Friday, March 29, 2013

Bracket Coverage: Power over Popularity

In the spirit of March Madness, the Atlantic Cities created their own tournament bracket for what their deeming the "urbanist toolkit."  It's certainly not comprehensive, but I suspect what was on the top of somebody's head needing to fill empty spaces on a 32 "team" tournament.  Nor would I say it's the 32 best, but rather a range of topical (I guess) urbanist interventions.

It's primary problem is that it's basically just a popularity contest.  The danger of taking crowdsourcing a bit too far and too seriously.  Yes, there is wisdom in crowds, however as Churchill said, "Americans will eventually get it right after first exhausting all other possible solutions."  Or as Super Hans said, "you can't trust people.  People voted for the Nazis and listen to Coldplay."  Somewhere in their lies kernels of truth in human nature and why the founding fathers ended up with a republican form of democracy rather than true democracy.  Or as Plato deemed, "mob rule."

With urbanist interventions, the rise of grass roots implementation efforts, and an increasing interest in the physical environment around us, popularity is ephemeral and tends to be wedded to a specific time and place.  A flavor of the month.

Therefore, like the actual basketball tournament isn't a popularity contest but intended to be a competition of quality and skill, I wanted to add a different layer of interpretation to the Atlantic Cities brackets.  Power ratings, if you will.

An admitted weakness of this and all evaluations of these interventions is finding apples to apples comparisons.  It's inherently going to be rather subjective.  Because it will be virtually impossible to find solid, scientific data related to each aspect I wanted to evaluate, I'm resorting to a range from -5 to +5 for each category.  And yes, it's my interpretation of what constitutes +5 and -5.

The four major Categories I evaluated the brackets with were:

  • Value Created (consisting of my Integration, Accommodation, and Decoration sub-categories)
  • Costs Associated (consists of novelty or ephemerality, Upfront Costs or barriers, and Return on Investment)
  • Net Linear Weighting (Value minus Costs using 3,2,1 as integers) - for Value Integration received highest weight, Decoration lowest; for Costs, ROI gets highest weight and novelty the lowest)
  • Net Exponential Weighting (Value minus Costs using 9,3,1 as integers) - same hierarchy of weighting

As of right now, the Atlantic Cities popularity bracket has been narrowed down to an elite eight by "regional" with the remaining survivors being:  Car Sharing, Congestion Pricing, Bike Lanes, Real-time Clocks, Farmers Markets, Pedestrian Streets, Waterfront Promenades, and Festivals.

Before we see how these fair against my criteria, I'll just hypothesize right now that farmers markets, pedestrian malls, waterfront promenades, and festivals are overrated in the Platonic sense.  They sound more beneficial than they actually are.

Let's stack them up shall we:

VALUE CREATED (will tend to favor decoration):
Final Four (winner): Parking Maximums 6, Streetcar 6, Pop-up Parks 8, Highway Decks 11

Top 3 Overall (in order): Highway Decks (11), Waterfront Promenade (9), Private Public Space (9)
Last: Diverging Diamonds -13

COSTS (Best bang for buck?):
Final Four (winner): Parking Maximums 17, Real-time Arrival Clocks 10, Park WiFi 9, Waterfront Promenade 9/Private Parks 9 (tie)

Top 3 Overall (in order): Parking Maximums (17), Congestion Pricing (12), Real-time Arrival Clocks (10)
Last: Diverging Diamonds -24

LINEAR WEIGHTED NET (favors interconnectivity and ROI):
Final Four (winner):  Parking Maximums 36, Bike Lanes 18, Park WiFi 20, Highway Decks 15
Top 3 Overall (in order): Parking Maximums (36), Congestion Pricing (27), Park WiFi (20)
Last: Diverging Diamonds -51

EXPONENTIAL WEIGHTED NET (really favors interconnectivity and ROI:
Final Four (winner): Parking Maximums 79, Bike Lanes 49, Park WiFi 43, Highway Decks 34

Top 3 Overall (in order): Parking Maximums (79), Congestion Pricing (62), Bike Lanes (49)
Last: Diverging Diamonds -114


  • The elite 8 of the AC's popularity contest doesn't fair as well here.  Only congestion pricing, bike lanes, and real time clocks make an appearance here or there.  The four I predicted would be overrated, farmers markets, pedestrian malls, waterfront promenades, and festivals, actually were.  They finished 21st, 19th, 16th, and 20th respectively out of 32.
  • Unsurprisingly, exponentially rated results are nearly identical to linearly weighted, with the only change being that bike lanes worked their way into the top 3 overall replacing Park WiFi mostly because bike lanes generate more economic value.
  • Parking maximums scored well in every major category, winning three of four and only losing Value Created where it finished 5th of 32 despite winning its regional.  It fares well by creating effective change at relatively minimal costs.  Especially because maximums can be implemented locally and by district rather than citywide like congestion pricing, the barriers are lower.
  • Here's a list of interventions that scored in negatives in exponentially weighted net value minus costs (my preferred ranking) besides Diverging Diamonds which finished last in every category (as highway/arterial interchange spaghetti predictably should):  Car Elevators, Platform Screens, Cable Car, Adventure Playgrounds, Libraries w/ Waterslides (wtf?), Private parks, Convention Centers, Stadiums, and Formula I
  • In the screen grab above, you can see where I charted the various ranking aspects, value on one axis, costs on the other.  The most interesting thing to me was the amount of noise increased with the increased weighting.  Perhaps because it generated bigger numbers, but I had presumed it would help clarify and streamline the data, and have a lower r-squared value.  The opposite occured and I'm guessing that had to do with the significant disparity between financial costs/financial benefits and financial costs/urban and interconnective benefits.  Yeah, there is some relationship, but it's noisy.

As I said previously, the Atlantic Cities list isn't comprehensive.  And for this exercise I only used what they provided.  So I decided to toss a stick of dynamite into the mix by way of Highway Tear-outs.  And guess what, it won every major category listed above (despite scoring poorly in a few sub-categories like upfront costs/barriers.  Actually, that's the only negative score it accrued).

