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.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Asking the wrong question: "Fixing the Commute" edition

The Washington Post is sponsoring a conference today at their AmericaAnswers website about "fixing the commute."  The conference is focused on new technologies and services like driverless cars and transportation networked services.

While listing to the webstream, I can't but help think back to an interview with Jane Jacobs that I read after the release of her book, The Nature of Economies.

When asked why aren't there "enough roads" she responded "you're asking the wrong question, the right question is 'why are there so many cars?'

Cities weren't really designed to accommodate everyone driving.  The amount of space required for parking is costly.  

Granted that some of the people in the conference are talking about "alternative mobility models" such as car sharing and not driving, but overall, the conference is focused on cars.  I guess that makes sense, since automobile advertising is so important to newspapers.

... I was talking with Suzanne on the way to the Metro and discussing the Netherlands, Denmark, and Portland, in terms of changing mobility routines to favor transit and biking.  The point of these places compared to the general argument about "enabling choice" which someone just said on the webstream, isn't so much "enabling choice" as much as it is "enabling optimal mobility."

The difference in the Netherlands and Denmark is that all aspects of the mobility system--policies, regulations, tax polices, practices, etc.--are made to be congruent in ways that support optimality.

The way that the Netherlands and Denmark get residents to make "community optimal transportation choices" is by building a system that makes sustainable transportation options--walking, biking, and transit--both efficient and cost effective.

Partly this is by assessing charges against automobility that cover all of the costs that an automobile normally imposes on society.  So in those countries, when you buy a car, you pay excise taxes equal to the cost of the car.  And gasoline costs about $8/gallon.  These taxes not only pay for roads, but pay towards the cost of enabling other modes.

And in the Netherlands and Denmark, optimality is at a minimum bi-dimensional, for both the individual and the community, rather than how in the US the mobility system preferences individual optimality, usually by automobility.

In the US, where we provide support for "choice" by providing infrastructure for walking, biking, and transit, most of the policy, regulation, and practice supports automobility.

So it should not be a surprise that most people get around by car.

However, it is changing.

Certainly the way that Tysons Corner is reforming around transit, with the opening of the Silver Line is an example of an area rebooting for the 21st century. Yesterday, I was reading back articles from the Tampa Bay Times and one, As love affair with cars wanes, Tampa Bay stuck in slow lane of change, is on the future of motordom (not the title) and makes the point that policy today needs to focus on the future and those demographics that will be living in the city going forward, not for current or legacy residents (not the language of the column).

The article referenced an e-book, >Curbing Cars: America's Independence From the Auto Industry, interestingly by the former Detroit bureau chief for the New York Times, about the decline of car ownership and car centrality going forward.

And I think this is relevant to the parking accommodation debate going on in DC and in other cities dealing with zoning regulation rewrites.

In the 1950s, which is the period in which most "modern" zoning codes were developed, was the height of the development of mass automobility and providing parking was essential to accommodate everyone driving their cars.

People advocating for maximum accommodation of the car are planning for the future based on the past, rather than considering how things are changing now and will continue to change in the future.

P.S.  Richard Stallman points out that services like Uber should not be called ride sharing, but piecework subcontractor economy.

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At 10:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"... I was talking with Suzanne on the way to the Metro and discussing the Netherlands, Denmark, and Portland, in terms of changing mobility routines to favor transit and biking."

You're such a romantic, Richard--no wonder Suzanne can't resist! ;^)


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