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.

Monday, December 31, 2012

"Top 10" transportation stories: continued

Traffic on Blair Road/North Capitol Street NW approaching New Hampshire Avenue, southboundThe problem with writing a piece like that on December 30th is that you still have December 31st...

so three items I should have included on the previous list are:

- the creation of a "public-partnership" to build new tunnels for I-95 through Norfolk Virginia (Hampton Roads) and the forthcoming imposition of tolls to pay for it; plus how this sheds light on the relatively unpublic process that the Governor's Office engages in to create such agreements.  (It's also an issue with the contract to run the Hampton Roads ports as well.)

- transportation taxing districts.  One was created to help fund the proposed infill Potomac Yard subway station in Alexandria in 2011 ("Special tax district for Potomac Yard moves forward" from the Alexandria Times) and such a district is supposed to be created to help fund infrastructure improvements in Tysons Corner, but people in some quarters are resisting ("Residents should not have to bear Tysons transportation tax" letter to the editor from the Post).  In the meantime, the Hampton Roads region is building support for a transportation sales tax initiative ("Supporters see changed sentiment on sales tax" from the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

- is there a true long term trend in younger demographics not buying cars and driving less?  I think that the jury is out on this, it could be more a function of the recession.  But it's something that needs to be tracked going forward.  See "Driving: The road less travelled" from The Economist magazine.

But in today's papers are items that would have been reflected in yesterday's list:

- Arlington moves forward with streetcar planning for Rte. 1 in Crystal City ("Crystal City streetcar plans underway" from the Post) as a repositioning strategy for the community, not unlike how streetcar lines have been used to foster development in the Pearl District/Downtown in Portland, Oregon and in the South Lake Union district of Seattle, where the streetcar has been essential in luring Amazon to the city from the suburbs (also see Amazon puts its stamp on downtown Seattle" from the Seattle Times).

- related to mobile apps on transit information, the NextBus transit information system for the DC-area WMATA system has collapsed ("Popular Metro NextBus app dies amid tech companies' spat," from the Examiner although the Post reports, "Mobile app to track buses goes quiet" that a reconfigured feed will bring back the app in a week or so).

- It was not until I went through last week's papers that I missed when I was out of time, that I came across the proposal to replace the Virginia state gasoline excise tax with an increase in the state sales tax ("Legislator revives referendum on sales tax for roads" from the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, although I read it first in the Examiner) although we'll see where that goes.

- And today there is a ridiculously stupid column by Deborah Simmons, local issues columnist for the Washington Times entitled "Walkability, bicycle lanes no answer to gridlock".

westbound Rhode Island Avenue NEWhile I don't keep a running tally of the dumbest writing on transportation issues for each year, maybe I should start, and that could be "summed up" in the "top 10" entry as well  (e.g., this column "Amtrak vs. Dallas-based Southwest: a case for capitalism" from the Dallas Morning News would be right up there, which I wrote about in this entry, ""Bad editors" #2: anti-Amtrak column in the Dallas Morning News").

As I write over and over and over again, most of the "congestion" in the area, the kind of congestion that is reported in national studies ("Gridlock eases in many metro areas" from USA Today and "D.C. area is No. 1 nationwide in traffic congestion, study says" from the Post) is mostly in the suburbs, on freeways.  The USA Today article cites the 2012 report from Inrix, based on GPS-reported data, and in that study, "DC" is sixth worst in the country for gridlock, while in the Texas Transportation Institute Urban Mobility Report, cited in the Post article, DC is worst, except that for both"DC" really means "the Washington Metropolitan Area", not DC.

Suburban congestion isn't the city's problem.  And in fact suburban-minded people commenting on what "DC" should do about "congestion" are focusing on the wrong problem.

As Jane Jacobs said (paraphrased): "When you ask 'why aren't there enough roads?' you're asking the wrong question.  The right question is why are there so many cars?"

As a bicyclist who runs stop signs and red lights using the methods of the Idaho Stop--which means you can only proceed when there is no oncoming traffic or significant gaps in traffic--I have a pretty good sense of the amount of traffic in the city and the reality is that during much of the day on many of the city's streets, including those in the densest areas of the city, there just isn't that much traffic, even during rush hour.  Of course, there are plenty of exceptions--major entryway streets into the city and various chokepoints.

I think that proves that transit works (for the most part) and every trip on foot or by bike is a bonus!

While granted, it can take a long time to get from place to place _in DC_ because there aren't freeways, the reality is that in DC, 51% of commute trips by residents are conducted by walking, transit, and bicyclist, and a significant number of non-commute trips by residents are also made by the same modes.

