Monday, November 28, 2011

Mexico City Gets It, Bikes & Pedestrianization that Is

From conversations with several friends who are from the Distrito Federal, it seems to be leading the way back from the brink in Mexico as cultural capitals tend to do. From their estimation, this is largely due to a generation from 22-35 or so that have been educated elsewhere, traveled the world, seen other places, and have returned home to start programs/businesses like their bike sharing program. When new ideas gain a foothold in a place there is naturally a backlash by conventional wisdom and the preservation of the status quo. Ideas are always battling, competing for critical and decisive mass in order to assert themselves. Witness the memetic competition in action:
This past summer, Mexico City radio station Imagen was forced to place one of its commentators, Angel Verdugo, on indefinite suspension over disparaging remarks he made about the city’s bicyclists. Calling them a “new plague,” Verdugo also accused the bicyclists of putting on “European” airs. The commentator reminded them that Mexico City is not Paris, and that “here is the concrete jungle.” As if that were not enough, Verdugo invited drivers to “throw their vehicles at them, immediately.” Not surprisingly, the statements provoked widespread outrage.
Of course, and inevitably, the best ideas always win (eventually). The new idea always has to bear the burden of proof. And slowly but surely we're all learning it, sharing it, spreading it so that the world can be a safer, more fair, more just, more opportunistic and empowering place to live:

In the 1950s, Mexico City was redesigned along the model of U.S. cities like Los Angeles, with a focus on large suburbs and grand avenues. That, in turn, made the Mexican capital dangerous for pedestrians. The current government is trying to reverse that trend by putting pedestrians and cyclists first. The biggest challenge, however, may be getting the city’s drivers on board. Car owners are used to being kings of the road. Even so, at least in the areas where the new measures have been implemented, change is brewing.

City authorities say that reducing the commuting time will have a direct economic effect. For starters, cars are expensive. “It’s estimated that an average person has to spend three hours worth of work every day to pay for a car,” says Jesús Sánchez, a private consultant. Cycling and walking are far cheaper. They’re also healthier, and therefore less burdensome on the health system.

The costs of a car-based system (city) are exponential, as our burgeoning debts, both public and private, attest. Likewise, the savings AND beneficent profits (socially, environmental, and economic) of a less-car dependent system are similarly exponential. But in a good way.

Spreading Out, Back In

The above image is from the print edition of the Charlotte Observer. It is pretty self-explanatory, showing the enlargening, broadening of the poor. Of course, the poor are still huddling up as close to the urban core as possible, which might otherwise be known as opportunity areas (for better or worse, mind you).

The other interesting note is the bifurcated pattern of the wealthy, which is pretty observably replicated in every other American city. About half are moving into defensible, monocultural enclaves far out from the core, while others are repopulating the center, otherwise known as high amenity areas.

As for the poor migrating outward, in many ways being pushed out to area where they must "drive til they qualify," which really isn't the poor as much as lower and middle classes getting squeezed toward the poor end of the toothpaste tube, Charlotte in particular has been in the news quite a bit for the rise in criminal and drug activity at the edges. I don't find this to be unique to Charlotte either.

I don't find either to be particularly "right" or "wrong," but rather both quite natural, with examples throughout history. The well-to-do could have country manors, simply because they could afford it (of course, this also necessitates extreme wealth, the kind found in the various gilded ages) or they possess the best, most desirable property, that within the city boundaries.

A good example of this might be Rothenburg, Germany where the most wealthy had peripheral castles with servants, essentially their own private, nearly self-sufficient mini-cities. While the next class of wealthy, often merchants, occupied their particular version of the "high street" or "main street." Their houses were ornate, and highly concentrated along the radials stemming from the marketplatz, with more spartan dwellings toward the periphery.

The highest value area, the area of the highest "convergence" or spatial integration (that is til other cities surpassed Rothenburg's purpose) had the greatest amount of density and ornament, i.e. accommodation. Integration begets accommodation (which might have a subset called "decoration" or "ornamentation" -- both by-products of demand of density).

