's no "Toronto Walking Strategy," but it's fine.

I will say that in the past I have criticized DDOT's sidewalk program for replacing sidewalks with years of useful life remaining, while not installing sidewalks in places that don't have any sidewalks to begin with.

But as is pointed out by the Pedestrian Element, in much of the city, we have a pretty good environment for walking, occasionally slippery brick sidewalks to the contrary.

New sidewalk has been constructed on Blair Road, serving an adjacent community garden and bus stop, and providing a key link on the way to Fort Totten Metrorail station.

In my greater neighborhood, which has a number of places without sidewalks, DDOT has recently installed sidewalks where there weren't any, which I think is a step forward to be congratulated.

There are still key gaps in the sidewalk network, but to see focused improvements--even though there are still examples of  existing sidewalks being replaced many years before it is necessary--is a good thing.

There are key sidewalk gaps on Blair Road between New Hampshire Avenue and Riggs Road NW, a key element of the walking route to and from Fort Totten Metrorail station.  

When new curbs were installed here a few years ago, the city did not negotiate with the property owner for the installation of a sidewalk at the same time, which would have necessitated providing a new fence to the property owner.

Generally, especially in the core, the city already has a great infrastructure for walking.  But we still have accidents, and we could do a lot more to address this, as I have discussed in "DC and Vision Zero Revisited."

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Is gentrification a racial or economic class issue?

I thought the classic definition of the term is when lower income people are pushed out by higher income people.  This is tricky generally, because it makes the argument in terms of a fixed point in time that cuts out a big part of the story.  In other words, neighborhoods that are seen as low income now were higher income before suburban outmigration and white flight.

But that's not even the issue.  Too often, people use the word "gentrification" when they mean "change," which is a point I made not quite 10 years ago ("One reason why I think the Gentrification word is over- and mis-used"):
when people use the word gentrification, they really mean change. Change is not merely "white or black." It is multi-faceted. And there is no question that it is difficult.
That piece was spurred in part by African-Americans opposing acknowledging and celebrating an influx of Ethiopians into their area of Shaw.

Also see ""More about Contested Space--Gentrification."

Milfred Ellis views Brightwood as a base for middle class African Americans. Ellis has put signs in his yards opposing the rapid changes. (Amanda Voisard/For the Washington Post)

And that's relevant to the discussion sparked by the Washington Post article, "A D.C. resident hopes these yard signs can save his neighborhood from gentrifiers," which highlights the protest against "gentrification" by an older African-American man living in Brightwood--I guess a few blocks away from me, but I live in Manor Park.

Is replacing one black middle class household with a white or Hispanic or mixed race middle class household gentrification?  Some people do call it "The Plan," in the case of DC, a concerted effort to dechocolatize "Chocolate City."

Tom Toles on Gentrification, 1998
Tom Toles on Gentrification, 1998

There is no question that the the theory of "ecological succession" is relevant.

This theory, as laid out by the "Chicago School of Sociology" in the 1920s, opined that the wealthy always moved outward, were replaced by strivers, who in turn, as they experienced success, followed the wealthy, and were replaced by a new group of strivers to begin the process anew, while the core was always inhabited by the poorest.
Ecological succession model, Chicago sociology
It may well be that this migration path was specific to the US at a certain time, given certain conditions (urban manufacturing, lack of pollution controls, high rates of immigration, etc.), but was not a universal condition.

It has only been since the late 1980s that urban sociology acknowledged to a great extent that there could be inward migration of high income households back to center city.  But that has been a European pattern all along.

I've written quite a bit about how these kinds of migration patterns have impacted and shape the city but it's worth repeating.  Specifically with regard to Ward 4:

1.  Mostly Ward 4 has been "middle class" for the past eight or more decades since it was first developed.  First it was middle class, striving, and upper class whites (the upper classes living in big houses here and there across Upper Northwest, especially in Takoma Park, just over the DC line, where they could take the train to get to their "city jobs").

2.  As the city grew in population in response to the growth of the federal government, especially during the Depression, more government workers and striving blacks moved to the parts of the Ward that segregation allowed.