Highway Tear-out (score of next highest)
Value:  14 (11)
Costs: 22 (17)
Linear Weighted Net:  45 (36)
Exponential Weighted Net:  108 (79)

Does that reveal my biases?  Possibly.  Probably.  Or does it suggest that my biases are constructed upon strong urbanist understanding and principals and by favoring highway tear-outs?  I merely accurately predicted a bracket based on intervention efficacy power rankings.  And based on the metrics (that yes, I established according to my values) it wins.  Of course, can you really argue that highway tear-outs DON'T create the most value while generating the most ROI?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thirsty Thursday Linkages

First thing's first.

There is a proposal for a "Center of Innovation" for downtown Dallas.  That's great and we badly need educational opportunities for the under-privileged.  Though, decent education effectively by lottery and charity is again papering over deeper structural problems.  More bricks on the top of a house of cards.

There is also some really cool stuff proposed such as exposing kids to new, emerging technology such as 3D-printing, which promised to redistribute, decentralize, and democratize means of production.  Wherein I feel compelled to post this new video about 3D-printing used to mass produce assault weapons parts:

First, try to get past Wayne LaPierre's ridiculous statement, "only thing that stops a good guy with a gun is a bad guy with a gun."  Who defines who's good?  The white hat and black hat?  Pretty sure both sides of a duel think they're the good guy.

You can try to control the printer and the gun parts, the key here is the digital file and its ability to spread virally.

The other important part of the piece is Cody's line (only slightly paraphrased): "who cares about democratic consensus when there is a market."

Yikes.  Perhaps engineering and innovation is rather worthless without a background and foundation in the humanities.
On a happier note, they're going to use design firm LOT-EK to do the building.  Sad me found out that LOT-EK proposed a building made of discarded airplane fuselages back in 2005, :(.  I thought I concocted that idea for an affordable housing competition in 2008-ish when I was advising a group of young architects who didn't have a lot of paid work during the recession.

We treated it as an ideas competition.  And the fundamental idea was to repurpose means of mass production for the 21st century.  From a diminishing need to an emerging need, the need for affordable, urban housing in walkable locations that doesn't enforce car ownership upon those that can least afford it in a 'drive til you qualify' world.

The graphic is literally what I envisioned, except we would've turned the corridors perpendicular to the fuselage alignment, which would face west to allow the aerodynamics to funnel westerly winds between the gaps in the cylindrical shapes where micro-turbines could be placed.  Also, we would have a more typical urban storefront base with the fuselages as the tower like a Vancouver point tower concept.  The fuselages would effectively be rooms that fuse together with portals allowing a flexible market for 1, 2, 3 bedroom units that can constantly shape shift in their interconnectivity, up, down, left, right, etc.

Anyway, there are no new ideas.
In less local news, DC is budgeting $400 million of local money over the next six years specifically dedicated to streetcars.  Mama Mia! Roughly imagining that could work out to four 4-mile lines.  Not bad.
Lastly, here's a post about 5 things to think about with healthcare design.  It's rather wonky and predictable, confirming what most healthcare architecture is about now, which is simply fitting program to form.  And yes, all that is necessary.  But what's missing is the more wholistic planning aspect.

I've done quite a bit of consulting with healthcare facilities and operators and it's often difficult.  Whenever you create a masterplan that focuses on the surroundings and experience of the place, the patients, the visitors, and the workers, as the hospital as a centerpiece of a complete community, it is too often cast aside as not in the core business interests of the healthcare provider.  As usually are the administrators that dared think out of the box that the experience and safety of walkable surroundings, about healthcare rather than sick-care, IS part of their core business.  That and housing nearby for all employees at all levels of income for the option to live close, cutting the wasteful need for the excessive parking that typically forms the unwelcome moat around most hospitals.

Oh well.  I only have a Daniel Burnham Award for proposing such things.  What do I know.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bring the Farmers Market to the People

Don't expect the people to all go to the Farmer's Market.

With news that the city has officially privatized and downsized the Downtown Dallas Farmers' Market, I have another proposal.  Diversify locations.  Pick 7 locations and have each dedicated for one day, scattered throughout the city.

Off the top of my head you could have one downtown/Deep Ellum as it currently is, Bishop Arts/Jefferson Area, Knox/Oak Lawn/Wycliff area, Leadbetter, Lakewood, Five Points, and Buckner.  Those are just the first 7.  Don't get too caught up in the specifics.

More importantly, it's retail following rooftops.  It's not expecting the Farmers' Market to act as a regional destination like a shopping mall (and we've seen how most of those turn out).  They invariably underperform and are hyper-sensitive to cannibalization.

It's too difficult to draw from the entire city or region.  That's why regional destinations tend to have only one or two of a given use per million people (dependent upon the specific use).  For Farmers Markets and groceries, people often go once a week at most.  I imagine most Farmers Market shoppers are repeat ones as well.

Instead, the Farmers Market should increase its exposure, accessibility, and market share by setting up 7 locations, 1 per day so that the surrounding neighborhoods have locational and chronological predictability.  "Oh, it's Tuesday.  That's the day I have scheduled in my outlook calendar that I pick up veggies at the Farmer's Market in Lakewood just a short 1/2-mile bike ride from my house."

By being one-a-day it allows the facilities to also be multi-purpose and flexible in programming and use.  In Europe this happens all the time on streets and plazas that transform one or two days a week, like the Porta Portese Market in Rome:

File:Rome porta portese july 2006.jpg

The Farmers Market needed to downsize and privatize.  Now it needs to relocalize.  It was too big, too single purpose, and needed to offload some land to leverage in-higher-demand uses such as residential.  But ultimately, we need to be thinking about how we can bring healthier food to underserved parts of the city while improving the vendors ability to reach consumers rather than expecting them to labor under less than ideal circumstances and surroundings.

How 'bout them apples?

