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, June 28, 2015

Dutch bike for adult carrying two children

Among the various types of bikes sold by the De Fietsfabriek shops in the Netherlands are bikes for carrying two children.  I do see a fair number of instances of multiple children being carried on Burleys, but the children aren't strapped in, so it is unsafe.
pack_max_duo_02_5869075095_l

The next stage of the take up of biking as transportation will be a greater variety of bikes being made and marketed to smaller, more specific segments of the market.

Still, the inventory presented in most US bike shops is weighted toward what we'd call "racing bikes," which sell for a lot more money than a low cost city-focused bike, which generally can be bought for $400 or less.

That makes sense, as the market for biking as transportation is still quite small, focused on major cities.

Although we are seeing more examples of Dutch-type cargo bikes being used in the US, often for carrying children.

And younger children are accommodated within biking by carriers, add-on bike attachments, creating a kind of tandem bike, and trailers, along with their own bikes.
Parent and child on a bicycle, Takoma Park Farmers Market

Bike share bicycle with child in the carrier

Children bicycling to school on the Metropolitan Branch Trail, DC

African-American woman toting three children in a Dutch style bicycle, Newark
Image from the WalkBikeJersey blog.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Maryland Governor Hogan makes decision on Light rail: No for Baltimore City and County and yes for Montgomery and Prince George's County

In December, I predicted the decision that Governor Hogan announced yesterday ("Hogan Says No to Red Line, Yes to Purple," "Hogan goes off the rails," editorial, Baltimore Sun, to continue moving forward with the Purple Line in suburban Washington and shutting down planning for the Red Line in Baltimore City and County.

I wrote about Baltimore area transit in a piece for the master planning process in Baltimore County, when I worked there in FY2010. See "From the files: transit planning in Baltimore County."

I figured that Gov. Hogan would make such a determination because the business case for the Red Line was never as good, adding one more and different type of fixed rail transit to a mix that includes a truncated subway line and a "heavy" version of light rail that mostly follows the alignment of an old industrial railroad.

Plus, even though Baltimore County Executive Kamenetz was quoted in the Sun article as being disappointed, heretofore the County hasn't been willing to provide much in the way of supplemental funding.

Baltimore lost out when the federal government stopped funding new generation transit systems--that funding initiative supported BART, MARTA, Miami Metrorail, and WMATA. The DC area got the most money and was able to develop a true network, constructing a five line subway system (a sixth line opened last year).

-- Design as a city branding strategy: transit edition
-- Hip design for tram/light rail

Because DC has a transit network, while Baltimore has only a couple of dis-coordinated transit lines, DC and to some extent the suburbs depending on how they have shaped land use around the Metrorail system enjoys the quality of life and economic supporting elements of transit which for the most part aren't available to Baltimore.

The difference between having a transit network versus a couple of transit lines is seen in the widely disparate ridership numbers between DC and Baltimore.  According to the National Transit Database, the DC Metrorail system had almost 870,000 daily trips in the first quarter of 2015, while ridership in Baltimore was about 45,000 daily riders on the subway line, with an additional 19,000 riders on light rail.
Light rail at Penn Station, Baltimore
The Baltimore light rail vehicles were jokingly referred to as "heavy rail" by revitalization experts from Hamburg at a presentation a couple years ago.  I think they have a kind of old industrial charm, but they are clunky and likely generate more derision than appreciation from a design standpoint.

Likely this is one element that contributes to lack of support for transit among outstate constituencies visiting Baltimore.

By contrast, the Tram in Bilbao is much more design forward, complementing the built environment and engendering positive feelings towards that particular transit mode.  Image from "Bilbao Straßenbahn und U-Bahn."

In large part because it will inter-connect within the existing subway network, providing east-west links to both the east and west legs of the Red Line, the north leg of the Green Line, and the west end point of the Orange Line, as of its first day of operation, the Purple Line is likely to be the most successful light rail line in the US.

Phoenix has about the highest ridership of any single line system, with about 48,000 daily riders.  The Purple Line will greatly exceed that level of ridership by at least 25%.  The two lines will be about the same length, but the Phoenix system has 32 stations, while the Purple Line will have 20 stations.

I imagine to come up with the local match, which now will have to be $500 million higher, Montgomery and Prince George's County will create the kind of bi-county funding authority that I suggested first last year:

-- Purple line planning in suburban Maryland as an opportunity to integrate place and people focused initiatives into delivery of new transit systems
-- Quick follow up to the Purple Line piece about creating a Transportation Renewal District and selling bonds to fund equitable development

and re-mentioned a few weeks ago.

-- To build the Purple Line  perhaps Montgomery and Prince George's Counties will have to create a "Transportation Renewal District" and Development Authority

 I had intended to write an op-ed about the topic in the Gazette, but the Gazette shut down as I was dealing with their editors.

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One of the problems in promoting transit as a key element of economic success and quality of life is the reality that so few center cities in the United States have robust transit systems that generate these kinds of benefits.

New York City, Boston, parts of New Jersey abutting New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, DC, and San Francisco have the biggest heavy rail systems, while Portland has the most extensive and widely used light rail system.  SF's system is complemented by light rail and streetcars run by the city.

Cities like Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Seattle, Salt Lake City, San Diego, and Minneapolis are building and expanding systems, mostly of light rail, although LA, Philadelphia, and Boston have a combination of heavy and light rail.

While there are many other communities that have commuter railroad or light rail lines, the lines don't have the kind of collective impact present in cities such as Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, DC, etc.

The fact is that most people in the US drive and most areas of the country don't have great transit options, and as a result, the average person sees transit as a social service provided to people who can't afford to own cars.

This also becomes an issue between cities and outer suburban rural areas within states.  State legislatures are districted in ways that favor rural and exurban interests, even though the economic engines of states tend to be the center city-anchored metropolitan areas.  Rural land use form doesn't make transit a logical and effective mode.  Combine that with other resentments and you have what's happening in Maryland.

What is frustrating about these discussions in the Baltimore-Washington region is that we do have perhaps the best examples--good and bad--about what works and what doesn't work and why.  Yet we proceed in these discussions without referencing this experience both in practice and theoretically.