3.  With suburban outmigration and white flight in the 1950s, the white middle class mostly but not entirely moved out of the Ward.  (For example, it happens that I worked the 2000 Census in the area I ended up living in, and was surprised to come across many houses that had been occupied by white families for decades.  It happens that our house has "always" been occupied by whites since it was built in 1929.)

4.  These households were replaced by middle class households who happened to be African-American.

5.  With aging out and suburban outmigration--especially to Prince George's and Charles County in Maryland, but throughout the metropolitan area--and more recently a return to Southern homesteads ("Why African-Americans are moving back to the South," Christian Science Monitor) on the part of African-American households, houses have been "abandoned" and in turn have been replaced by white, Hispanic, and mixed-race middle class and striving households.

6.  If whites, Hispanics, and mixed race households did not replace the African-American households that left, the Ward would have significantly lost population, especially in the last 10 years.

I don't think that's gentrification, but it is change.

This kind of neighborhood change is worthy of a discussion, even protest.  But it's not "gentrification" and to use the term "gentrification" to describe what's happening is a misnomer.

Basically the issue is that younger African-American middle class households generally are not interested in living in many in-city neighborhoods.  I wrote about this in 2006:

- Commerz in the 'hood... (aka "Commerce as the engine of urbanism")
- Commerz in the 'hood, part two
- Commerz in the 'hood, part three- Commerce dans de quartier de la ville, partie quatre

with follow up in 2012:

- More on Commerz in the 'hood
- Commerz in the 'hood revisited: Asian slurs edition

and last year:

- So much of the writing about gentrification is worthless

Maybe it's because they see it as tired, where their aunts, uncles and grandparents lived.  Maybe it's because they want to move to someplace more exciting, given that this is a "bedroom community" without much of a "nightlife."

I can understand the sentiment, if living right in the mix is what's on their mind because here you have to travel a few miles to U Street or Adams-Morgan or H Street for "excitement."

Whatever it is, I think the signs are cool.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Can Walking or Biking to Work Really Make a Difference? Compact Development, Observed Commuter Choice and Body Mass Index

Photo taken outside the DC Convention Center.

From email:

"Can Walking or Biking to Work Really Make a Difference? Compact Development, Observed Commuter Choice and Body Mass Index," PLoS One online journal
Promoting active commuting is viewed as one strategy to increase physical activity and improve the energy balance of more sedentary individuals thereby improving health outcomes. However, the potential effectiveness of promotion policies may be seriously undermined by the endogenous choice of commute mode. Policy to promote active commuting will be most effective if it can be demonstrated that 1) those in compact cities do not necessarily have a preference for more physical activity, and 2) that current active commuting is not explained by unobserved characteristics that may be the true source of a lower body mass index (BMI).
Daily time-use diaries are used in combination with geographical characteristics of where respondents live and work to test 1) whether residents of more compact settlements are characterized by higher activity levels; and 2) whether residents of more compact settlements are more likely to bike or walk to work. An endogenous treatment model of active commuting allows testing whether reductions in BMI associated with walking or biking to work are in fact attributable to that activity or are more strongly associated with unobserved characteristics of these active commuters.
The analysis of general activity levels confirms that residents of more compact cities do not expend more energy than residents of more sprawling cities, indicating that those in compact cities do not necessarily have a preference for more physical activity. The endogenous treatment model is consistent with walking or biking to work having an independent effect on BMI, as unobserved factors that contribute to a higher likelihood of active commuting are not associated with lower BMI.
Despite evidence that more compact settlement patterns enable active commuting, only a small share of workers in these areas choose to walk or bike to work. In general, the activity level of residents in more compact cities and residents in more sprawling areas is very similar. But, there is a robust association between active commuting and lower body mass index that is not explained by unobserved attributes or preferences suggests that policies to promote active commuting may be effective. In particular, active commuting has a greater effect on BMI. Consequently, compact settlement appears to be an effective infrastructure for promoting more active lifestyles. The policy challenge is finding ways to ensure that this infrastructure is more widely utilized.
.... which is why I argue for integrating programming, what is called "education" and "encouragement" in the "five E's of active transportation planning, and "equity" as the 6th E in a broader framework, with infrastructure and facilities development in promoting biking and walking as transportation (and for public health).
Bicycle Traffic as a system, diagram, German National Bicycle Plan, 2002-2012

People need help to make the transition from automobility to walking, biking, and/or transit, even in places where the preconditions for active transportation are present.