Space Syntax in Action

This is amazing stuff.  It's animated four-square check-ins, mapped, and animated.  It really brings the work of Bill Hillier to life:

Foursquare check-ins show the pulse of New York City and Tokyo from Foursquare on Vimeo.

Open data.  It's the new frontier in how we understand how cities work.  Because until this increasingly bleeding edge, we were bloody clueless.  The 20th century wiped the collective memory and it's all a clean slate.

(R2)D2 - A New Hope?

D2 has been back in the news lately, as DART recommences study on the proposed 2nd downtown line.

(Disclaimer: I worked on phase 1 of this study back when the proposed route alignments were whittled from 8-ish to 5-ish)

The need for the line originally was to avoid the presumed congestion and backup on the one current line through downtown as new lines (orange and green) came online.  However, planning, design, and urgency was shelved for what other reason?  You got it, lack of funding.  At the time the proposed routes (IIRC) ranged between $300m and $600m.  There was also an issue of lack of consensus, but that is not for me to detail.

Since it was shelved, DART had to rethink all of their schedules and headways (the time/distance between trains on a given line) in order to allow all of them to fit on one corridor through downtown.  This often meant less frequent service at other parts of the line.  I used to live along the line and can tell you that even with all the timing and headways altered, once the green and orange came online, there is still often a backup of trains through the one existing Bryan Street corridor during rush hours (though I no longer am awakened by 'ding ding...ding ding' at 6am every morning -- but that was the least of my problems with my old residence).

So now, DART and its 3.5 (red, blue, green, and orange which becomes red) currently operates like this:

D2 and its various alternatives propose to create something like this:

The line would have to go subterranean in order to cross the existing line as it runs from Victory and the Perot to somewhere near the Convention Center Hotel and City Hall, which happens to have a vault pre-constructed in case a subway were ever built -- pretty interesting stuff.  Though the exact alignment is still up in the air and I've only roughly approximated some version of it above.

Though, the question begs, must we always put lines to ONE specific destination.  You can walk two or three blocks.  In fact, if you study development around transit lines long enough you begin to realize the greatest value isn't being immediately on the station but a few blocks away.  Why?  For the most part rail also tends to be disconnective of fine-grained local fabrics, though not always.  Subways aren't, but underground stations aren't always the most desirable and tend to lack 'eyes on the street' and the perception of safety.

However, two issues still remain:  1) consensus and 2) how to pay for it.  The reboot started due to a $700,000 grant from the feds.  However, the price tag is now apparently somewhere between $500M and a singular, cool Bill with a B.  Yowza.  As is pointed out in the article, in all likelihood it's 15+ years away from approaching fruition.  From doing the urban development capacity studies around the new station areas won't be enough to leverage the line either.

So for whatever reason recently, I remembered being on the occasional green line circulator during special events at the cotton bowl when all of our DART riding worlds' get turned upside down and trains START GOING THE OTHER WAY.  Trains ran in a loop past their train hotel where they spend the night, through the Cedars, past Union Station, then back through downtown and Deep Ellum.  It was like the rotation of the earth suddenly switching in my mental map of the city.

Yet it took me 18 months to put two and two together because I'm slow like that sometimes.  If we need a 'reliever' route, and we can't afford the subterranean proposals on tracks and rights-of-way that don't exist, and we have a operational track through an existing corridor, and that area could badly use increase activity and investment attention, why not expand the notion of downtown?  Deep Ellum, Fair Park, the Cedars, and downtown more intricately tethered together (though there remains the pesky aspect of those inner-city freeways ruining all the fun and theoretical vibrancy).

Why not run the reliever route on the existing track, like so:

One thing this does is that rather than using the existing trunk line on Bryan to handle four lines, it relocates that 'load' or pressure onto Union Station, which just so happens to be able to handle it with the 7 existing tracks (though only a few are built for DART trains currently).

Or, rather than cutting Deep Ellum down to one line, green can maintain its current run through Deep Ellum and downtown, while the one oddball, orange, which shares track for most of its run is the only one that takes the southern detour.  It's worth noting Orange is the line headed for DFW airport and therefore the most important one to have a Union Station stop.  Yes, the Convention Center and Hotel are close enough to Union to allow Union to be its stop.  The hotel is a full 800 feet from the platform.  That's .15 miles.  That's 3 minutes.  That's a shorter distance than you'd walk just getting from your room to outside of the S.S. Omni.

[STOP LETTING CONVENIENCE OF ONE TRUMP CONVENIENCE OF ALL.  Forgive the yelling, but that is the antithesis of urbanism.]

Like so.  Though, this alignment would still have three lines through Bryan corridor, three by Union Station.  A compromise?  Certainly there will be issues with this alignment, but it certainly seems like the barriers are smaller and cheaper than the current proposals.

Dallas Density Dropped (seemingly) - But did Dollar Density?

Greater Greater Washington just put up a series of maps comparing densities by census tracts in the 20 largest cities:

Their language regarding comparable cities of interest:

6. Dallas: Dallas' density dropped significantly. It has fewer dense tracts in 2010 than in 2000, and its peak is down to 44,000 ppsm from 57,000 ppsm.

7. Houston: Unlike Dallas, Houston appears to be densifying. Oddly, its densest area is not the core.

9. Atlanta: Not only is Atlanta shockingly sparse, its densest tract fell from 41,000 ppsm in 2000 to just 21,000 ppsm in 2010. The explanation? A downtown public housing complex was demolished, erasing the population of the densest 2000 tract.

11. Detroit: Detroit's peak density of 18,000 ppsm is about the same as in 2000, but the number of mid-density tracts in the 10,000-20,000 ppsm range declined significantly as the city continued to empty.

12. Phoenix: Central Phoenix didn't change much, and tops out at 23,000 ppsm.

18. Denver: Like a smaller Minneapolis, Denver looks much the same. Its peak of 23,000 ppsm is respectable for a mid-sized non-coastal city.

20. Saint Louis: Saint Louis' losses have been less drastic than Detroit's, but they still hurt. Its peak is down to a Tampa-like 13,000 ppsm, from 15,000 ppsm in 2000.