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Racism in the United States is not an artifact of history, but remains deeply embedded within society

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Reprinted and re-dated because of the addition of a link to and quotation from a column by Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. I meant to include this originally but couldn't remember who wrote the piece and it took me awhile to track down.
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Emanuel African Methodist Church, Charleston. CNN photo.

As would be expected, there has been a great deal of media coverage of the tragic hate crime in Charleston, South Carolina, where 9 people were murdered by a 21-year-old racist during their regular bible study class.

This happened at the Emanuel African Methodist Church, a church with 200 years of prominence within within the story of African-Americans and civil rights.

The major reaction and response has focused on states and retailers removing the Confederate battle flag.  I think it is sick that 9 people have to be murdered to get states like South Carolina to reconsider their enamoration of this emblem of the Confederacy.

Separately, many commentators have pointed out the hypocrisy of calling people like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev terrorists, while terming race-motivated killers like Dylann Roof as troubled.  They ask a legitimate question:  Why isn't race-based killing considered terrorism?

I can't think of a better way to avoid addressing racism in our alleged "post-racial" society by excusing race-targeted killings to mental illness.

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., has a great column on the subject, "A racist hate crime, pure and simple."

But in fairness, others have written equally good pieces. For example, the Associated Press story "Confederate, Jim Crow tributes go well beyond battle flag," discusses how deeply embedded in Southern political and social culture are the symbols associated with the Confederacy.

For example, I always write about how Monument Avenue in Richmond is great because of the continued use of asphalt block as a visual, aural, and physical cue for motor vehicles to slow down, but I rarely mention that the majority of the monuments, other than a more recent statue erected to honor Arthur Ashe, highlight Confederate War "heroes."

From the article:
Many of the commemorations were established in the early decades of Jim Crow segregation at the behest of groups such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Sons of Confederate Veterans and their forerunners.

Confederate heritage leaders say political leaders' statements this week worry them.

"First it's the flags, then the monuments, then the streets' names, then the holidays. I feel like it's open season on anything Confederate," said Kelly Barrow, commander in chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Barrow says his organization shouldn't be tainted by Roof's actions and apparent racist philosophy.

The Sons organization calls the Civil War "the second American revolution." The United Daughters of the Confederacy states in one of its creeds that "the War Between the States was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery."

Deaton, the Georgia historian, said those views, often reflected in the monuments, are part of how elected officials avoid potential controversies over the displays. He called it "the lost-cause narrative" that obscures the reasons for secession that Southern leaders plainly stated at the time.

"The monuments are never about slavery. They're never about treason," Deaton said. "They're always about noble virtues like honor and valor. They didn't have a problem acknowledging the reasons for the war in 1861. Their descendants have a problem with it today."
The reality is that terming the "War between the states"--the Civil War--as being about "state's rights" in the context of a federal nation, and not solely about preserving the economic, political, and social institutions supporting slavery is a mis-direction.  It war was about slavery and maintaining the structure of racism that was constructed around slavery in order to justify subjugation.

Sally Jenkins, normally writing about sports for the Washington Post, has a great column, "Unraveling the threads of hatred, sewn into a Confederate icon" where this is discussed in artful language.  From the article:
All wars are romanticized by those who have never felt bullets fly through their coats. But there is something deeply pernicious in the continued attempts to soft-focus the causes of the Confederacy, its aftermath and its lingering effects. South Carolina’s part of the Declaration of Causes of Seceding States, also signed by Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia and Texas, stated that secession was the direct result of “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding states to the institution of slavery.” The Confederacy’s vice president, Alexander Stephens, said, “Our new government is founded . . . its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery . . . is his natural and normal condition.” ...

We will have truthfully reckoned with our racial history when high school and college students quit going to Heritage Balls wearing butternut military tunics and sashes and understand that Jeff Davis and Bobby Lee should have spent the rest of their natural lives in work camps, breaking rocks with shovels, instead of on their verandas — and the fact that they didn’t was a profound miscarriage. And when they understand that the South was in fact deeply divided along class as well as racial lines.
Even though "the South" "lost" the war, it is still being fought today, and despite the many successes of the Civil Rights agenda, there have been and continue to be many setbacks.  Dylann Roof is just one more soldier of terrorism fighting against racial equality.

P.S.  Maybe 1,000+ people will have to be murdered in a terrible incident before politicians will be willing to take up "the reform" of federal gun control laws.

P.P.S.  in the context of cultural heritage tourism, I have written about the need to update our understanding of history and historiography and interpretation of historic sites, especially around the Civil War ("(Public) History/Historic Preservation Tuesday: Museums and Modern Historiography" and "Parochialism and historiography") and the relationship of the nation's civil rights story to transportation.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

11 most endangered places list, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2015

A couple days ago, the National Trust for Historic Preservation released its 2015 list of the nation's "11 Most Endangered Places."

What's important about the list is that for localities and advocates working on those projects, it brings "national attention" ("America's 11 most endangered historic places," CNN; "Grand Canyon named one of USA's 'Most-Endangered Historic Places'." USA Today) and recognition to the building/site/district as "worth saving," which usually sparks more stories and attention in the local media, and is a sign of endorsement that helps further spur local efforts.

New five story apartment building is seen behind an older historic house in East Little Havana.  Some residents and preservationists are fighting a proposal to upzone the neighborhood.  Photo: Charles Trainor Jr., Miami Herald.

For example, yesterday's Miami Herald had a front page story, "National preservation group: Miami's Little Havana endangered," on the Little Havana district and the status of the initiative to create a historic district in response to development pressures. From the article:
The National Trust, the country’s principal preservation organization, says the neighborhood’s historic scale and character are imperiled by two main factors: a controversial upzoning of East Little Havana under consideration by the city of Miami, and a lack of legal protection for the broader area’s extensive and architecturally diverse collection of early to mid-20th Century homes and apartment and commercial buildings.

Inclusion on the list puts a city that prides itself on Little Havana’s history as the principal entry point for Cuban refugees in an awkward spot. The list is meant to draw attention to architectural, cultural and natural sites of national significance that are in danger of being irreparably harmed or destroyed by neglect or incompatible development.

