Monday, March 1, 2010

Monday Morning Linkages

Wired gets it: Pick up the phone and put down the keys.

But I’m not convinced the bans will work, particularly among young people. Why? Because texting is rapidly becoming their default means of connecting with one another, on a constant, pinging basis. From 2003 to 2008, the number of texts sent monthly by Americans surged from 2 billion to 110 billion. The urge to connect is primal, and even if you ban texting in the car, teens will try to get away with it.

So what can we do? We should change our focus to the other side of the equation and curtail not the texting but the driving. This may sound a bit facetious, but I’m serious. When we worry about driving and texting, we assume that the most important thing the person is doing is piloting the car. But what if the most important thing they’re doing is texting? How do we free them up so they can text without needing to worry about driving?

The answer, of course, is public transit. In many parts of the world where texting has become ingrained in daily life — like Japan and Europe — public transit is so plentiful that there hasn’t been a major texting-while-driving crisis. You don’t endanger anyone’s life while quietly tapping out messages during your train ride to work in Tokyo or Berlin

First, has a phone ever killed anybody? What the writer is trying to do here, is invert our thinking, and it should be done. The more dangerous action here is clearly the 2 ton hunk of steel that kills 50,000 Americans per year. As somebody else quipped, "if drinking and driving is illegal, why is there parking lots at bars? Seriously.

Also, the flip side of the "our transit is inadequate like woah," argument is also that the land use and built form of our cities are entirely skewed towards private mobility. Which is why the Mayor of Fort Worth declared auto-oriented planning and development the biggest blunder of our times. Ahh well, at least we are asking the right questions now, because as cities are so heavily interconnected, if it is not part of a chicken/egg dilemma when it comes to cities, it isn't a question worth asking.

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DC Planning Dept puts together a short presentation about walkability and the potential utilization of WalkScore:

We've explored the pros/cons of Walkscore ad infinitum 'round these here parts. My most recent addition here:

Things like WalkScore are showing that there is a premium for what we do in applying the principles of urbanism based on an increment of their calculations. WalkScore, like any statistic is able to measure the quantitative but not the qualitative. In this case, proximity, but there is no score for the quality of the pedestrian environment.

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The sobering: Niall Ferguson in LAT on the rise and fall of empires.

One day, a seemingly random piece of bad news -- perhaps a negative report by a rating agency -- will make the headlines during an otherwise quiet news cycle. Suddenly, it will be not just a few policy wonks who worry about the sustainability of U.S. fiscal policy but the public at large, not to mention investors abroad. It is this shift that is crucial: A complex adaptive system is in big trouble when its component parts lose faith in its viability.

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One of my personal fav sources of low-down on the housing market, Charles Hugh Smith at his blog, Of Two Minds breaks down why the housing "recovery" is little more than Wyl E. Coyote pulling out an umbrella on his long drop from the top of the cliff.

The reason why realtors, bankers, builders and politicos are nervously whispering "we're all socialists now" is simple: were the Fed and Federal government to withdraw their subsidies, guarantees and outright purchases of mortgages, the mortgage market would instantly freeze up or start pricing in the very real risk that housing is not "recovering" and that anyone holding a mortgage could suffer huge losses if real estate continues declining in value.

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Next American City picks up the flag and carries on about the inversion of poor to the outside of cities and the rich back towards the middle. Ya know, where there is shared amenity, optional modes of transportation, etc etc:

The high rate of foreclosures in Washington’s eastern and southern suburbs is indicative of the degree to which the lower-middle class has chosen to leave the inner city. The primary consequence of this move away from the dense core is an increase in transportation costs, primarily because of a corresponding increase in the use of private automobiles: the Urban Land Institute report documents an almost inverse relationship between housing prices and transportation costs. Suburban dwellers—rich or poor—find themselves in a situation where their only choice is driving relatively expensive cars.

When a family simply can’t afford to own and operate an automobile, the result is a massive reduction in mobility.

Do U.S. cities provide adequate transportation for people in poor, suburban communities? Surely not in every case, since Americans of all income classes face increasingly long commutes that often don’t seem much different than that of the South African woman profiled in the Times article. Many metropolitan regions have developed in a way that requires a large percentage of the population to take hours-long journeys to get from home to work. This is not a problem confined to the southern hemisphere.

I tackled this in my post on Parking: Crime and Punishment:

Therefore, the population near or below the poverty line in Dallas are forced into car ownership to make ends meet, while transportation can account for as much as 40-45% of their income, while the well-to-do are forced to subsidize it via roads to make the whole system work. Lose-Lose.