The lower density and more affordable wants to get as close as possible to the integration or "convergence" points, the areas of opportunity. Rothenburg is interesting because it is so small that there is really only one major identifiable one, with a few others scattered at the edges where the radial or "entry" streets intersect with some of the smaller "orbitals" or the outlying streets.

Point being, there is always some measure of natural order occurring within cities as they shift shape, mold, expand or contract, and they all come down to desirability, opportunity, individual wants and needs. Though, what people can afford and how many can afford it, is a critical component to the "weight" or mass of the movement dynamic.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Traffic Deaths, Mapped

Here is a link to a pretty incredible site, a map of every single traffic related death in the US between 2001-2009. Nationwide:

Blob of purple. Says little. In fact, this would be more informative I think if it was then overlaid with a graphic emphasizing per capita deaths by city.

Nonetheless, awesome and terrifying. Like any natural disaster. Except this isn't natural, but entirely manmade. And no, I don't find it overkill to remind that Copenhagen has a goal to reduce traffic-related fatalities to zero for an entire year. It's good to have goals. In the last year, they had 5. It's better to have goals that can be met and measured. What are ours?

Let's look closer at downtown Dallas:

A few things jump out. First, the two dominant color-coded deaths: blue for pedestrian and purple for passenger/driver, make up about 90% of the deaths, split pretty evenly. Second, almost all are clustered around the highest speed roads, mostly the highways. Perfectly understandable, if not even predictable.

What I find most interesting is the amount of pedestrian deaths around the freeways. These are barriers, yet there is still motivation to try and cross them. We have to get where we're going and because of the way we've built our city, we have to take our life in not our hands but the hands of others that very likely aren't on the wheel, but texting with one and applying make-up (or shaving with an electric razor - to be non-gender specific) with the other while steering with the knee. I've done it. I also don't like that I have, hence the reason I got rid of my car. Other than the significant change in mood before/after driving.

Backing up a bit, the pattern is still evident as the graphic is organized entirely around the highest speed traffic. Again, predictable, but still there are pedestrians. I'd hypothesize that the number of pedestrian-vehicle conflicts are significantly lower on the roads where the most deaths occur. In other words, where the most pedestrians AREN'T.

The natural assumption is likely, "well, I need to get where I'm going. Dumbasses shouldn't walk on busy roads." Do you think the citizens of Vancouver can't get to where they're going? They have no freeways within the city limits. Did LA shutdown during carmageddon? No to both. Both commuters and the real estate market adapt to the transportation system built. It IS the driver that the rest of the city, its patterns and behaviors, adapts to.

If government's entire role is public safety (and secondarily efficiency/fairness of the market as well as a sustainable city), might we consider building/retrofitting a more humane transportation framework?

Monday, November 21, 2011

That's One Pretty Graphic

Since I haven't produced much content on the blog lately, I thought I might show a fraction of the goodness I've been working on, on the side. Before, After. The full sized versions are 36x48 inches, but you can likely make out what is going on...

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I'm going to take a break from blogging here for a bit. For how long, I'm not sure. Whether a street is 4 lanes or 2 seems rather irrelevant now.

patrick kennedy
Of those who let down the ideals we share as Penn State graduates & they themselves are not above nor exempt from...
patrick kennedy
My time spent here will instead be dedicated to the permanent removal of any/everyone in the Univ administration w/ any prior awareness...
patrick kennedy
Might not be on here much. As some of you know I am a Penn State grad, having some difficulty coming to terms with the news...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday Linkage