The city, under pressure from a coalition of preservationists and neighborhood activists, recently created a small historic district in East Little Havana encompassing a bit over three blocks. But it’s also pushing forward with an upzoning of 32 surrounding blocks of mostly low-rise, small-scale buildings in the neighborhood, a bustling working-class enclave peppered with vacant lots and rundown buildings.

The upzoning, which city officials contend would revitalize the area by replacing outdated buildings, would allow taller, denser development in residential and commercial areas. Critics say it would result only in gentrification and extensive demolition as development encroaches into East Little Havana from adjacent West Brickell, pushing out its mostly immigrant residents and wiping out its human scale and architectural legacy.
HOWEVER, in terms of presentation of information on the website, the presentation of the list on the NTHP site is deficient--only five of the listings have a call to action and/or provide links to the involved organizations.  Only 3 of the 11 entries provide links to more detailed information.

Note that the entry for The Factory, nominated to the list by the West Hollywood Heritage Project, is the exception that proves the rule, as the link to the project's webpage provides a great deal of information supporting their initiative to save the building,

Photo: Katherine Frye, Neighborhood Newspapers. From left, East Point Preservation Alliance members Dee Claborn, Alexia Ryan, and Stasio Rusek on the historic civic block.

Because of my interest in the better use of civic assets and public programs to serve neighborhoods and the impoverished, I was intrigued by the listing for the "East Point Historic Civic Block," in East Point, Georgia, a community located in Metropolitan Atlanta.  From the Atlanta Business Chronicle article "National Trust: East Point’s Historic Civic Block on endangered list":
The Historic Civic Block includes East Point City Hall, the City Auditorium, the City Library and Victory Park – a contiguous block that has been the heart of East Point since the 1930s.

According to the Trust, the area is seeing renewed calls for private development that could lead to the unnecessary demolition of the city’s four iconic historic properties. With no plans for protection and the constant threat of demolition through neglect, the future for these historic buildings remains uncertain.
Relating to the point in the entry "The ongoing tragedy of dying print media," about how the closure of community newspapers diminishes participation in civic affairs, the East Point issue has been covered in local community newspapers, such as this article, "East Point group hopes to keep 1930s site intact," which ran in papers published by the Neighborhood News group, which has 17 papers. 

Unlike the NTHP listing, that story includes a link to the organization, Preserve East Point, working on the issue.

2015 List of America's Most Endangered Historic Places

 A.G. Gaston MotelAlabama2015
 Carrollton CourthouseLouisiana2015
 Chautauqua AmphitheaterNew York2015
 Fort Worth StockyardsTexas2015
 Grand CanyonArizona2015
 Little HavanaFlorida2015
 Oak FlatArizona2015
 Old U.S. MintCalifornia2015
 South Street SeaportNew York2015
 The FactoryCalifornia2015

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Participatory "budgeting" and disposition of funds from legal settlements

Participatory budgeting is a method of allocating discretionary funds through a citizen involved and led process.

-- Participatory Budgeting Project

The initiative started in South America, and over the past few years elected officials in a number of cities, including New York City and Chicago, have used the method as a way to set priorities and allocate discretionary funds to projects in their Council Districts.

Boston has use PB initiatives as a way to increase youth involvement ("What Happened When the City of Boston Asked Teenagers for Help With the Budget," Next City).

Image from Californians for Justice.

More recently, the Mayor of San Jose, Sam Liccardo, who as Councilmember proposed using participatory budgeting methods as a way to better engage citizens in local government, proposes to use PB processes on a wider scale ("Budget input from community set for March," San Jose Mercury-News).

San Jose also uses a form of PB, called "Budget Games," as a way to make recommendations on the city's general budget ("San Jose residents play 4th annual Budget Games," Conteneo).

DC Attorney General directs settlement monies to past affiliations.  The Washington City Paper reports in "Nonprofits With Racine Ties Benefit in Chartwells Settlement," how some of the monies from a recent legal settlement with Chartwells over allegations of wrongdoing concerning the company's execution of its food service contract with DC Public Schools are being directed to charities with ties to Attorney General Karl Racine.  From the article:
Last week, Racine announced that his office had settled with Chartwells for $19.4 million over whistleblower claims that its food was regularly late or spoiled. The settlement inspired two councilmembers to call for investigations of Chartwells' continuing contract with DCPS. ... 
The settlement worked out well for five nonprofit groups that will receive a combined $5 million from Chartwells as part of the agreement. $500,000 of that money will go to Everybody Wins! DC, a literacy nonprofit whose board Racine served on until his election. Another $150,000 went to the Abramson Scholarship Foundation, which also once had Racine on its board.

Racine spokesman Robert Marus says OAG came up with the list of organizations that would receive Chartwells money. "They were groups he was familiar with," Marus says. Marus says there's nothing inappropriate about Racine approving a settlement that benefits organizations whose boards he once worked on. "There's no conflict here," Marus says.
Why not use Participatory Budgeting techniques instead?  Such funds shouldn't be allocated arbitrarily and capriciously according to the whims and past relationships of the Attorney General.

Even if such organizations do good work and there is no reason to believe that they do not, it would be best for settlement monies to be allocated in a public process towards projects defined as priorities in a public exercise that determines community consensus priorities. Participatory budgeting methods would be a perfect way to do this.

It would also extend the concept of democracy in the city, of which the creation of a separately elected AG position was a recent step forward.

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Cycle tracks, the next great American infrastructure project? (At least right now, the answer is no.)

Bicycling cover, New YorkerThis New Yorker Magazine cover is from 1969.

A colleague sent me a link to this piece, "Why cycletrack networks should be the next great American transit project," in the Washington Post Innovations blog.

Unfortunately, the answer is no, although I don't disagree about the importance.

A country:
  • unwilling to increase the gasoline excise tax especially at the federal level, but often at the state level too which is used to maintain the road network
  • which has taken requirements to fund bicycle and transportation infrastructure as part of "road projects" out of federal transportation legislation
  • which is letting its mobility infrastructure languish at all levels
  • where funding and building and operating transit is a slog
  • which is failing to build a national high speed rail network 
isn't going to start building--at the national level anyway--a transportation network for bicycling when most people drive, and they think of biking as something for kids or to do recreationally, on weekends or when traveling.

