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.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The "war on cars" and the "war on bikes" as elements of a paradigm shift in transportation

Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions lays out an argument for how paradigm shifts occur in various scientific disciplines.  Wikipedia describes the argument as:

In this work, Kuhn challenged the then prevailing view of progress in "normal science". Scientific progress had been seen primarily as "development-by-accumulation" of accepted facts and theories. Kuhn argued for an episodic model in which periods of such conceptual continuity in normal science were interrupted by periods of revolutionary science. During revolutions in science the discovery of anomalies leads to a whole new paradigm that changes the rules of the game and the "map" directing new research, asks new questions of old data, and moves beyond the puzzle-solving of normal science.

Earlier this week, US PIRG Education Foundation and the Frontier Group jointly released their new study, A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America's Future.

The main argument of the study is that through the entire postwar period, until 2004, there was a constant upward growth in vehicle miles traveled per capita, but since 2004, per capita growth in VMT has fallen off, even if overall VMT may have grown in some years, due to an increase in the overall number of drivers.
Infographic, A NEW DIRECTION  Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future
In recommendations for policy, the authors suggest that in various scenarios, both the VMT per capita and the VMT growth curve will drop significantly, and this should be acknowledged in transportation planning and practice, especially in terms of the primacy of road building as the major and most significant element of US transportation infrastructure and federal policy and funding.

This is relevant to the three previous entries on bicycling and sustainable transportation planning and many of the other discussions in this blog.

The acrimonious discussion about various transportation planning issues:

• use of scarce street space for car storage (a/k/a parking);
• what should the parking requirements be for new construction in transit zones;
• how much should residents pay for parking permits;
• charging variable rates for street parking;
• using traffic lanes/right of way for transit;
• using street space for bicycle sharing stations;
• using street space for car sharing spaces;
• using traffic lanes/right of way for bicycle infrastructure'
• gasoline excise taxes;
• funding transit;
• building transit;
• creating streetcar lines; etc.

are merely different pieces of this paradigm shift.

The people yelling loudest--mostly people for whom the automobile is their primary form of transportation--see and feel the threat the most (which is definitely measurable in terms of the prevalence of ad hominem attacks).

From A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America's Future:

A new vision for transportation policy should:

• Plan for uncertainty. With future driving patterns uncertain, federal, state and local transportation officials should evaluate the costs and benefits of all transportation projects based on several scenarios of future demand for driving. Decision-makers should also prioritize those projects that are most likely to deliver benefits under a range of future circumstances.

• Support the Millennials and other Americans in their desire to drive less. Federal, state and local poli­cies should help create the conditions under which Americans can fulfill their desire to drive less. Increasing investments in public transportation, bicycling and pedestrian infrastruc­ture and intercity rail—especially when coupled with regulatory changes to enable the development of walk­able neighborhoods—can help provide more Americans with a broader range of transportation options.

• Revisit plans for new or expanded highways. Many highway projects currently awaiting funding were initially conceived of decades ago and proposed based on traffic projec­tions made before the recent decline in driving. Local, state and federal governments should revisit the need for these “legacy projects” and ensure that proposals for new or expanded highways are still a priority in light of recent travel trends.

• Refocus the federal role. The federal government should adopt a more strategic role in transportation policy, focusing resources on key priorities (such as repair and maintenance of existing infrastructure and the expan­sion of transportation options) and evaluating projects competitively on the basis of their benefits to society.

• Use transportation revenue where it makes the most sense. Trans­portation spending decisions should be based on overall priorities and a rigorous evaluation of project costs and benefits—not on the source of the revenue.

• Do your homework. Federal and state governments should invest in research to evaluate the accuracy and useful­ness of transportation models and better understand changing trans­portation trends in the post-Driving Boom era.

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At 3:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

on Capitol Hill I am hearing some extremely vitriolic statements from people who-ironically- live smack close to metro and never seem to use it- about how bad the problems are with this new popularity of cycling. This one lady was so angry I thought she was going to attack me one day- we were walking and she started in on how bike lanes are eliminating parking in places around DC and how the cyclists are aggressive [ I am sympathetic to this as I see a lot of VC cyclists as nasty ogres myself] but the words coming out of her mouth totally shocked me. This is a woman who is supposedly "liberal" and "democratic" and yet she was coming off as mean as Rush Limbaugh or someone from Loudon County .