Street space efficiencyThe more trips that are made by the space efficient modes of walking, biking, and transit means more space for cars--remember that one 40 foot bus takes up the space of 3 cars, yet carries upwards of 60 people.

I mentioned in the entry yesterday, the Friday editorial, "City Hall must tackle Muni's problems," in the San Francisco Chronicle about the 100th anniversary of the MUNI system there.  I didn't quote from it.  But this section of the editorial struck me:

With 100,000 more people expected to move to the city in the next 25 years, the automobile can't be the mode of choice anymore.

because I wrote something similar about 9 years ago, in a post to themail, DC's twice weekly e-letter on city and good government issues:

The whole point about a city, if you are truly committed to the pedestrian-based urban experience, is to not be automobile-dependent. I would never expect to be able to park in Fells Point or Little Italy (or Georgetown or Dupont Circle) on a Friday or Saturday night, unless I got there early. I would use other city-friendly forms of transportation. This leads to something that concerns me about the Mayor's campaign to attract 100,000 more residents to the City. Obviously, attracting more residents to the city is something we need to do for many reasons -- to increase income tax revenues, to provide more residents -- eyes on the street -- to help stabilize various areas of the city, to provide more people clamoring for high-quality municipal services, etc. But I have some concerns.

 ...if we attract 100,000 people that want to drive and park a car everywhere, rather than walking places and/or [taking] public transportation or other forms such as bicycling, then we will be destroying the quality of life of our city. In other words, if we attract 70,000 new households with 105,000 or so more vehicles clogging our streets (especially SUVs which take up about 1.5 parking spaces compared to regularly sized cars), owned by people who believe that it is their right and privilege to drive and park their vehicles in the public space — for free — we may well ruin the character of our city. Let's not suburbanize Washington, DC!

Enhancing public transportation in all ways should be the foundation of the “City Living” campaign — enhanced bus services (including maps and marketing), the reinsertion of trolleys in major transportation corridors, continued expansion of heavy rail and the creation of “infill” stations, requiring office buildings to develop transportation demand management programs (like Arlington County), support of Metrochek, etc. -- are a piece of the puzzle.

A “transit city” must keep growing its transportation infrastructure and expanding pro-transit policies and development. If we cede the city to the car, then we will give up all that makes the city livable. ...

Well, at least I am consistent in the arguments I make.

I just wish that other commentators in the city understood better what it is that distinguishes the city from the suburbs and the practical implications of the b.s. they opine.

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At 10:44 PM, Blogger IMGoph said...

of course, continuing to call gary's newsletter a "good government" source is no longer accurate. gary dislikes most of the intelligent stuff you write, and i'm sure this simmons column is right up his alley.

At 9:21 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

It's funny that you say this as I had a conversation with MVJantzen about this at the Mobility Lab transit hack in Nov.

You're right that Gary is a curmudgeon and "old" in outlook just like C100.

But he and his wife Dorothy Brazil are active in terms of prodding govt. to be open, going to press conferences, asking pointed questions, doing FOIAs, etc.

I don't think Gary is right on the future of the city, livability, transportation, etc., but they are right on corruption, ethics, and civic involvement.

At 9:26 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Oh I didn't mention that MVJ brought this up, not me, and he lamented the "battle" between themail and GGW as ultimately being somewhat unproductive.

OTOH, I guess I agree with you that this issue is in part generational and that most older cohorts don't understand the competitive advantages of the city.

This relates to the point that I make (1) most neighborhood and civic leadership is backwards, not forward, looking and (2) most local civic leadership came to the fore during the period when the city was declining in population, quality of life and municipal functioning and the primary goal was neighborhood stabilization--staunching the shrinking.

They don't know how to react and act and be proactive in an environment when the city and its neighborhoods has the opportunity to grow.

At 9:30 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Finally, the thing I have been thinking about for sometime, is in DC at least, maybe community organizations are too wrapped up in the time that they were created, they are too much shaped by the cohort effects of the people who founded the organization(s) and they are mostly incapable of shifting and modifying and changing and transforming as the city changes.

That maybe this means that new civic organizations do in fact need to be created to better represent and effectuate what the city can become rather than hold it back.

I don't know. IN other cities, longstanding groups, like the Municipal Arts Society in NYC or the Cleveland Restoration Society or the PReservation Resource Center of New Orleans have been powers for good for decades. OTOH, in NYC the city is comparable to DC's situation in terms of the opportunity to improve, while Cleveland and New Orleans are in long term decline, and the situations aren't fully comparable.

Still, the challenge lies before us of how to get new residents and younger residents and people with different ideas to join and revivify traditional civic organizations in the city


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