HOWEVER, it is cities and inner suburbs where bicycling has great opportunity to capture many trips--51% of all trips are three miles or less, 28% of trips are 1 mile or less, and 13% of trips are 3-5 miles, so that 64% of trips are 5 miles or less--and that's where, if you want to have significant impact, biking infrastructure expansion has to be focused.

For guidance, see these past blog entries:

-- What should a US national bike strategy plan look like? (2014)
-- Are developers missing the point on eliminating parking minimums?: it's to promote sustainable transportation modes (2012)
-- Best practice bicycle planning for suburban settings using the action planning method (2010)
-- Ideas for making bicycling irresistible in Washington DC (2008)
-- (Not exactly) Bike sharing as "Critical Mass," bikelash and changing mobility paradigms: some lessons from Salt Lake City (2013)
-- Best (or at least better) practices bike parking and bicycle facilities implementation (2011)
-- How to make bicycling a significant transport mode over long distances: dedicated infrastructure (2012)

Unfortunately, our transportation policies at the federal, state, and regional scales aren't shaped to distinguish in substantive ways sustainable transportation policy--walking, biking, transit--according to the opportunities presented within urban, inner suburban, outer suburban, and exurban built environments and the mobility networks therein.

That being said, many cities big--Boston, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Portland, Seattle, Washington, etc. and small(er)--Cambridge, MA, Pasadena, Macon, etc--are doing great things in expanding bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

In the DC area, besides the efforts in DC, suburban jurisdictions are doing important work:

  • Montgomery County is doing a new bike master plan
  • Prince George's County is planning the Central Corridor Trail, which could become an example of national significance connecting 4 Metro Stations, and dozens of neighborhoods, schools, parks, other civic assets, commercial districts and other destinations along the Blue Line Metrorail route in the county
  • Arlington County, despite some recent hiccups, is a national leader in inner suburban sustainable transportation planning and infrastructure development efforts, including having created the first bike share master plan for a county, leading the DC-area's bike share implementation (DC signed onto the contract that Arlington negotiated), expanding bike parking, etc.

I've seen photos of the new Potomac Avenue Trail in Alexandria, Virginia--haven't been there yet--and I was impressed.

Same with the S-Line trail alongside the "new" streetcar in Salt Lake City (pictured at right, Salt Lake Tribune photo).

And many other jurisdictions do bike and pedestrian planning at the county-wide scale, and develop metropolitan bikeway networks, incorporate bike access on transit, are expanding bike parking and complementary facilities, etc.

Still, in honor of the Post article, I am reprinting this piece from July 2010.  Seeing, and using a little bit, Montreal's cycletrack network, then as now, the largest cycletrack network in North America, introduced me to cycletracks and made me a fervent supporter.

Similarly, using the Bixi bike sharing program there, I came to understand the value of bike sharing.

Plus, wrt Montreal, at the time I wasn't familiar with the extensive research and writing about biking and sustainable transportation by academics at McGill University which is another advantage Montreal has over most North American cities, other than Portland and PSU, and to some extent UC Davis and some of the other UC campuses-cities.

And yes, in the five years that has elapsed since this piece, many US cities, including New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc. have been developing and expanding cycle track networks throughout their communities, even at the expense of angering business and residential stakeholders.

Is Montreal the number one city for bicycling in North America?

Am vacationing in Montreal. We`re staying in a house in `The Village` area, which is about one block away from the Beaudry Metro Station, and five blocks from the Berri-UQAM Metro Station, which is the equivalent of `DC`s `Metro Center`where three of the four lines cross--so getting around by transit is easy, especially combined with bus, of course things are close and you can get to many places on foot.

I know that Portland, Oregon and Davis, California duke it out over which is the best city for bicycling in the United States. And New York City, with the variety of initiatives that have come forth there over the past two years under Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, is a rising contender.

Now I haven`t been to Portland for a few years, so I imagine that it has improved for biking in the intervening years, and it was already a great example of bike commuting and accommodating bicyclists on bridges. Certainly, the Intiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation at Portland State University is pumping out great information, such as the manual
FUNDAMENTALS OF BICYCLE BOULEVARD PLANNING & DESIGN by Lindsay Walker et al.

But, seeing how Montreal has an extensive network of piste cyclables or bike paths, which include cycle tracks, or dedicated lanes for bicyclists, located within the road right-of-way throughout the city--and they are used--and function like the cycle superhighways that Boris Johnson claims to be bringing to London and what Tom Vanderbilt writes about in Salon, Bicycle Highways: Should cities build specialized roadways for cyclists? -- although note that this is something that Professor John Pucher of Rutgers University has been saying-writing-researching-presenting-speaking about for many years before Tom Vanderbilt -- clearly the answer is yes.

Piste Cyclable on Rue Rachel, Montreal
Piste Cyclable on Rue Rachel, Montreal (across from Park Fairmount).

Although some of the writing is a bit misleading because cycle tracks, while dedicated, don`t have to be separated from the overall roadway, they are placed within it, but in a protected fashion.

The interesting thing about the cycletracks in Montreal is that they are not placed on each side of the roadway, in the same direction as the traffic. Instead, they are two way lanes placed on one side of the street.
A cycle track/piste cyclable in Montreal

The piste cyclable-cycle track in Montreal

Piste cyclable-cycle track, Montreal

But cycle tracks-cycle superhighways aren`t the only reason that Montreal should be considered the number one place for cycling in North America. Besides the fact that people actually bicycle in the lanes (e.g., I`ve barely seen people use the contraflow cycle track on 15th Street, while the cycle tracks in Montreal are teeming with cyclists--some duded up in cycling gear and clothing, but most not--maybe the cyclists aren`t as pretty as those featured in Copenhagen Chic or Riding Pretty blogs, but they are transportational cyclists nonetheless.

Signs for the Route Verte abut a bicycle  sharing station in Montreal
Signs for the Route Verte abut a bicycle sharing station in Montreal.

There is also the Route Verte or Green Route of cycling routes and trails throughout Quebec, totaling more than 3,000 miles.

The idea for the Route Verte was initiated by VeloQuebec, the provincial bicycling advocacy group, and after a few years the idea was taken up by the provinicial transportation agency.