Dallas' numbers aren't particularly surprising given that the metroplex grew by more than a million over that time period and Dallas grew in population by a measly 8,000.  A number so low it hasn't been seen since the 1880's when Dallas grew from 3,000 to 10,000 (!).  If there is anything of interest in the map specifics it's that density in 2000 was largely related to more impoverished, outerlying areas.  Many of these dispersed while new, denser areas began to concentrate closer to the core in more walkable, desirable uptown neighborhoods.

By being more desirable/walkable (and spare) that also associates them with very high rents in contrast with the rest of the city.  Though it also isn't for the super wealthy.  The median income for much of the new uptown density isn't that high.  However, when you create mashups between density and median incomes, you see areas with greater purchasing power/quantity in the middle class, high density neighborhoods than the super wealthy neighborhoods of Highland Park.  I created comparable maps of parts of DC and New York where despite middling median incomes the dollar densities were off the charts.  Retail follows rooftops.  And its better for all if those rooftops are clustered in walkable conditions with less necessity for the direct and extraneous costs of excessive parking.

These are maps I call "desirability maps" because these people have the means to live just about anywhere, but they *choose* density:

If anything, these maps in the context of what they represent, prove density is 1) not a four letter word when done well.  2) The demand is so pent-up as to hyper inflate the price points in relation to the wider market. 3) Our transportation design, planning, and funding is not keeping up with the demand, which brings me to 4) the inability of the design, development community to deliver anything close to as well done as uptown since. Instead, it's mostly happening in haphazard, scattered, and disembodied efforts here and there throughout the city.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

And Then There Is This

Council District 14 Endorsement

"It's far better being the one aiming the big gun rather than having it aimed at you."

TL;DR version:  I support Bobby Abtahi for Dallas city council district 14 and Scott Griggs for district 1, but I only live in district 14 so I'm going to focus on that race.  I don't really care about any of the other races (except who presides over the chair of transportation committee and I have no idea nor inside info (yet) on how that will shake out.

(full disclosure: I have donated to both campaigns)

Last week, I went to the Arts District Forum for the candidates vying for city council district 14 seat soon to be vacated by a term-limited Angela Hunt.  If you happen to follow me on twitter or have friended me on facebook you probably already know I was there (along with plenty of familiar faces).  However, as these things are, they tend to bore as every candidate says the same thing.  In this case, since the audience essentially was the Dallas Arts District, every candidate really loved the arts, as you might expect.  Only did it verge on the interesting when the moderator for plans/ideas for dedicated revenue generation unaffected by the roller coaster nature of city budgets or what infrastructural changes would the candidates like to see first implemented to improve the area.

Instead of getting into specifics of a discussion that lacked any, I want to focus on a conversation I had before the event regarding whether I was "pro-business."  The implication that I wasn't took me aback.  I go out of my way in virtually everything I write or speak to talk about the economic advantages in investing in true urbanism.  Both for investors and the public coffers as well, eroded for over a half century while the core of the city was cannibalized, and its ability to sustain itself, for continuous bleeding edge growth.  Sure that made money for the private side and the road builders, but that can't and won't sustain itself.  We can't simply keep doing what we've been doing.  I'm pro-business in the sense that the city is better off when opportunity is maximized for all.  I'm just not pro-business as usual.

A few years back I was having a conversation, it might have been over lunch, with a recently relocated investor to the area with deep pockets who gets it and sees a future (and therefore and opportunity for investment) in Dallas.  In its need to right itself.  We shared a laugh as he joked that if you looked back at the decisions made by Dallas (and by extension the region) over the last 50 years, basically everything was completely wrong.  I agreed with him on both counts.  That everything was wrong and there was ample opportunity in Dallas to participate (and invest) in the righting of the big ship DFW.

Sure it was good while it lasted, but then comes the hangover. Dallas would've grown either way.  Sprawl was not the engine, but the shape it took due to the policies put in place.  If there is/was any gasoline in the economic combustion from sprawl, it would only deal with the lack of pesky neighbors (potential NIMBYs) to get in the way of building upon exceedingly distant greenfields.  For shame.  From now on we'll have to deal with neighbor issues like adults (if you need an example of this necessity being foisted upon those unused to it, look no further than BELO Gardens wall and the Museum Tower-Nasher debacle) and find win-wins.  For property rights need not be dumbed down to a race to the bottom but brought up to enlightened self-interest.

There indeed is ample opportunity in Dallas.  I wouldn't be here otherwise.  Mostly due to three factors: ambition, capability ($), and absolute necessity.  Along with warm weather, these are the things that brought me here (for I detest snow, sleet, and ice -- I'd be the world's worst USPS guy).  Dallas has no choice but to rebuild itself.  For the majority of it will not continue to exist in its current unsustainable form.  It's oddly fitting as well.  A significant chunk of the Dallas economy is built to build.  It merely needs to be redirected.  If not, a signficant chunk of the economy could disappear.

Furthermore, Dallas has to capture the growth that the region has in order to build its tax base.  For a city of 20% of the area's population, less than 1% per census isn't cutting it.  We can only do so with smart, directed investment that creates desirable, livable, walkable real estate opportunities meeting the full range of market segments and affordability.  Otherwise, the market will continue to do what it does, make the logical choice to leave Dallas behind.  As our competitor cities are poised to do.

The infrastructure we build, re-build, retrofit, and design now will determine the city's future.  Cities always takes on the shape of its bones, the infrastructure (if you need more discussion about this, please see my piece of Columns Magazine) is the invisible arm guiding the invisible hand of the market.  The two are inextricably linked.

And that's when it hit me.  In Dallas, you immediately get lumped into one of two categories: you're either pro-business or pro-neighborhood.  There only ever are two sides in a boxing ring.  And that's part of the problem, the constant adversarial nature.  In many ways, that is the inevitability of the democratic process, as ideas wage non-violent wars of rhetoric towards a desired ends, dumbing the spectrum of ideas into two large camps of critical mass.