This is what happens when you allow incessant road building, siphoning public monies, parking standards, tax breaks for oil, gas, car companies, and Euclidean zoning to continue if for no other reason than because that is they it's been since we've known it. Then, your private money begins getting siphoned away, with little choice in the matter. You can't move closer to where you work because zoning prevents enough density to bring prices towards affordable levels to those that might wish to do so. So you have to move further and further out. So far that it can cost upwards of half your monthly take home pay, just to get to work. This is a tax. It is a hidden tax just to participate in the local economy. And by doing so, the majority of that money for car ownership, maintenance, gas, and insurance leaves the local economy. And we wonder why all of our cities are slowly but surely going bankrupt. If not yet financially, surely intellectually.
All told, Americans spend $489 billion annually on gasoline. Every 25-cent increase in the price of gas costs households $90 million per day. That’s hitting a lot of Americans very hard, especially right now as real wages stagnate and unemployment levels remain high.
And no, it is not about building more roads to reduce traffic so traffic flow and therefore the engine becomes more efficient. It is not only about building/buying more efficient cars because the amount of paving, parking, and time lost to traffic and commuting is also at issue. It is about reducing demand. Although demand implies that this is something we want, which it isn't. People want choice. The current road/city building is not about choice nor freedom as American Dream Coalition and other crooked hacks will have you believe. Choice is mode of transportation and possible routing because there are a number of options and destinations within reasonable distances.

It is about reducing our mandated need for spending our entire lives in the car where everyone else on the road diminishes the "ideal" road condition, where everyone else on the road is the enemy. Not only does it harm the economy, but it can't be good socially either. That's one of the big reasons I gave up my car. I was tired of getting out of it angry every day.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Link of the Day

There might be more, there might not, but this was too good to share. As somebody on the Professional Urbanist listserv suggested, pushing "walkability," bikeability, and transit is pretty futile unless highway spending is cut off at the knees. This is where "walkability" starts and ends, otherwise it is severed completely.

Road Overkill

$1.5 billion in freeways planned

Two months ago an obscure but powerful local committee held a hearing on $1.5 billion in government spending, but no one testified.

The hearing before the Metropolitan Policy Committee (MPC), an intergovernmental group of local elected officials, was on a Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) that would largely ignore local concerns about global warming, livability and urban sprawl by investing $1.5 billion in highways over the next two decades.

In the past couple years, the city of Eugene has held dozens of public hearings and meetings involving thousands of citizens to develop plans to reduce climate pollution from driving, increase bicycling, increase walkable, 20-minute neighborhoods and envision a city with less sprawl. But the RTP ignores all of that, envisioning a metropolis dominated by massive freeway projects.

Here are some of the biggest:

• $60 million to add lanes and interchange capacity to Beltline from River Road to Coburg Road at a cost of $34 million per mile of freeway.

• $110 million to add freeway lanes or interchange capacity at or near the I-5 Beltline interchange.

• $36 million to expand the I-5 interchange near the city of Coburg.

• $50 million for a new interchange at Highway 126 and Main Street in Springfield.

• $40 million for a new interchange at Highway 126 and 52nd Street in Springfield.

• $30 million to expand the Gateway Beltline intersection at I-5.

• $32 million for eight new arterial projects for the Jasper/Natron land speculation area in West Springfield.

• $32 million for a four-lane arterial bridge over the Willamette north of Beltline.

• $45 million to expand I-5 interchanges and widen the freeway at Franklin Boulevard and at Glenwood Boulevard

• $65 million to expand the I-5 interchange at 30th Avenue and widen the freeway.

• $25 million to widen Beltline from Roosevelt Boulevard to West 11th Avenue.

•$22 million to expand the 126 interchange at Pioneer Parkway.

• $29 million to widen the 126 highway from I-5 to Mohawk Boulevard.

• $8.8 million to expand the Delta Beltline interchange.

• $20 million to widen McVay Highway near Goshen and I-5.

The draft Eugene Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan calls for doubling walking and biking in the next two decades to 36 percent of commuters to reduce pollution and obesity and make the city more livable, but money for bike and pedestrian infrastructure makes up only 3.5 percent of the money spent on highways in the RTP.

“What we are looking for is really just a few crumbs,” said Tom Schneider, a volunteer on the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Schneider marveled at an item for $55 million to save a few seconds of delay for drivers on an I-5 Beltline off-ramp, while he said $3 million could fix almost all of the city’s biggest sidewalk deficits.

The RTP’s massive freeway investment also conflicts with the city’s adopted Climate and Energy Action Plan. The plan calls for cutting greenhouse gas pollution in Eugene to 10 percent less than 1990 levels by 2020 and 75 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and for cutting Eugene fossil fuel use 50 percent by 2030.