The Provincial Transportation agency has a publication, Making cycling a mode of transportation in its own right, which discusses the provincial bicycle policy and programs to aid alternative modes of transportation to the car.

[Note this publication is no longer available on the web.  I will try to track it down.  A newer publication, Bicycling in Quebec 2010, has superseded it.)

According to the publication, Quebec is the place in North America where bicycling is most widespread, as proportionally there are 2.5 times more cyclists in Quebec than in Canada as a whole, and 2 times more than in the U.S.

The link to the publication is the longer piece. I came across a four page brochure in an information rack in a local museum (in both French and English).

But then there is Bixi, the bicycle sharing program in Montreal.
A street banner promoting the Bixi bicycle sharing program in Montreal

A street banner promoting the Bixi bicycle sharing program in Montreal

Now us Washingtonians get bent out of shape when Bixi claims that they are the first public bikesharing program in North America, when the SmartBike program in DC was first.

 BUT, being here, I guess I see their point.

The DC program is a pilot, with a handful of stations (something like 10) and maybe 150 bikes--which are barely use as each bike experiences fewer than 2 trips per day, while the Montreal system is widespread with 400 stations and 5,000 bicycles, and they are set up to be used not just by subscribers--the DC system is restricted to subscribers, but by anyone with a credit card, someone like me, who is visiting...

Bixi station map
Bixi station map.

The stations are placed no more than 300 meters (1,000 feet) apart. Because Montreal is actually made up of separate arondissements, kind of like towns, parts of the city are not covered by Bixi because of lack of density or because the arondissement, such as Westmount, see `Westmount in 'no rush' for Bixi` from the Montreal Gazette, does not participate.

If you know how to bike, how to use a credit card, how to `consume` a city, and how to read a map (although it took me a few minutes to figure out how to unlock a bike from the station) you can use Bixi whether or not you are a `member`.

It really allows you to explore far more of a city--block by block--than you can by regular transit. (Now there are reasons why such a system works better in Montreal than in a place like DC but I`ll write about that when I get back.)

Bixi station approaching the Old Port of Montreal
Bixi station approaching the Old Port of Montreal

A gaggle of Bixi cyclists in the Old Port of Montreal
Above and below, Bixi cyclists in the Old Port of Montreal.

Bixi bicyclists in the Ports of Old Montreal

Woman on a Bixi in Victoria Square, Montreal
Woman on a Bixi in Victoria Square, Montreal.

As an indicator of a high rate of bicycling--biking is part of how people get around day-to-day, what some people call `culture`but what I think of as bicycling as a part of every day mobility behavior or ``way of life``--that there are public bike racks in neighborhoods, because of a need to secure bikes and people living in smaller places or on upper floors, when bringing a bike in can be a problem.
There are so many bicyclists in Montreal that there are public bike racks installed in neighborhoods

Finally, the thing that puts Montreal to the number one position may be the fact that Vélo Québec, the city and provincial bicycle advocacy organization, has the makings of the `bike center` that WashCycle got our hopes up on in an April fools blog entry. The VeloQuebec office on Rue Rachel, across from Fairmount Park is also a cafe, cycle bookstore, and cycle travel office.



The Velo Quebec office is also a cafe and bookstore serving bicyclists

Inside the VeloQuebec cafe

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Vélo Québec also publishes a full-blown magazine, VeloMag, in French of course. The latest issue comes bagged with maps of various cities, such as Quebec City, which paid to include their bike maps as advertisements in the issue.

And Vélo Québec also created a fabulous (but expensive) manual for bike and pedestrian planning, (in French and English editions) which covers just about everything, even things I hadn`t considered when producing the forthcoming Western Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plan.

Maybe all of that doesn`t make Montreal the number one city for bicycling in North America--I did notice that they only provide certain services (Bixi and bike lanes) from April to November, which might mean that they don`t do snow clearance of bike lanes and paths in the winter--but it has to come pretty close.


Speaking of John Pucher, here is one of his articles that I have to read...

"Why Canadians Cycle More than Americans: A Comparative Analysis of Bicycling Trends and Policies," Transport Policy, May 2006, Vol. 13, pp. 265-279 (with Ralph Buehler). Click here for PDF.

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Historic Preservation Tuesday: Preservation Maryland announces new technical assistance program, Six to Fix, looks for nominations

From email:
Preservation Maryland is excited to debut a brand new program to help save threatened history across the state: Preservation Maryland's Six-To-Fix.

Rather than creating lists of threatened buildings, we’re ready to do something about it.

An online nomination process for organizations, individuals and local governments interested in “fixing” or preserving a threatened historic resource is now open at Six-To-Fix!

The program will be open to all varieties of historic resources. The nominating organization must be willing to participate in the project as a team leader and to help be part of the fix.

The six sites selected will receive a tailored package of support from Preservation Maryland, which will likely include:
  • Seed funding
  • Professional, technical assistance
  • Partnership building assistance
  • Organizational capacity building assistance
  • Inclusion in a statewide publicity campaign​
Nominations will be accepted through July 20, 2015.

For more information and to submit a nomination click here.

Don’t have a site to nominate but still want to get involved?

There’s still a big role for you to play. Individuals are encouraged to sign-up to become a Six-To-Fix volunteer!

Individuals with preservation as well as business skills can easily list themselves with us as being interested in getting involved & volunteering with the program.

We need architects, engineers, attorneys, business leaders, writers, artists, & more! These individuals will be the beginning of a new Corps of Volunteers that we know will make this program a success. No matter your skill - we will find a job for you!

-- Volunteer Sign Up PageSix-To-Fix

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Smart Growth America report on businesses moving back to center cities (and suburban core business districts)

Last Thursday, Smart Growth America released a report, Core Values: Why American Companies are Moving Downtown, sharing the results of an ongoing research program there about the phenomenon of businesses moving "back to the city" after many decades where businesses were moving out of the city.

I have written about this issue for some time in terms of Chicago, Detroit (note that Compuware, not Quicken Loans, was the first major corporation to take this step), Seattle (Amazon), and San Francisco (Twitter, etc.) as well as in terms of how cities (and some suburban locations) can serve as open air research districts along a corridor, as a form of what Brookings Institution calls Innovation Districts.