I reject that.  I believe in a third way: that the only way forward is to find a way to be pro-business AND pro-neighborhood.  Otherwise, the combative nature between the pre-established status quo brings both down.  We can't move forward as a city, meeting our "world class" ambitions until we're all pointed in the same direction.

Most of the past leaders have endorsed Bobby Abtahi.  His opponents want to paint that as a bad thing.
Would anybody really turn down an endorsement from Veletta Lill, one of the most respected council people and civic leaders this city has ever had?  No.  So opponents must resort the "Rovian Flip," turning strength into weakness.

Perhaps I'm lumped into that crowd for the oft-adversarial tone I can take.  I'm not anti-business.  I'm pro-triage.
I often get a kick out of when political leaders start using my language.  The mayor used my "city with a big gun" analogy as rhetoric to garner support for his Grow South Dallas campaign (he dropped the bit about us being a toddler wielding it -- I dunno why).  In a recent council 14 debate, one candidate used my point about Dallas's addiction to "the postcard view" rather than basic services.  By doing so, he attacked the past.  Bobby Abtahi doesn't represent the past, but rather the future.

Yes, Dallas has a big gun, a volatile chemical compound of ambition and capability.  But to date it's been missing the urgency of necessity in order to focus it.  It is far better to be the one aiming that big gun than having it aimed at you.  Otherwise, we're merely exasperating the destructive antagonistic nature of Dallas politics.

The only way Dallas can match ambition to a future reality of a great city is to harnass that power, to aim that gun forward and pinpointed.  This is why I support Bobby Abtahi for election to city council district 14.  He's the only candidate for council district 14 I see capable of bringing together, so that neighborhoods are better business and business is better neighborhoods.

Inaccuracy of Supply-side Congestion Combat

Both of these graphs come from Todd Litman at VTPI who does better work than anybody debunking the various visible and invisible arms of the highway lobby systematically siphoning money from public coffers without providing the promised public good:

You can obviously read the text alongside of the chart provided above.  The key point is that there are savings by fighting congestion with highway capacity only for small cities, lacking the combustion of activity of major cities, and those savings are: 1) minor - as you can see by the relatively flat green line, and 2) very, very noisy, virtually eliminating the predictability of the answer of highway capacity as a solution to congestion.  For the most part, adding highway capacity to small cities is a transfer of public wealth of richer, larger cities to spend in smaller cities for negligible gains.

On the flip side, as the more constant, rising orange line shows, adding highway capacity to large cities only amplifies the cost of congestion via delays.

Neither of those points will likely stop the rabble rousing rhetoric of "Congestion, OMG!  Worst thing ever!" Ignoring the logically apparent point that higher congestion is related to higher degrees of economic vitality, cuz duh, the entire point of a city as a machine is to facilitate social and economic exchange, which can't be achieved without coming together.  People want to be in areas of opportunity.  Hence, my point about fighting congestion with highway capacity only kills the city.

Detroit's traffic flow is flawless to the traffic engineering model.  Grade A.  In one portion of the Fisher Freeway, I counted 20 lanes of traffic counting the frontage roads.  According to the latest traffic counts only 25,600 cars use that section per day.  Smooth sailing.  Yup, they solved it.

Thus bringing me to the nail in the coffin:

This chart looks at per capita costs of various issues related to auto-dependence.  Despite agonized screams of despair coming from TTI and their ilk, "OMG traffic congestion costs us $100 bazillions!"  Here is what that costs per capita.  Red is congestion.  Right in between environmental damage and diminished land value, both created by increased highway capacity.  The world is not without a sense of irony.

On the other hand, the greatest costs are via individual vehicle ownership, virtually mandated by the increased construction of highway capacity, which we've shown over and over again to divide, disconnect, and disperse far more than it connects, at about 8x that of the cost of congestion per capita.  The second major issue is vehicle crash related damages, about 6x greater than the cost of congestion, amplified by the speed, distance, and quantity driven via high speed travel.  Though, I suppose one could argue that's bully for the healthcare and insurance industries.

Alas, as always the only real way to fight congestion is to get people out of their cars, by giving them choice, and ironically, the best way to do that is reducing highway capacity.  Adding highway capacity creates all of those big blue bars of costs dwarfing the little red bar in the chart.

And we wonder why the country and our cities are broke.  We spend to create more costs.

If we spend to remove capacity, guess what, we reduce auxiliary costs while increasing benefits.

Friday, March 22, 2013

It's Young People Dropping Nationwide VMT Statistics

And it is their prerogative, their preference.  For cities that suit their needs.  They reject coercion.  Baby boomers associate cars = freedom.  Millennials, tethered to the car in their youth, dependent upon bus drivers and moms to chauffeur them anywhere, see anything but cars as freedom.

Gas prices have little to do with it.  These are market forces rejecting their own parameters.  Shedding an old skin and establishing a new.  Unfortunately, the government apparatus that delivers the infrastructure of cities is stuck in the past.  Not preparing for the future.  For our cities to succeed and our nation to compete.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I Like Free Stuff and I Cannot Lie

I believe that quote is from Sir Mixmaster-a-lot.

Today brings news of Klyde Warren Deck Park's caretakers asking for a Public Improvement District around its neighbors in the way of $250/year per every $1 million in appraised value.  From their projected numbers, it looks like they're looking for between $600K-$700K in additional operations revenue.

For reference, the proposed levy adds up to about $16,500/year on 1900 McKinney condo tower (if there are 100 condo owners that would equal another ~$60/month in homeowners dues) and $39,000/year for Trammell Crow Tower, owned by the Crescent/Ross Avenue Investors, which I assume is a legal entity under the broader Crescent umbrella.  Those numbers aren't outrageous, however when you start adding up all of the Crescent's properties nearby and within the proposed PID boundary, I expect them to end up footing about a quarter of this bill.