The city’s Envision Eugene process is working on a plan focusing on convenient, walkable neighborhoods to “promote compact urban development and efficient transportation options.” But the massive freeway projects the RTP envisions may leave efficient land use planning and Envision Eugene as road kill.

Big freeway projects are a major driver of urban sprawl. Land speculators know this and for decades have snatched up land around new freeway interchanges. The hundreds of millions of dollars of public money invested in the I-5 Beltline interchange spurred the move of thousands of jobs out of central Eugene to farm fields on the edge of the city. The Register-Guard, PeaceHealth and Symantec all relocated from downtown Eugene to build huge parking lots near the interchange.

That’s the opposite of federal and state regulations on how transportation plans are supposed to work. Transportation plans are supposed to follow local land use plans, not make them irrelevant.

So where did the RTP come from? It was prepared by unelected local transportation bureaucrats who serve on an obscure but powerful regional Transportation Planning Committee. The MPC group of elected officials almost never changes decisions made in TPC meetings, which are almost never attended by the public.

It’s even unclear if the obscure subcommittee of the obscure committee is actually making the decisions involving hundreds of millions of dollars in government spending. Many of the decisions appear to be made by unidentified ODOT and federal highway administration bureaucrats who live nowhere near Eugene.

On a state and national level, there’s no political representation for controlling sprawl and greenhouse pollution by controlling freeway projects. Gov. John Kitzhaber and President Barack Obama are driven by union jobs for huge freeway projects. Republicans are driven by huge contractor and trucking company profits on the public spending.

Public comments on the RTP can be emailed through Nov. 7 to The MPC plans to approve the RTP during a meeting at 11:30 am Thursday, Nov. 10. in the Eugene Public Library Bascom-Tykeson room after little discussion. After that, the RTP could be amended somewhat by the MPC next year to conform to local bike, pedestrian, Envision Eugene, transportation and climate change plans. The next major update isn’t scheduled for another four years.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wednesday Linkages Derides Incompetence

Part 3 of the DFW plaza post coming soon, but first, the news of the day, but just after this new draft logo:

Austin is cracking down on jaywalking. Because THAT is the right way to go about it (slidewhistle). It is not in anyway a complete dereliction, dismissal, and abdication of responsibility to create a safe public realm, especially in transportation. Pedestrians are a menace to society and a real pain to clean their innards from the grill of my car.

The best part, THE BEST part, and by the best I mean the most tragic and incompetent is the comparison of the two maps on that link. The first shows where the ticketing is occuring, primarily in central areas, downtown, South Congress, and near the UT campus. Ya know, the kind of places where pedestrianization can and should be encouraged on top of the inevitability of it anyway.

Then look at the second map, where pedestrians have been killed. Scattered, on arterials and low pedestrian areas. Of course, we're talking about the epicenter of TxDOT and road lobbying. So if we can just demonize the pedestrian and force everyone into cars, even those that can't afford it, then we can get back to building roads and lining pockets from the siphoning of taxpayer money. As if there was any threat to this particular march of folly anyway.

Seriously, everyone involved in this policy at the City of Austin should be fired immediately. But who am I to say? Just someone that understands that increased pedestrianization is safer for everyone, better for business, and makes for a more sustainable/affordable city that also maintains more citizen money within the local economy I suppose.
In related news, a NASA engineer, perhaps bored with reduced responsibilities after the gutting of NASA posts for Greater Greater Washington the costs on both road and rail subsidies and finds the combo of indirect and direct costs of road subsidy is greater than that of rail subsidy. This also takes not into account either long-term maintenance costs of crumbling road infrastructure due to the nature of it as a decentralizing agent, nor the returns on these various subsidies (road case)/investment (rail case) by way of more dense development. One centralizes and aggregates, the other decentralizes and cannibalizes. This is how it works folks.
Lastly, if you wanted to know where the cutting edge was in urban design, it is here. It also just so happens to be the cutting edge in the study of the life sciences. Mehaffy and Salingaros are disciples/proteges of Chris Alexander and have since picked up his proliferation. The future of thought is happening at this nexus between life sciences, computing, and urbanism. And you wonder why I use so many metaphors of computer science, biology, ecology, etc.?? A quote:

In natural systems, this kind of bottom-up evolution turns out to be essential for the creation of sustainability. There is reason to think this is no less essential in urban systems. In fact, our work persuades us that any urban configuration that has not evolved — has not been computed step-by-step using adaptive adjustments — is probably dysfunctional and unsustainable. It will have to be propped up by enormous and unsustainable energy and resource expenditures. Examples include regularly-spaced high-rise buildings in a Le Corbusier type of pattern (i.e. “towers in the park”) as well as suburban sprawl of cookie-cutter houses. These are both template-based models imposed from above, and they do not manifest an efficiently optimized self-organized pattern of the kind we are describing.

Point being, urbanism is not about the imposition of arbitrary and abstract forms dreamt by Corbusier, et al. In fact, it is ENTIRELY about providing the framework for life to exist on its own. And that comes from proper transportation systems, the interconnectivity and interaction between development and said transportation system, and building positive supply-demand feedback loops through demand-side implementation. Interconnectivity = opportunity = desirability = demand = density. This stuff doesn't need a rocket science to quantify it...errr, maybe it does (see: above).

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

DFW Plazas, Part Deux

So yesterday, inspired by the Atlantic cities post on best and worst plazas/squares in the world, I began a catalogue of the public spaces by similar classification within the Metroplex. You can find part 1 here. One of the key defining characteristics of a plaza or square, is that they are more urban than a "park," not just by being more hardscape than softscape because that is not entirely necessary. See: many of the squares in Savannah.

I define them as more urban in that they are more interconnected. Parks are rarely quite as populated. You have more space in a park. Parks don't necessarily have to be as directly interrelated to their surroundings as a plaza/square. You can not dissociate the plaza from its adjacencies, they are all part of the same place. The outdoor room you're within is defined by the buildings facades and the uses of those buildings give vitality to the space.

Onto part 2 (similarly with part 1 - I distinguish "urban" plazas from suburban strictly by location herein, not form as I typically do because as I mention above a "suburban" plaza is a syntactic impossibility. Without form and interrelationship, it isn't a plaza.):

Urban Meh - Ferris Plaza, Downtown Dallas. This could be a good one. It actually isn't missing too much. It has Union Station, Belo's corporate office, and Dallas Morning News HQ fronting three of its sides to populate it (though rarely does this occur). The Hotel Lawrence is on the north side, though it has no relationship to the plaza other than proximity. It's sunken as we lamented yesterday, but not so much as to be problematic. So where are the problems? 1) Not enough seating. What seating there is, is either inadequate or informal part of the fountain structure, which is not in the shade. 2) The ramps/handicap access is clumsily handled and looks like an unattractive tack-on. 3) The planting seems rather arbitrary in its placement and creates little in the way of space or order. And, 4) the surrounding roads are too big. Items 1 and 4 are the most significant in my view.

Ferris Park - Dallas TX

Urban Bad - Dallas City Hall Plaza. I've long heard stories of the existence of a painting portraying a traveler dying of thirst, crawling across the barren desert of this plaza. I'm yet to witness it with my two eyes. If it doesn't exist, it should. There has been plenty in the news of this plaza "transformed," but that is all overblown. It was filled with gewgaws and marketed to within an inch of the life it doesn't have to get a hand full of people out there for a day. It's problems are deep, systemic, structural and no amount of puppet shows can bring Pinocchio to life without our nose growing *this* big. Those issues are 1) scale and 2) like all/any parks/plazas, its connections and context. Get the 500 S. Ervay building jumpstarted and perhaps there is a chance, but I don't believe IT or any form of private development is particularly viable in that part of downtown for some time, as I wrote here.