At 12:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


As I said recently on this forum, you do a disservice by not qualifying bicycles as yet another type of vehicle--and a currently proliferating one at that--in the "war" being waged now, the one on pedestrians.

Every day (and I walk every day) I experience, as well as witness, the brunt of numerous thoughtless, dangerous and downright stupid actions on the part of cyclists who have no consideration for pedestrians.

The pot shouldn't be calling the kettle black here.


At 7:31 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I think of a bicycle as a vehicle, which is what it is legally. And I argue about "designing conflict in" which is what mixing bicyclists and pedestrians does on sidewalks, when bicyclists ride on sidewalks.

That being said, it's different from bicyclists riding in ways that endanger pedestrians. As you might surmise, I am not in favor of bicyclists riding in ways that endanger either pedestrians or motor vehicle operators.

What it comes down to is respecting the rights of "the most vulnerable user." Cars > Bicycles > Pedestrians.

Bicyclists have to take responsibility for how they function within the mobility system.

In the Western Baltimore County ped and bike plan I did, I outlined an integrated system of bike and ped training, at all levels of K-12, plus for adults at rec. centers, parks, senior centers, and other settings.

I have no problem with creating requirements for a bicycle endorsement on drivers licenses, and for mandatory bike registration/bike license plates.

And enforcement against egregious bicyclist behavior, with the proviso that the Idaho Stop be legalized.

At 8:31 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Well, there are a lot of issue with any PIRG report. I probably have a very differernt take on any Ralph Nader group than you.

But just to limit myself to the framing, I'd say what the report should say is that "millennials" want urban life, but in order to keep urban life strong, we need strong transit options.

And then the walking and biking flow from the form of the city.

Also, I'd say the models that suggest more traffic from development are pretty off. Congestion isn't always a bad thing.

At 1:59 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I was thinking about the point you made a long time ago, about transit's killer app being a faster trip.

WRT biking, that means that biking's ability to be a better choice shouldn't be crippled (hence legalizing the Idaho Stop).

And wrt transit it means prioritizing transit expansion and improvement. More on this in a blog entry over the next few days, in response to a conversation I had with someone about Georgetown transit issues...

2. wrt traffic models, there is no question that add'l density functions differently in the city and in heavy rail transit situations, although those situations vary considerably, e.g., Fort Totten vs. Metro Center vs. Greenbelt vs. Reston etc.

and wrt congestion, today I was riding on 13th St. around 8:30 am, it was bumper to bumper for blocks. Same with Columbia Road... all the more reason to seek different modes.

3. I understand your reticence about PIRGs but remember I worked for CSPI, which has Nader lineage even if that was denied vociferously by the founders.

I still thought the report (although I have to read it word for word) was pretty interesting.

At 10:58 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

In terms of the PIRG report, you can get in trouble very quickly when looking at VMT numbers. And when looking at young(ish) people to lack of driving is related to labor force participation (as I said on GGW) and lack of family formation (also due to unemployment).

When you scale out, we've got high gas prices and also the "driving while illegal" phenomena. Thanks to the economy and threats to deport you if driving illegally, a lot of mexicans aren't on the road compare to 5 years ago.

The only shift that isn't horrible news is gas prices. And I agree with Ed Morse's assessment that we may be looking at a decade of lower oil prices (or at least stable) rather than 10 years of increasing prices.

In fact I often worry we are at peak-walking right now.

As I said, you also have to positive tend of young people wanting to live in cities. That is great, but cities require massive investment if we want to keep people off the road during work. And yes it is possible. I disagree with Arlington in saying traffic is better than 15 years ago -- it is a lot t worse -- but it is better than the models would have predicted.

At 8:00 AM, Blogger Dwayne Charles said...

This is cool and interesting stuff about the wars on bikes and cars. I think that these both means of transportations are evolving their new uses.
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