-- Naturally occurring innovation districts | Technology districts and the tech sector

Another blog entry was touched off by commenter charlie suggested that this trend could be harvested as part of the redevelopment of the FBI site on Pennsylvania Avenue in Downtown DC ("Could bringing premier regionally headquartered business enterprises to the Pennsylvania Avenue Corridor be key to its renewal and revitalization?").

And the Wall Street Journal has been writing about this for awhile, since at least 2010:

-- "Companies Say Goodbye to the Suburbs," (2013)
-- "Companies Trade Suburbs for City Life," (2015)
-- "Downtowns Get a Fresh Lease," (2010)
-- "More Young Adults Stay Put in the Biggest Cities," (2015)

The report makes clear that this is not an exclusively center city phenomenon, that companies are also moving from disconnected locations and/or campuses to suburban business districts and edge cities, like Tysons-Reston in Virginia, or Conway, Arkansas, a city about 23 miles from Downtown Little Rock.  But Conway is the county seat, home to some major corporations, some of which started there originally, as well as three colleges, including the University of Central Arkansas, a mostly undergraduate focused school, with about 14,000 students.

--  past blog entry, "Silver line reshaping commercial office market in Fairfax County"
-- Ten Principles for Reinventing Suburban Business Districts, Urban Land Institute (2002)
-- Ten Principles for Reinventing America's Suburban Strips, Urban Land Institute (2001)

Examples in the DC-Baltimore region of companies moving to more connected suburban locations include how Choice Hotels moved from its isolated location on Colesville Road miles away from a Metrorail station to Rockville Town Center ("Choice Hotels International Completes Move Into New Rockville Headquarters," press release) and how McCormick Spices is moving from its transit-disconnected location in Hunt Valley, Baltimore County, to a site just a few miles away, but a short walk distance from Baltimore's Light Rail system and highly visible from the road network.

Working with Cushman & Wakefield and GWU, SGA identified 500 cases, and interviewed about 50 businesses that made the change, and another 50 people working for economic development agencies and local government and involved in business recruitment.
Companies moving to the city

I've only had time to skim the report.  The press conference (available online here) featured a presentation by Chris Zimmerman, SGA's vice president and former member of the Arlington County Board, and two panel discussions.

Chris' presentation is covered by the text on the Core Values webpage, which summarizes the reasons companies are moving back to centers:
  • To attract and retain talented workers. As companies compete for new hires and the best talent, being located in a vibrant neighborhood is considered a crucial selling point. The businesses in our study report that current and potential employees want neighborhoods with restaurants, cafes, cultural institutions, entertainment, and nightlife as well as easy access by public transportation.
  • To build brand identity and company culture: A downtown location projects innovation, connectedness, uniqueness, and allows companies to literally be at the center of things. For many companies, moving downtown was a way to set themselves apart from their competitors and to inspire their employees to live up to related brand aspirations.
  • To support creative collaboration: Many companies chose locations in dynamic, creative, engaging neighborhoods to help inspire their employees and encourage collaboration among co-workers as well as with employees at other companies or in other industries.
  • To be closer to customers and business partners: Streamlining the process for employees who take in-person meetings with clients and partners downtown.
  • To centralize operations: A central downtown location, because of its proximity to everything, was a natural choice for many companies when consolidating multiple locations, particularly if those locations were spread out over a single region.
  • To support triple-bottom line business outcomes: For many companies, investing in a city’s center was an opportunity for good corporate citizenship and a way to use their sizable investing power for good. Some reported that triple-bottom line business practices came with the ancillary benefit of making them more attractive as an employer.
Panasonic's state-of-the-art North American headquarters and Innovation Center is located in Downtown Newark, NJ.   The building was designed by Gensler to achieve LEED Gold for new construction and LEED Platinum for interiors. Panasonic's hope is that its new green home in New Jersey will reflect its goal to reduce its carbon footprint by 50 percent while also stimulating the local economy with its presence. Photo and caption from Inhabitat.

Companies moving back to the city.  The first panel, moderated by Geoff Anderson, SGA's president, featured representatives from three companies that have moved "back to the city"

-- Be the Match, a health care and software company, focusing on bone marrow transportation and research, now in Minneapolis in a new building, highly visible, on a main walking route to nearby Target Field.
- "Be The Match breaks ground on new North Loop headquarters," Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District

-- Panasonic--best known for its consumer products, but 90% of the company's revenue comes from business-to-business activities--which moved from a suburban corporate campus of 50 acres to a 12-story office building in Downtown Newark, New Jersey, within a couple blocks of Penn Station.
- "How Panasonic learned to love Newark," Fortune Magazine
- "Christie cuts ribbon on Panasonic's new headquarters in Newark, salutes bipartisanship," Newark Star-Ledger

-- Fifth Third Bank, a large regional bank in the Midwest, based in Cincinnati, which is in the process of moving its regional headquarters from Suburban Southfield in Oakland County, Michigan, to the foot of Woodward Avenue in the heart of Detroit.
- "Fifth Third Bank to move 150 employees downtown as part of $85M investment in Detroit," Crain's Detroit Business

Each of the representatives discussed how being in the city improves the visibility of their company, allowed them to reorganize their space to support collaboration, and allows their company and its employees to be better engaged and involved in local revitalization initiatives.

For example, Panasonic's choice of Newark, where a new office building of significant size hadn't been constructed in 20 years, has helped to renew attention on Newark as a place for businesses to relocate.  One significant change is that only 4% of employees used transit to get to work at their old suburban campus, while 57% of employees use transit now, and new transportation demand management programming aims to boost that to 75%.

Fifth Third Bank Eastern Michigan will employ more than 150 full-time employees in its new 62,000-square-foot downtown office on four floors in the renamed Fifth Third Bank at One Woodward building.  Photo by CoStar Group Inc. 

The Fifth Third story is equally interesting, as their initial search for a new branch location in Downtown Detroit ended up in a much bigger decision--to move their regional headquarters to Downtown and to participate in a wide variety of ways--loans, technical assistance, sponsorship activities, etc.--in the city's revitalization efforts.

This sign of commitment was particularly important and time worthy, given the city's recent emergence from bankruptcy.