Good Urban - Pegasus Plaza, Downtown Dallas
Pegasus Plaza is at what I consider to be the Main & Main intersection of downtown Dallas, at Main & Akard, despite Akard's one-way nature and dead-ending the next street up. It is the primary access street in from the North Dallas Tollway as it transitions from toll road to Harry Hines to Akard, each step incrementally shrinking in size, scale, and speed. When it hits Main Street, both cross streets are scaled for the pedestrian and likewise, are easily traversed even without the crosswalk signal or at intersections. This condition is what I call a fully "tethered" street in that people feel comfortable crossing just about anywhere.

Iron Cactus provides a direct connection and outdoor dining on the plaza (despite not particularly liking their food nor overpriced beverages, preferring Sol Irlandes across the street). The only real issue facing Pegasus Plaza is the dead space in back, where I presume is the Magnolia Hotel's back of house uses within. It is currently a blank wall, dressed up with a bit of oft-dead climbing vines, and essentially a dirt floor for dog shit. The downtown 360 plan rightfully identified this as an immediate intervention opportunity for one of the proposed "glass-box" retail sites to provide an interactive face. Absent that, I propose at the very least some stadium style seating a la Times Square. Effectively, Pegasus Plaza is our Times Square -- in conjunction with the adjoining Main Street blocks.

Meh, Suburban - DeSoto Town Center
Full Disclosure, I worked on the initial planning of this. So my critiques and praises are no different than they were at the time. The eventual project came out of that planning and is a mixed-use development (some ground floor retail with residential above) to infill the large surface parking lot in front of the DeSoto City Hall, which is in a converted strip center. They had a lot of assets including the stream/trail system to the north, the band shell overlooking it, and well, all of the land that was the surface parking. I was not however involved with the execution of the eventual plan and was disappointed to see the town square, to be between the development and the city hall was effectively turned into a cul-de-sac. To the city's credit though, they did follow through with efforts to improve what was essentially just a fire lane circumnavigating the sight to begin 2-siding the development. Remember, the most urban of places (those that maximize development synergy and interconnection) are those without backsides, just interfaces (with that said, sometimes that is impossible).

Good Suburban - North Park Mall Courtyard
No one can say I'm blindly against all malls. I merely point out those that have a future and those that don't. We were over-malled as a product of being over-retailed, nationwide. Most are failing or have already failed. The few regionally drawing ones will survive, but even North Park is showing that in order to continue to compete, survive, it must continue to evolve and become more of a complete place beyond a one-dimensional shopping experience. Every time I'm at North Park, I make it a point to spend some time out here or at the very least use it as a handy short-cut. In that way, it drastically improves the overall interconnectivity of the mall as a place over the typical cattle chute style of forcing people to walk past every single storefront ("And if not, then we'll hang you upside down and shake you 'til all your change falls out!")

There are a few cafes in the space, several of the stores have their own 2-sided entrance and there are mall corridor access points (necessarily) on all four sides. I don't think there is anything particularly special with the design or landscaping, but look at the Atlantic's global list. Scale and feel are more important than doo-dads and gewgaws. I full expect this to be step 1 in North Park's evolution into a more complete place with the surface parking lots filling in with other kinds of mixed-use development allowing the mall to approach the Milan Galleria as something more than a shopping experience but simply an indoor central piece of a complete neighborhood. And if that isn't being thought about...then it should be.

Bad Suburban - Williams Square - Las Colinas
This is less of a public square or plaza than it is a canvas for monumentality. Has anybody used this except to photograph the sculpture? And if you did, what could you possibly use it for? And it really gets at some of Las Colinas' deeper issues, that with the lake being the central feature, creating narrow slivers of land (development) around it, makes it difficult to create central, integral people places with any kind of critical mass within a reasonable distance that make people want to go there and use it. Of course, there has to be something to do there other than photograph some wild horsies that might as well be Flying Seahorses riding Mermaids.

I mean seriously, look at that ground floor facing it. The rest of the surrounding buildings as well. There so oppressively stale and lifeless with deep black windows signifying death for all we know that I'm repulsed even posting this picture and typing around it. And those poor horsies have to exist there in perpuity. Inhumane really.

Mustangs of Las Colinas

Starting to think there can be a part 3 tomorrow as I radiate further away from Dallas. Suggestions fully welcome with your own editorializing or without.