I recall being at a public meeting where the designer of the park said the park was their and his idea, but as a prominent real estate developer accurately whispered, "that's full of sh__."  That anecdote isn't crucial to the story.  I just like it.

Incidentally, the assessed value of Museum Tower is $194,000, which seems about right, so no worries there.  (I'm kidding and I know the assessment is from before the opening.  That I have to spell this out given past comments concerns me.)
A couple other tangential questions, does the Federal Reserve pay?  Do the tax exempt museums and performance halls?

Dallas and downtown as well are tremendously over-amenitized, and particularly over-parked (parks and parking for that matter) in relation to the tax base available, which is why this additional localized revenue is necessary.  Check the park acreage per capita in London sometime if you don't believe me.  The question is whether this undermines the intended Keynesian nature of the park.  Spend on amenity to build density.  Does the additional (albeit minor) cost upend that formula (which is admittedly backwards from the way cities historically evolved)?

"Too much amenity?!"  That sounds bad.  Everybody likes amenity.  "Why you gotta be hatin'?!"

The need for the PID is as predictable as the indignation.  "We have to pay for amenity?!"  The purpose of the PID, however is to prevent additional levies upon the rest of the city.  The thing about the PID is, "we" aren't the ones paying.  It's the nearby property owners and they have to form a majority to do so.  However, if that fails to achieve consensus.  It is logical, those benefiting the most from increased property values via the park, should bear the greatest burden.

The public response is natural.  In most cities, livable cities, we think of parks as amenities covered in our taxes, the price of admission into civilized society.  This however is Dallas.  It isn't particularly livable nor civilized at present.  This still holds true as the place we need to get to, but aren't yet there.

The reality is that it takes density and tax base to afford such amenity.  Absent that, it generally takes subsidy or charity to afford amenity.  Of course, that generally only pays upfront costs.  Afterwards, we have to figure out ways to maintain things.  As district 14 council candidate Abtahi said in the Arts District forum the other night (paraphrased), "we have a tendency to build things and not maintain them."

Such is the reality of anti-city.  It's the world we've created and now must somehow figure out a way to reverse engineer the logic and order of a real city.

Should the PID fail to materialize, let me propose another option:  increasing the rate for parking in the area, meters, garages, and surface lots.  I'd rather not (effectively) tax the property owners nearby as much as those driving into the area to use the park.  This may or may not be true, but it seems many users are driving in to the city to experience the park.

"oh noez," you say.  "People won't come into the city," you say.  It is the need for parking, surface and garage that places even greater cost on the nearby property owners than this proposed PID.  Parking occupies valuable real estate, is extremely expensive to build (if it isn't, ie underground), and if it isn't underground the very presence devalues nearby property values.  In effect, a double cost on the surrounding adjacencies.

If the park is to be sustainable and if it is that enjoyable, it will still draw people as will the various venues nearby.  Train in or pay more for parking since otherwise, you're the ones devaluing the place and the experience.

If people stop driving in and thereby start demanding more local amenities for themselves wherever they might reside, that is also a good thing.  One, they shouldn't have to drive 20 miles for amenity and they can pay for it with their own taxes.  Two, less commuting users means less need for parking, which means more land available for densification and that increased tax base and downtown population to support all that amenity.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Want to Ride My B-Cycle, Want to Ride My Bike

Fort Worth Bike Sharing is live.  Check out the site for locations and memberships.  I'm not posting this because I think I should get a free lifetime membership.  Definitely not doing that.  Ahem.  /taps foot impatiently.  /checks watch.  /opens outlook calendar.  /rechecks email.  /"maybe it went to spam."

Friday, March 15, 2013

High Cost of Car Ownership

To rid the disease, you have to excise the source:

Graphic from ThisBigCity.

Of course, increased car ownership is not the source.  It is the symptom.  A by-product of a lack of real choice, which is the real disease, rampant and reckless public spending that builds barriers rather than empowering.

Not coincidentally, I received an email from a total stranger late the other night.  This person was staying at the Hyatt.  You know, the hotel with the little golf ball on a tee out front.  She was desperate to be able to walk somewhere.  Where she wanted to go was less than a mile away from her.  She reported that the hotel staff laughed at her inquiry, which led her to me.  I could do little more than advise against it and have concierge call a cab.  These are the things that happen when your city isn't built to facilitate social and economic exchange, the fundamental purpose and long-term raison d'etre of any city.  Lacking this, the life spans of city's veering from this path will be as short as the short-term goals of their chosen 'prime directive' in the operating system of their city's software.

In other words, moving cars at the expense of all other considerations is a poison pill.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Beast of Burden: How 345 is More Bear than Bull for Downtown

As part of the IH-345 tear-out study, I've been wondering something:  of the 160,000 vehicles per day on 345, exactly how many vehicles are actually coming to downtown?  This is critical in its relevance.  Otherwise, having the corridor there, merely adds congestion, pollution, and a burden upon nearby real estate that otherwise should be more valuable given its proximity to downtown, DART, etc.

From speaking with John Norquist, current president of the CNU and former Mayor of Milwaukee, he told me that when the Westside Highway fell in Manhattan and it was replaced by a surface boulevard (the gap in this diagram illustrating a highway nearly wrapping the entire perimeter of Manhattan island), that 53% of the traffic disappeared as it was using the highway as an express route from New Jersey to New Jersey.  It was fast and convenient, particularly for people not paying taxes nor living in a New York City borough.

Similarly, when Central Expressway in San Francisco suffered structural damage due to the 1989 Loma Prieto earthquake in 1989 and it was replaced with Octavia Boulevard, 25% of total traffic load disappeared. 50% re-routed to different highways.  It wasn't actually headed to the vicinity, but merely cutting through.  Traffic congestion improved despite traffic planners dire warnings.

You would think this kind of information would be critical to evaluating the best solution to what to do with our own on-going structural failure of IH-345.  We have to think about this stretch of road within the context of a broader network, its impact on real estate development patterns near and far, tax base, long-term infrastructural costs and burdens, and particularly potential benefits beyond simply preventing disaster, ie keeping the thing from falling down with the weight of a few hundred tractor trailers backed up on it at 5 pm on a Friday, suspended 100 feet in the air.