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What to do transit-wise in Baltimore since the Red Line light rail program has been cancelled

Graphic by Victor Kerlow for the New York Times.

Barry Rascovar, a long time columnist writing on Maryland politics, has a great piece ("Plan B for Baltimore") at Maryland Reporter opining on "what's next for Baltimore?" given Gov. Hogan's dropping of the Red Line light rail program.

He criticizes the Governor for making a basic mistake, in not having a program of alternatives in place and ready to announce at the same time.

From the article:
Baltimore’s transit system might be called a bare-bones, 20th century model. Buses traverse the main thoroughfares radiating like spokes from downtown. Cross-town buses add to the mix of slow-moving public transit on heavily congested city streets.

Baltimore’s Metro works exceedingly well — it is fast and clean — but only serves people who can reach its one line, from Owings Mills to Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The region’s north-south light-rail line is slow-moving through downtown, never connects directly with the Metro and isn’t heavily used.

There’s also a popular, city-subsidized Downtown Circulator with four routes that offer free service and actually connects people to where they need to go within the city. It’s becoming a drain on a money-poor city.

Suburban transit is a joke. Unless you own a car or live near a corridor road with buses, you’re out of luck in the Baltimore ‘burbs.

That’s a pretty weak transit operation. Killing the Red Line erases an opportunity to integrate and coordinate Baltimore’s public transportation network with a strong east-west line.

Yet there are steps the city and state can take to ameliorate this sad situation.
The reality that a lot of transit advocates gloss over is that there are a lot of problems with the proposed Red Line transit service, although it would have provided some improvements and greater transit service and access, it didn't do enough to shift Baltimore from having a couple of transit lines to the development of an integrated transit system.  This is discussed in a great Baltimore Brew piece, "Analysis: How the Red Line found itself in a deep hole."  

Although I will say that the proposals from the Right Rail group calling for improvements (not unlike my proposals below) could be problematic, e.g., it's cheaper to put an eastern heavy rail extension in a railroad or freeway alignment, but typically such alignments come at the expense of usage and the ability to reshape transportation and land use practices in quantum ways.

For example, while Prince George's County has many Metrorail stations, many follow a railroad alignment and weren't placed well in terms of being able to spur more intensive "transportation oriented development" projects.  

By contrast, Arlington County rejected a freeway-based alignment and shifted service to the Wilson Boulevard corridor, sparking a significant improvement in the county's fortunes (although they are now dealing with the double whammy of BRAC relocation out of the county of military agencies, competition with cheaper commercial space in Alexandria, because ArCo's prices rose with the county's success, and new competition with Tysons and Reston as those areas now have Metrorail service too, along with lower lease rates).

Baltimore County too doesn't reap much value in light rail service, because most of the alignment follows an old industrial corridor and has minimal residential proximity, with a couple exceptions. 

The challenge: to pick up the pieces, reassess and move forward, better and successfully

As Rascovar writes, Baltimore doesn't have the kind of transit system where high quality transit service is the leading element in reshaping the local economy and the location decisions of residents and organizations, simplifying mobility, and contributing in significant ways to quality of life.

It's hard to remember that Metrorail in DC has done this, because lately--the past 6 years and probably for long into the future--the system has significantly degraded. 

But the reality is that in the areas of the Metrorail system where land use and transit service are complementary--especially in DC's core, in Arlington's Wilson Boulevard corridor, in Bethesda and Silver Spring in Montgomery County--the positive effects are clear and frankly, amazing, as development has been attracted, new housing has been built around stations, and new retail and restaurants follow the intensification.

It happens that while I have written a lot about improving and extending the DC area's transit system, I haven't felt comfortable writing at the same level of depth and breadth about the Baltimore metropolitan area, because I don't have the kind of day to day familiarity with their transit system and community.

Although I did lay out a basic vision concerning fixed rail transit, in a paper I wrote for the internal planning process for the update of Baltimore County's master plan.  (And I included recommendations on transit accommodation of pedestrians and bicyclists in the bike and ped plan I did.  While most of the section on experiential qualities of design related to pedestrian and bicycle matters were excised from the plan, the earlier drafts, including the section on transit, had been shared with the MTA, and had some impact on their planning for the Red Line.)