The Panasonic project was fostered by tax credits, which has been controversial in some quarters.

Anderson made a good point about difficulties experienced in the moves because employees aren't always on board, at least initially.
People who live and work in the suburbs don't go Downtown, they don't know what's happening, and their perceptions of the city are out-of-date.
This is seen in comments on the Newark Star-Ledger article cited above, and was an issue when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission moved to the NoMA district in DC, then an "emerging area" back in 2007, and not the "hot" well-connected place it is considered today ("Getting to Know the New Neighborhood," Washington Post).  :

City revitalization and recruitment programming.  The second panel, led by Chris Zimmerman, featured representatives of downtown economic development organizations (not city agencies), involved in the management and improvement of and recruitment to central business districts.

According to the report, city location and amenities characteristics that are attracting companies back to the city are:
  • Walkable, live/work/play neighborhoods: Most companies are looking to locate in districts that are walkable, live/work/play environments. "These places include a vibrant mix of restaurants, cafes, shops, entertainment venues, and cultural attractions all within easy walking distance of offices" along with housing.
  • Convenient access by a range of transportation options: Access to a range of mobility options is a major priority.  "Companies want their employees to be able to travel easily to work each day, to daily meetings offsite, and to other cities [...] choosing locations that allow employees to walk, bike, and take transit as well as drive to work each day. Downtown location allowed these companies to provide more options for employees who live in the city, while also leaving many employees’ driving commute times unchanged. In addition, it made these businesses more accessible to potential new employees in the region."
  • The right office space: Another factor in companies’ decisions are office spaces that best fit their business. [...] many reported a need for more open office space that would allow and encourage interactions among their employees. Several reported that a great space, along with a great neighborhood, went a long way in recruiting new employees. And like their choice of location, businesses wanted their office space to reflect an innovative and creative company culture. If the right type of office space wasn’t already available, many companies were willing to build new buildings or redevelop old ones to get it.  
  • Clean, safe streets: A few companies meant to be positive when describing their new location as “gritty,” but these companies were the exception, not the rule. Most interviewees said cleanliness and safety were important to them and for the most part, the downtowns they moved to were providing it. Some companies went out of their way to point out the differences between perception and reality in this regard, particularly among employees who hadn’t been downtown for many years. Leadership on these issues was found in both the public and private sector.
The panel was comprised of representatives from:

-- Downtown Cleveland Alliance, the business improvement district for Downtown
-- Conway (Arkansas) Chamber of Commerce
-- Indy Chamber, the economic development arm of the city-county.

I zoned out a bit on this panel, because for the most part, they covered stuff I already know, but even so, they made many great points.

The discussion got more interesting when they covered topics like the difference between early and later stages of revitalization, zoning changes needed to effectuate appropriate urban design, the addition of housing to previously exclusive office districts, maintaining affordability and equity, the importance of historic preservation tax credits to facilitate redevelopment of older buildings, how projects take a long time and that can be hard for elected officials and residents eager and itching for improvement, etc.

The $31 million Circa Apartments project in Indianapolis--265 units in the first phase--is one of the projects in Downtown Indianapolis that has been spurred in part by the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.

When asked what was the most effective economic development strategy, Mark Fisher from the Indy Chamber discussed how he was totally surprised about the economic and cultural impact of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.

It was seen as a cultural initiative, but so far--and the trail has been fully operational only for about two years--more than $1 billion in new development has been attracted to areas abutting the trail, and many retail and restaurant businesses are re-orienting and adding "back" entrances to be equally accessible from front and back.

Street crossing, Indianapolis Cultural Trail
Indianapolis Cultural Trail.

Mike Deamer from the Downtown Cleveland Alliance mentioned the importance of Cleveland's foundations in supporting revitalization activities throughout the city, especially Downtown..

Brad Lacey from Conway discussed the importance of leveraging for economic development the activities of the three colleges in the city.

Another point that came up was the difficulty of working on long time frames when the election cycle is four years. (I think of a project on H Street NE that I was involved in that took 13 years, another will be about 12 years when it is finished, but with a different design, program, and developer compared to how they started.  And these are only two projects.)

Conclusion.  In thinking about the presentation, it's another element of the long term trend of in-migration to cities.  Just like retail is beginning to move back to the city after decades of focusing on suburban markets ("It ain't true: chain retailers are entering the city, but not necessarily on the city's terms"), now that younger, highly educated people are increasingly moving to or wanting to move to more vibrant, connected neighborhoods, employers are following rooftops too.

But we must remember that the moving back to the city "trend" has been built on decades of in-migrants of people committed to urban living, but it took about 40 years to achieve critical mass.  cf.

-- Ten Steps to a Living Downtown, Brookings Institution (1999)
-- Who Lives Downtown?, Brookings Institution (2005)

It's also about generational change within corporate leadership.  For a long time, corporations have moved to the suburbs because that's where the corporate leaders lived, as well as most of their employees.  Now that generation of leaders is moving on and the opportunity is presented to center cities to recapture headquarters locations.

Of course, it's aided by the presence in most large, older center cities, of large formerly factory and warehouse buildings that are cool and lend themselves to adaptive reuse.

The report makes clear that companies will build new but collaboratively-supportive designed buildings if necessary, if they can't find what they want, and two of the three examples recounted above involved ground up construction of completely new buildings.

This is a newer phenomenon, as previously mostly business attraction involved reutilization of buildings dating from about 1875 to 1930, buildings like Baltimore's old Montgomery Ward distribution center or the Tide manufacturing plant ("A glimpse inside Under Armour's Baltimore campus," Baltimore Business Journal), which is the major base for Under Armour, a company that didn't exist 20 years ago, but now has about 8,000 employees and over $3 billion in annual sales.

Tthe example of Fifth Third Bank in Detroit is a bit different, as they moved into a classic modern building constructed in the 1960s--people with Detroit ties would recognize it as the old headquarters of the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company, a public utility.  The building was especially noteworthy because there was a fine dining restaurant on top called "Top of the Flame". It was the first skyscraper designed by Minoru Yamasaki, who went on to design the World Trade Center in New York City.

Likely we will see more of this, although in many places such buildings are also being converted to housing or hotels--the Standard Hotel in Los Angeles is the reuse of an art deco era oil company headquarters.