So, without going to the extent of dropping counting cables at every on- and off-ramp in downtown along 345 (though this ought to be done), I took what data I could find at various locations where it is available.  In the map below, I indicated the traffic count and location of the available data points, ignoring anything to old to be relevant, like traffic counts from the '80's.

The apricot color shows on-ramps, off-ramps are in Burnt Sienna for you Crayola 64 enthusiasts.  Ignore the faded white corridors for now, but keep in mind that those are tremendously over-scaled roads that operate well-under capacity.

There are three on-/off-ramp access points to/fro 345:  Ross, Live Oak/Bryan/Pearl, and Elm/Main/Commerce on the downtown side.  Poor Deep Ellum gets none and likes it.  There's a fourth, being Cesar Chavez running beneath 345, but I'll get to that later.

So, realizing this data is incomplete, I interpolated to roughly determine total on-/off-ramp traffic counts.  For example, Ross Avenue has "ons" and "offs" in both directions.  A total of four, but the data here is extremely limited with only two counts, made even worse in that the numbers are the exact same.  So for this I took the one number and multiplied it by four.  Unfortunately, it's the best I've got.

Counts are available at all of Live Oak, Bryan, and Pearl.  As for Elm/Main/Commerce, as you can see above, there are two on's and two off's that fork.  Unfortunately here, we only have counts for one side of each fork.  For this, I doubled each and summed (4172x2 + 2832x2).

Using these numbers, I created the infographic below:

Here you can see the totals exiting or entering 345 at the three highway to surface grid junctions.  Adding all of them up, you get a total of 40,297 or 1/4th of the traffic count for 345.  Cesar Chavez on-ramp count is 11,900 and off-ramp of 11,129 for a total of 23,000.  However, we can exclude this as this portion of Cesar Chavez is never really using 345 above.  It is merely accessing or exiting 75 to the north.  The total of 23,000 would be there if it were simply a surface boulevard and there were no elevated highway above.

Obviously, there are caveats.  However, this is an attempt to improve the quality and understanding of the big data at a fine-grained scale, and what it actually means to downtown.  And what happens with downtown effects Dallas as a whole.  For the most part, 345 is a means of moving from one highway to another, large destination to large destination, not the fine-grained network supportive of the increased density and tax base the city of Dallas rightly wants and needs.

By this rough count only 25% of the traffic of 345 is coming to or leaving downtown Dallas.  Given the two-way nature of trips.  Even with contingency built in, we'll never get anywhere near 50% or more, ie some number worth having the highway there.  The low exit/entrance counts and Cesar Chavez show that the urban street grid has plenty of capacity and necessary route choice to access the existing regional highway and interstate network without 345.

Density, via demand and desirability, is built through a combination of local plus global interconnectivity.  345 is a barrier to local connectivity and doesn't improve the global/regional connectivity for existing and potential new residents of the area.  With DART and the street grid leading to the other freeways in the area, the regional connectivity is still there.  However, through removing the freeway and restitching the grid we can create new neighborhood opportunities for all that expected and estimated new growth.

Two Public Meeting Announcements

If you haven't already seen them, there are a couple important public meetings coming up in regards to the content of this here blog.

The first is next Monday's Council District 14 Candidate Forum at the Wyly Theatre.  Does the King's english spelling really fit a hyper modern facility?  No?  Well, then it fits aristocracy.  Anyway, council district 14 is important for a few reasons.  One, I live there.  Two, much of the IH-345 tear-out project resides in this district.

Next, TxDOT, imbued by federal funding in pursuit of high-speed rail initiatives is exploring passenger rail improvements between Oklahoma City and San Antonio, points beyond and points between.  And it's looking for public comment.  The Dallas meeting is April 3rd.  My input would be to minimize stops between the major destinations.  Split the runs between express and local stops.  The express run right through the stops.  Just hit the major centers, OKC, Dallas or Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio.  European trains do this all the time.  It's demand oriented and it's the only way to allow passenger rail to compete short distance air travel.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Inner Circle of Trust

My daily 15-minute distraction.  This is Manhattan's inner-highway loop in relation to Dallas's inner loop at the same scale.  Back to work, you.

Always Trust the Guys Pushing Home Sales on the Street

60 Minutes certainly didn't break this story, but they did get it right and project it with their very large microphone.  If you look hard enough through the archives of my site, you'll see the exact same story interviewing the same guy from two or three years ago.  But this is why I refused to ever work on Chinese projects.  There is a clear disconnect from this and what is actually urbanism, despite various notional elements like "mixed-use," "buildings close to the street," etc. etc.

Don't worry global architecture firms, there's plenty of corruption left to chase, like Brazil!  Just follow the olympics and the world cup.

Friday, March 8, 2013

What is the Prime Directive?

I was going to post a great big thing about this one particular slide that I have, that I literally could probably show only it, and still talk for an hour.  As you'll see, it is loaded down with information in itself:

It's full of animations and layers that reveal themselves then pile on as I walk through them, so it's a bit overwhelming to get all of that information at once rather than sequentially.  It's predicated on the science of complex systems and that cities are emergent systems where the most visual things we touch and feel are little more than a by-product of the underlying processes and dynamics.

In Kunstler's latest piece he gets at this notion of complexity, self-organization and our misunderstanding of the processes of cities in his latest piece at peakprosperity:

When you show a photo to any random audience of Americans of some ghastly boulevard of strip malls and big box stores, with the many layers of incoherent signage, and ask them what’s wrong with the picture, they always say every place is the same as every other place… it’s all the same! That is their chief complaint, and it is off the mark. They don’t get it, really.
There are many places and things in the built-by-humans world that are characterized by uniformity or sameness. To the casual observer, the ancient hill towns of Tuscany look virtually identical from 500 meters distance. Montepulciano and Pienza might be as hard to tell apart for the average American tourist as a WalMart in Hackensack from a WalMart in Oxnard. But you will hear very few complaints from tourists about thesameness of the design scheme in the Italian villages – the red tile rooftops on every building, the narrow, twisting streets, the stuccoed masonry walls, the casement windows with their functional shutters, etc. Few American tourists return from Paris grousing that the boulevards were monotonous and gave them a headache.

