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, June 27, 2013

Automobile-centric thinking (a continuation)

transportation hierarchyTransportation hierarchy, source: Transportation Alternatives, New York City.

In the book Essence of Decision, which is about the Cuban missile crisis, author Graham Allison discusses various problems in organizational decision making approaches, one being that "where you stand is where you sit," or that your position on issues is determined by your place based on your responsibilities or ways of thinking.

People who think "automobile first" have a different way of thinking than those who have a broader perspective on mobility, especially as it relates to cities (versus suburbs) and to sustainable modes (walking, biking, transit, augmented by carsharing).

I think about this all the time when I read various articles about transportation issues.

In January I wrote a series of posts in response to various hand-wringing by residents in Upper Northwest DC who are complaining about promotion of sustainable transportation.  See "Car culture and automobilty: 5 stories of inside the box thinking" for an example.

But there are some things going on that make it worth discussing again.  (Broken record time...)

1.  Right now, certain people are up in arms in Takoma, because now land at the Metro station is being slated for apartments rather than previous plans for townhouses.  I wrote about the issue here "Takoma's Brookland moment: some opposition to apartment development on the WMATA station site."

The Gazette has an article, "Officials want study, input before Takoma project votes," about how a Takoma Park Councilman and a couple of DC's Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners are calling for a traffic study and other measures before WMATA signs an agreement for the change.

Trip generation rates, Institute of Traffic EngineersRight: table on trip generation rates of different types of dwelling units from the original article on the subject in Traffic Engineering journal.  

Note that there are many problems with the research for the ITE trip manual.   It didn't look at a wide enough sample of properties, and it didn't take into adequate consideration spatial networks, density, and capture of trips by transit.  But there is no question that typical single family houses generate more trips than the average unit in an apartment building.

The interesting thing is that a traffic study won't generate the results that automobile-centric people think.  Apartment dwellers, especially in a building next to a subway station, are far more likely to not use an automobile for the bulk of their trips. In short, 255 apartments are likely to generate fewer trips generally and fewer trips by automobile than 118 towhouses.

As far as real world proof is concerned, in the "Car culture" entry cited above, I mentioned how a traffic study for a nearby project mentioned how during rush periods, a 150 unit apartment building within one block of the Takoma Metro station generates fewer than 40 trips by car.

While there are many flaws with traffic engineering trip generation models, the reality is that in cities with good spatial patterns and transit systems, fewer trips are generated by automobile compared to suburban areas, buildings closer to transit stations generate fewer automobile trips than buildings farther away, and apartment building units generate fewer trips by automobile than single family houses.

2.  Another Gazette article, "Bonifant Street businesses worried about Purple Line impact," discusses how some Silver Spring businesses are worked up about the loss of parking spaces on their street (8) when the Purple Line comes, and how they believe that this will negatively impact their business.

What about all the potential customers who will see their businesses while going by on a light rail train, and all the potential customers who will be able to get to their businesses more easily because of transit access that they don't have currently?

If they play it right, they should have more customers because of transit, not fewer.

3.  For what it's worth, that is what should happen on H Street NE, once a streetcar starts running there later this year (or more likely first quarter of 2014).  More business, fewer parking issues.

Bike corral on West Broadway Street in Salt Lake City, Utah.

4.  Which reminds me of an issue in Evanston, Illinois.  A fitness facility wanted to use one metered parking space for a bike corral, to accommodate their customers who arrive by bike.  A parking space can accommodate one car or 10-12 bikes.

The Evanston councilmembers complained both about the loss of revenue, and how this would be unfair to automobile users.  But doesn't it make more sense to serve 10-12 people from the same amount of space versus 1 person?

The city went ahead and made the switch.

In any case, it's an illustration of how "Transportation and Parking Committee[s]" need to consider their purview far more expansively, and not just cars, but about mobility and throughput more generally.

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6 Comments:

At 12:46 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

well, going to have to disagree with you here.

The idea, for instance, that Arlington has solved the magic problems with car traffic on the R-B corridor is just wrong. Sure, you can move around during the day. Rush hours and weekends are not fun -- I gave up trying to cut up Wilson around 2004.

And I'd agree that in urban or semi-urban settings the car use models are broken. But will more people and more density = more cars -- yes. Just not on the curve that is being projected

It strikes me the best things urbanists can do is push for killing the gas tax and removing the built in funding for road projects. DC would be an interesting example since the numbers aren't that high anyway.

 
At 1:53 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

I am not saying that Arlington has solved the physics problem of 150 s.f. boxes moving around 1 or 2 people at a time... but the general point pertains.

And you are right that if you just add a few more people, it makes it a lot less convenient (to put it politely) to get around.

Add road work in various places, and you get screwed very easily.

Plus the issue with you (and me) about chokepoints in various places that degrade traffic in particular places exponentially.

... biking. (I've been thinking my next step with Suzanne is to get a tandem.)

 
At 3:09 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

what really struck me the other day, driving out to bahm mi heaven on Rt. 50, is how messed up the new Courthouse Rd Bridge/overchange is.

Now, the old one was tricky and forced you to slow down.

The new one looks like an interstate interchange from about 1975. Way overbuilt for a semi-urban area.

 
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At 7:03 AM, Blogger Gorge Miler said...

We at present don’t very own an automobile yet whenever I purchase it in future it’ll definitely certainly be a Ford design!
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At 2:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Same for me.



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