That paper, "From the files: transit planning in Baltimore County," didn't address issues outside of the county except in how they impacted the county, so it didn't discuss extending the light rail to Howard County or opportunities around the MARC railroad commuter service, and lacked detailed recommendations for East County (because my job in Baltimore County at the time required that I solely focus on West County).  But it took as a given that a new light rail line serving Baltimore City, up to Towson, and south to Columbia would never be built.  Instead, I mostly focused on improvements and extensions to the current lines.
  • Linking the current light rail system with the subway system through a new underground terminus at the Hutzler Building in Downtown Baltimore
  • Extending the subway line eastward, into Northeast Baltimore, terminating at the White Marsh district in Baltimore County
  • Shifting the current light rail alignment from Falls Road to Lutherville through Towson, to serve Baltimore County's primary government, commercial, retail, and residential center
  • Going forward with the Red Line (despite the problems with the alignment, it would have provided service to a key employment district in Southwest Baltimore County
  • planning transit expansion in East County
  • extending the current light rail line line into Howard County.
It should also have recommended:
  •  extending the light rail line north about one half mile from its terminus, to serve more directly office districts in Hunt Valley.
cover_homeFor many years, I encouraged activists there (people I interacted with on the now moribund EnvisionBaltimore e-list) to produce a piece comparable to a 2005 cover story in the Philadelphia City Paper about how to improve transit in Philadelphia. 

The piece, "Let's Go: 33 ways to reinvent, rethink and recharge our beleaguered transit agency," has 33 suggestions.  Such a piece could have run to great effect in either the Baltimore City Paper or the now lamentably defunct Urbanite Baltimore monthly magazine on urbanism.

That kind of citizen-initiated visioning could have helped to reposition the dialogue and vision about what to do concerning the Baltimore area's transit system. 

If the Baltimore metropolitan area had "great" transit, like Washington, it would begin shifting population and business back to the city.  Without a great transit system, sprawl is overencouraged, and mostly this comes at the expense of center cities.

And don't knock citizen initiatives.  The new streetcar lines in Dallas and Tucson came about because of citizen action, not top-down planning by transit agencies or city planning departments.

Rascovar mentions the Baltimore Circulator run by the City of Baltimore , which is an example of what I call intra-city transit ("Making the case for intra-city (vs. inter-city) transit planning") as a pretty good success. 

It is, but the service costs more than is raised by the parking tax designed to pay for it and so the city is wrestling with what to do, as they can't afford to keep spending limited general fund monies on the program.
Charm City Circulator
Charm City Circulator by So Cal Metro, on Flickr.

This editorial ("The Circulator's troubling finances") in the Baltimore Sun makes the point that perhaps a "community benefits district" should be created to pay towards the provision of service.  I agree, but it should be termed as a "transportation benefits district," and integrate the parking tax, not unlike my recommendations for a reconfiguration of a similar program in Montgomery County ("Parking districts vs urban management districts").

Rethinking Baltimore-area transit

Rascovar makes these suggestions:
  • Resurrect the western part of the Red Line, from Social Security headquarters in Woodlawn to the Lexington Market downtown, as a busway.
  • Extend the existing Metro line from Hopkins to Northeast Baltimore and then White Marsh in Baltimore County.
  • Expand the city’s Charm City Circulator routes to more neighborhoods; embrace the same approach in the suburbs.
  • Develop transportation programs for getting city job-seekers to suburban employment centers. Free Jitney service from bus stops and transit stations to buildings in suburban business parks would help immensely.
  • Expand bus service in metro Baltimore; enlarge the MTA’s fleet of buses by purchasing smaller vehicles; reduce the number of bus stops.
  • Expand MARC commuter rail service; add frequent rush-hour/mid-day service to Aberdeen Proving Ground; turn MARC’s West Baltimore station into a bus/rail/circulator hub; open a new rail station/bus/circulator hub at Hopkins Bayview; turn the MARC Martin State Airport stop into a rail/bus/circulator hub.
  • MARC’s West Baltimore station was planned as a key transit hub of the Red Line. It’s still a great idea if Hogan wants to show disgruntled residents of that impoverished area he cares.
  • Hopkins Bayview and Martin State Airport are natural transit hubs, if the state builds large parking lots and adds circulator routes. This would be a godsend for eastern Baltimore County and East Baltimore residents in search of transit alternatives.
These are great suggestions for repositioning transit service, with the exception of the Circulator idea for the suburbs, which while a good idea, only Towson and Columbia probably have the kind of ridership potential to support Circulator service, and Towson's various attempts at Circulator type of services have never been particularly successful--because the mobility infrastructure in the region is so heavily weighted to the car outside of Baltimore's core, there isn't enough critical mass use to support such frequent service.