Placemaking and urban design remains key.  To maintain and strengthen those elements of urbanism that are attractive to residents, employees, businesses, and visitors, cities have to invest in urban design and zoning, and more focused business improvement districts are usually necessary in order to manage in a more fine grained manner street activation, clean and safe activities, programming, and business recruitment activities, because city departments generally aren't given the necessary level of resources and capacity to bring this about at the level of detail and perseverance that is required..

"Good" developers are a necessary ingredient. One thing the report didn't discuss was developers.  In my experience, a lot of "bad building" has been done in terms of whether or not buildings, especially at the ground level, support urbanity with the right urban design, permeability, and connection to the world of the city outside of the four walls of the building.

The representative from Fifth Third Bank discussed this at length, how they were attracted to the city by the efforts of Bedrock Management, a large scale property owner and developer focused on Downtown Detroit.

City officials have a hard time demanding better when they are desperate for any kind of business activity.  This problem of under-committed developers is accentuated by elected officials desperate for new business and so they are compelled to do anything asked of them, rather than demanding better or saying "no."

Fortunately, as this kind of redevelopment becomes more in demand, more cities are at the point of having a critical mass of pro-urban commercial real estate developers able to provide the right kinds of properties, in ways that support placemaking and street vitality.

Build stronger urban design requirements into regulations. The best way to deal with developers disinclined to do good work is to have the right urban design, zoning, and review processes in place, along with targeted incentives, to shape outcomes toward what is desired rather than taking anything that's offered.

This is happening more and more, as cities re-tune zoning regulations to favor historic building and city design practices, rather than apply the more suburban-oriented zoning and design codes that even cities had previously adopted.

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

DC's fire department is in the same situation as WMATA in terms of the necessity of a redesign of culture and behavior through a human factors approach

Washington Post photo.

In addition to the FTA report on WMATA released earlier in the week, a similarly scathing report was released by the DC Auditor about the DC Fire and Emergency Services, which since the 2006 death of David Rosenbaum, because of a series of mis-steps by department personnel, has experienced a similar ongoing cycle of ever escalating failures and more unnecessary deaths.

From the Washington Times article, "Audit finds several deficiencies in D.C. emergency medical services":
D.C. Auditor Kathleen Patterson issued a report Thursday that found of the 36 recommendations made by the Rosenbaum Task Force — chief among them to have all first responders cross-trained with basic firefighting and medical skills — only 11 have been fully implemented.

The task force was convened in 2007 to recommend fixes for the city’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department after it was found that a neglectful, botched emergency response contributed to the 2006 death of New York Times journalist David Rosenbaum, who had suffered a head wound after being beaten and robbed.
-- Review of District of Columbia’s Compliance with the Recommendations of the Task Force on Emergency Medical Services (The Rosenbaum Task Force) (Report num: DCA262015)

The one hopeful note is that a few months ago, Mayor Bowser appointed as Chief of the Department, Gregory Dean, who had recently retired from running the Seattle Fire Department for 10 years ("District's incoming fire chief, Bowser hope to expand firefighter pool," Washington Post).

Seattle's EMS system is a national leader, having introduced many innovative practices. Hopefully, the current organizational culture won't be resistant to Chief Dean's ministrations.

Note that some of the earliest work in "human factors," focused on wildfires, addressed fire fighting.

-- "Human factors and the fire service," Firefighter Nation

One more thing, Brookland activist Dan Wolkoff has made the point for many years that because so many of the emergency calls are to deal with drunks, DCFEMS personnel come to believe that almost anyone they attend to is likely to be an alcoholic.  In all likelihood that's why Mr. Rosenbaum was misdiagnosed as they misinterpreted his symptoms as the result of drunkenness rather than from a beating, fall, and subsequent head energy.

Also see:

-- The "recent" failures of the DC Fire Department are indicative of much deeper systems failures than people realize (2006)
-- Rationalizing fire and emergency services (2011)
-- Fire and emergency services (in DC) (2013)
-- DC "fire" department continued (2013)
-- Fire department issues in municipalities (2014)

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For the most part, the text below is a repeat from the WMATA-related entry from a couple days ago. It's repeated because it is equally relevant and the same process of human factors related redesign should be applied to DCFEMS.
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About 20 years ago, New Yorker Magazine ran a great piece about the bureaucracy and dysfunction in the Chicago Post Office ("LOST IN THE MAIL").  My sense is that DCFEMS operations are roughly at the same level of dysfunction.

The "human factors" approach of evaluating failure should be applied to DCFEMS as a way to implement necessary process redesign and structural changes (see for example, "How mistakes can save lives: one man's mission to revolutionize the NHS," New Statesman, the RISKS-L online forum, and Computer-Related Risks by Peter Neumann).

The New Statesman explains the human factors approach in the context of how after the death of his wife from an avoidable error, an airplane pilot is working with the British National Health service to apply airplane safety and crash analysis protocols to health care to reduce errors and deaths. From the article:
In the 1990s, a cognitive psychologist called James Reason turned this principle into a theory of how accidents happen in large organisations. When a space shuttle crashes or an oil tanker leaks, our instinct is to look for a single, “root” cause. This often leads us to the operator: the person who triggered the disaster by pulling the wrong lever or entering the wrong line of code. But the operator is at the end of a long chain of decisions, some of them taken that day, some taken long in the past, all contributing to the accident; like achievements, accidents are a team effort. Reason proposed a “Swiss cheese” model: accidents happen when a concatenation of factors occurs in unpredictable ways, like the holes in a block of cheese lining up.

James Reason’s underlying message was that because human beings are fallible and will always make operational mistakes, it is the responsibility of managers to ensure that those mistakes are anticipated, planned for and learned from. Without seeking to do away altogether with the notion of culpability, he shifted the emphasis from the flaws of individuals to flaws in organisation, from the person to the environment, and from blame to learning.

The science of “human factors” now permeates the aviation industry. It includes a sophisticated understanding of the kinds of mistakes that even experts make under stress. So when Martin Bromiley read the Harmer report, an incomprehensible event suddenly made sense to him. “I thought, this is classic human factors stuff. Fixation error, time perception, hierarchy.”

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