Note that planning for a Bayview MARC Station is proceeding independent of us scribes.

Riffing off his suggestions:

1.  Rebrand and reposition transit service in Greater Baltimore more generally.  Besides points made above and below concerning the subway, light rail, and rail passenger services, to reposition bus service in particular, MTA needs to consider the recommendations made in "Making bus service sexy and more equitable," although double deck buses probably aren't an option, the rest of the suggestions are relevant.

Also see "Purple line planning in suburban Maryland as an opportunity to integrate place and people focused initiatives into delivery of new transit systems."

2.  Create transportation management districts and demand management programs.  WRT to "develop[ing] transportation programs for city job seekers," my paper did discuss the need to create transportation demand management programs and systems in a detailed way.  One recent example of the kind of service Rascovar suggests has been launched in Suburban Pittsburgh ("Transit Super Stop planned for Robinson," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) which could be a model that suburban businesses and counties can understand.

3.  Improve bus stops plus create a network of high quality bus stations at high use transfer points.  My transit-related suggestions in the Western Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plan DRAFT included creating a hierarchy of bus stops, including the development of a high quality network of bus shelters, not unlike those for the Mi-Way BRT system in Mississauga  ("MiWay transit’s an exciting new direction for Mississauga," Toronto Star).

Such stations would be placed at key transfer points, such as at North Avenue and York Road in Baltimore City, in Towson's core (if the MTA could work with the County and a property owner, some ground floor space in an office building could be configured to do this kind of service, although property owners tend to be leery of the kinds of people who ride buses), etc.

In the DC area, the Shirlington bus station in Arlington County is an example of such a high quality station.  Minneapolis' bus system has many examples, etc.

Mississauga Transit 0920 NFI D40LFR Bus At Sq One Terminal Wrap for New Transitway
Mississauga Transit 0920 NFI D40LFR Bus At Sq One Terminal Wrap for New Transitway by drum118, on Flickr.

Dixie MiWay Bus station, Mississauga
Dixie MiWay Bus station, Mississauga.  Photo: Chris So, Toronto Star.

4.  Build on the MTA QuickBus service of limited stop, faster service, on trunk routes.  Note that the MTA's "QuickBus" service does a good job of providing more rapid bus service, by providing a limited stop service in highly used transit corridors.  That service was introduced in the Ehrlich Administration and can be leveraged for broader repositioning of transit effectiveness.

Also see Envision Baltimore blog writings on creating a high-frequency service map for Baltimore bus service, culminating in Mark Szarkowski's map ("Mapping Baltimore's Frequent Transit Routes").

5.  Apply the London Overground marketing, branding and service integration approach to MARC services in Greater Baltimore. My recent piece on repositioning MARC service ("One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example") was mostly focused on service in and around DC.

Someone with a better handle on the railroad footprint in Greater Baltimore needs to come up with other MARC expansion proposals that could be worked into a comparable program for Baltimore.

Retired Baltimore City transportation planner Gerald Neilly has made many great suggestions on improving transit service.  Like Rascovar, he has suggested for many years that a new MARC station be built at Hopkins/Bayshore Medical Center in East Baltimore.

But with improvements at West Baltimore Station and a new East Baltimore Station, and if it's true that the MARC station at Martin State Airport could be repositioned as a hub for East Baltimore County as Rascovar suggests  (I only was there once, when I was reading too deeply and failed to get off the train at Baltimore's Penn Station) the idea of applying London Overground approaches to MARC service in Greater Baltimore begins to make sense.

Note that unlike transit agencies in Greater Washington, MTA already does provided an integrated rail service map, including MARC, subway and light rail services, for Baltimore.

But a map isn't substitute for a real program along the lines of London Overground.
MTA transit map for Baltimore

6.  Upgrade the light rail vehicles to something modern and sexy.  While I have suggested here and there that an update to Baltimore's hulking light rail vehicles would go a long way towards repositioning how people think about transit there, even though it would be expensive and there is plenty of useful life in the existing vehicles, I think this is an important enough point to be included in a comprehensive transit re/vision program for Baltimore.

I was watching a PBS travel show the other day and it included a stop in Bordeaux.  The difference between how the Howard Street corridor looks in Baltimore with light rail service versus how transit is integrated into the built environment in Bordeaux, especially in the city center, is remarkable.  Look at some youtube videos of tram service in Bordeaux...
Bordeaux Tram
Bordeaux Tram by tsedmund, on Flickr.

Light rail approaching, Howard Street
Light rail approaching, Howard Street, Baltimore.

(Yes, I know that the Alstom underground powering system isn't sold in North America.  Another way to move catenary-free in city centers is with short term battery power.)

The points I made in "Transit, stations, and placemaking" about transit infrastructure as a key element of civic architecture need to be extended to include the vehicles/equipment used by transit systems, not just stations and alignments.

The Baltimore Light system is a perfect example of why.  Despite the expense, planning for more frequent upgrades to transit vehicles as an element of civic design ("Design as a city branding strategy: transit edition") needs to be incorporated into how we plan for transit more generally.

7.  Funding.  Create a Transportation Renewal District for Greater Baltimore as a way to fund these kinds of transit improvements, along the lines of what I have suggested for Montgomery and Prince George's Counties ("To build the Purple Line, perhaps Montgomery and Prince George's Counties will have to create a "Transportation Renewal District" and Development Authority").

The "Right Rail" program

The Right Rail group suggests streetcars ("Pro-transit coalition seeks alternatives to Red Line on East Side," Baltimore Brew). 

I guess if we think of streetcars as trams, in the way that European cities interoperate longer distance services--what in the US we would call light rail--with shorter distance services--what in the US we would call streetcars--BUT USING THE SAME EQUIPMENT, it's probably worth looking at their ideas.

Bilbao is a particularly good example of adding trams after building a subway system, as a way to provide better surface transit options in highly traffiked areas, with the aim of serving short trips.

--  "Beyond Moving People: Excavating the Motivations for Investing in Urban Public Transit Infrastructure in Bilbao Spain," Matti Siemiatycki, European Planning Studies, 2005
-- "Return to the Rails: The Motivations for Building a Modern Tramway in Bilbao, Spain," Matti Siemiatycki, Oxford University Centre for the Environment

While Paris is a great example of using trams for long distances.   But there are so many European examples of great incorporation of trams/light rail into the built environment as a way that complements land use and shifts trips to transit...

There is a need to improve transit service in East Baltimore and East Baltimore County.  I just don't have enough familiarity outside of White Marsh to be able to make good recommendations.

Trams in Bilbao.  

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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Infographic on "best" city parks

Fairmont Hotels has released an infographic featuring some of the world's best urban parks, including examples from NYC, Montreal, Vancouver, San Francisco, London, Beijing, Barcelona, and Singapore.

(Extract below.)

Speaking of graphic design and information presentation, it makes me realize that park systems at all levels should create similar kinds of infographics on their parks as a way to market and promote parks to new and different audiences.
City parks infographic

Produced by Fairmont

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All Walks DC calls for removal of unsignalized crosswalks

I republished this entry because I added some photos and text at the end.

All Walks DC is a pedestrian advocacy group in the city. According to the Northwest Current, the group is suggesting that unsignalized crosswalks ought to be eliminated since they encourage pedestrians to be overconfident crossing the street.  From "Residents call for solutions after crashes" (6/24/2015, page 1):
All Walks DC, a group that advocates for pedestrian rights, wants all crosswalks in the city without traffic signals to be studied and considered for removal. D.C. Department of Transportation officials say these crosswalks can give pedestrians a false sense of security, because even though drivers are required to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk they often don’t do so.
This recommendation was made after two fatal accidents on Wisconsin Avenue NW a couple weeks ago.
Connecticut Avenue NW
Connecticut Avenue NW.  Google image.

While I understand the desire, I think it's a misguided recommendation.

People are going to cross the street with or without a marked crosswalk, especially at intersections.
Lack of markings will only encourage motor vehicle operators to ignore pedestrians more.

 It's better to direct pedestrian crossings to defined locations, where additional treatments can be provided.  AND to provide improvements to pedestrian crossings.

Rather than making an off the cuff recommendation, like removing the markings, it's best to start with PEDSAFE, the Pedestrian Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection System, an FHWA publication that is used to analyze pedestrian accidents with the aim of making physical improvements, focused on improving safety, when the analysis indicates that road and traffic engineering elements contributed to the accident.

Arterials in Upper Northwest DC are problematic because the roads tend to be wide and if not framed by taller buildings (for DC), the buildings are set back a fair distance from the road and the areas aren't replete with pedestrians.

This creates a kind of tunnel or alley effect, encouraging fast driving.

The problem is accentuated because outside of the core of the city, where there are fewer pedestrians generally, most drivers fail to realize that when one car stops in a lane on the street near a crosswalk, it's not because the driver is acting stupid, but because there is a pedestrian crossing the street.

Drivers in all the lanes should stop when a car stops in one of the lanes, but we haven't built into our mental frameworks this kind of driving behavior as an automatic response when we are in that situation.

It's not possible, probably, to put in a median, or to narrow the lanes in a manner which would lower speeds and improve safety, other than maybe adding a cycletrack.  But cycletracks are problematic too because the arterials may provide the majority of parking for commercial areas, making the removal of parking difficult.

Besides adding signals, either regular Traffic Signals or special Pedestrian Crossing Signals, which isn't likely to happen at every block without a regular traffic signal because of the short distance between blocks, the basic recommendations I'd make, which are in the guide, would include Crosswalk Enhancements, Raised Pedestrian Crossings, and Advance Yield/Stop Lines.

Other recommendations I'd make aren't necessarily in the guide, but should be in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and include:

rumble strips a certain distance from unsignalized crosswalks (also mentioned in Best Practices for Arterial Speed Management, prepared for the City of Pasadena).

special crosswalk treatments for all or most unsignalized intersections, either real brick
Brick crosswalk
Brick crosswalk.  Image from My Asphalt Dr.

or faux brick.  (Faux treatments, "thermoplastic" markings, do need to be reapplied more frequently because of wear--friction from tires.)
20131004 green-look
Flickr photo by Jym Dyer.

Walkers and bikers crossing the street, Indianapolis Cultural Trail
Indianapolis Cultural Trail

special markings for unsignalized intersections, although this treatment is at signalized intersections on Georgia Avenue at Kansas and New Hampshire Avenues NW, and includes brick crosswalks too.
Specialized intersection treatment, Georgia and Kansas Avenues NW, Washington, DC

changing the road material to asphalt blocks to provide visual, physical, and aural cues to drive more slowly (also mentioned in Best Practices for Arterial Speed Management), which I think that the city should be doing anyway, on arterial sections proximate commercial districts, schools, parks, and other public facilities.

Asphalt block road pavement, South Carolina Avenue SE

While there are some remnant examples of asphalt brick on collector streets in Capitol Hill and (cobble) stone block street pavements on local residential streets in Georgetown, and in front of Eastern Market, there are no modern examples of installation of these kinds of pavement materials on a major arterial.

O and P Streets NW in Georgetown still have  stone block pavement, because the streetcar tracks have been retained as a historical element.
The original and best way to do traffic calming, P Street NW in Georgetown

Special pavers were installed on 7th Street SE as part of the rehabilitation program for the Eastern Market public market building.  Currently, this pavement is on the 200 block of 7th Street SE and will be installed when the 300 block is reconstructed in association with the redevelopment of the Hine School site.  I have argued that this treatment should be extended across Pennsylvania Avenue and around the Eastern Market Metro Plaza.
Special pavers, 7th Street SE, Eastern Market

When Pennsylvania Avenue was closed in front of the White House for security reasons, the road was repaved with a special treatment also.  Image from the American Society of Landscape Architects.
1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue NW

In London, Exhibition Road, which serves as a "museum mile" for the city, has a similar treatment, finished in 2012, and while a shared space, the road is not closed to through traffic.  Images from Davis Landscape Architecture.
exhibition-road-south, Kensington, London, UK


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