The two divergent examples he gives are exactly what I'm showing on the slide.  That there are two different operating systems or 'prime directives' governing these two disparate types of places.  But the processes within are the same.  In other words, the hardware running the software is the same, but the software then produces two different outcomes.

The Prime Directive, or PURPOSE, loosely governs the millions and millions and billions of decision making, when in totality, produces a higher ordered system, emergence, self-organization, and complexity.  But with two different directives, you get two totally different physical forms and private land/business responses, thus two different types of cities.  City and Anti-city in Mumford's terminology.

When cities are built with the Prime Directive of "improved quality of life through social and economic exchange' you get one kind of city.  Well, THE kind of city.  A functional city.  When that is the PURPOSE of city building, the response is generative.  Rather than codes and review boards and design panels and city councils and planning commissions pouring over every single ridiculously minute detail, the process of city building naturally produces what we know as urbanism.

When that PURPOSE was replaced with "must move cars shutup must move cars fast shutup must move cars shutup your point about livability is invalid must move cars," the by-product is the fragmented, degenerative anti-city we see today, proliferated around the Sun Belt in particular, as the cities are so young as to have had few other Prime Directives.

This produces a tension between built anti-city and actual human needs for Improved quality of life via social and economic exchange that humanity created cities and civilization as a tool to advance.  So we enact things like zoning and form-based codes and deck parks as a top down way to control the uncontrollable chaos produced.  Similarly, grass roots efforts like guerrilla urbanism and the various citizen derived incremental efforts also represent a tension between inherent human need and the built world around them and the governing processes that do not meet those needs.  And often won't nor can't, because the prime directive won't allow them.

Incidentally, Dallas once again made Kunstler's architectural eyesore of the month in February, also Star Trek related.  Also, a product of chaos, disorder and entropy.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Most Congested Cities?

I just tweeted this, but here's the chart:

I only used the top 50 MSAs for this one, if only for expedience.  This shows daily traffic per highway lane on the y-axis and population density on the x-axis.  In general, there is a direct relationship between more dense places and more highway congestion.  Duh.

But there is also quite a bit of noise in the data, that is often regionally affected.  Rustbelt metros tend to be low/low (density/congestion).  Sprawling sun belt cities tend to be low/high, towards the top left portion of the graph.  LA, the anomaly that it is, is high/high.

Ideally, a city wants to trend towards the bottom right of the graph or higher density/lower congestion, meaning higher tax base and lowered highway infrastructural wear/tear/burden.  In theory, that tax base can then be put to better use, amenity, schools, police, etc.

However, without charting international cities, it is difficult to determine whether high/low is even possible without the complete removal of freeways altogether.  Where would Vancouver fit on this chart?  London?

The basic issue however is that cities get more congested the denser they get.  Or, better said, their highway lanes get more congested (if they have them at all, a la Vancouver).  Attempting to alleviate congestion by adding highway lanes only serves to lessen density and, in turn, the tax base to support that new infrastructure.

The only way to maintain density (or add it as the case may be) while decreasing congestion is to get people out of cars, through improved alternative networks plus the reduction of highway lanes.

Everybody Has Too Much, But Especially These Places

Here's a fun chart. I literally could play with this data for days.  This one is showing total MSA population on the x-axis with total highway lane miles on the y-axis.  The trendline reveals how consistent this data is.  And why shouldn't it be?  The formulae to determine how many highway(s) lane(s) are needed is incredibly stupid and, well, formulaic.  X number of people gets Y highway capacity.  And the results you see below are extremely consistent:

Well, except for those four metros that stray significantly from the line.  Which are they?  You know: DFW, Houston, St. Louis, and Kansas City.  Always those same culprits, innit?

The distance from the line would suggest how many more lanes they've been supplied than the population warrants.  While every American metro area could probably do with less total freeway lane miles, these four have WAY too much.  Lemme guess, they're all planning to add more too, right?

When I remove these 4 outliers from the chart, the r-squared value rises from .88 to .94 (closer to 1 means greater consistency, less noise in the system).

Size Doesn't Matter

A week ago or so when news swirled again about cities going broke, I wrote about Harrisburg and Stockton and their giant public investment gambles being merely the straw the broke the camels back, much like the Guggenheim was merely the cherry on top of Bilbao's sundae.  In other words, there were underlying issues behind the simple explanation.  Harrisburg and Stockton merely pushed the remainder of their chips into the center of the table and lost.  However, their going bust holding 2-7 unsuited doesn't explain their gambling problem or why they were dwindling chips beforehand.

Surprisingly, this data scrolled across my computer from a 2006 Brookings Inst. study ranking metropolitan areas by Vehicle Miles Traveled per capita.  In terms of Metropolitan areas, the greater the per capita VMT, the greater the amount of local money leaves the area, and even worse, the greater the imbalance between infrastructure and tax base.  Stockton and Harrisburg were 4th and 5th in the country (If Richmond, Little Rock, and Jackson, MS aren't worried about their future, they ought to be).  Incidentally, New York City metro is last (1st?) in the country in least amount of VMT per capita.

So I began digging for more data to substantiate the theory that more highway infrastructure per capita tends towards lower density and greater vehicle miles traveled, i.e., things further and further apart meaning too much infrastructural cost burden combined with too dispersed tax base.

Without further ado, here are a series of charts illustrating this information produced from a number of tables I assembled this morning:

The above three charts show the top 50 metropolitan areas, 51-100, and 101-150 in terms of Vehicle Miles Traveled per capita in relation to Highway Miles per capita.  In each case, there exists a direct relationship.  The more highway miles per capita, the more the citizens of the metro are driving.  The largest metros have the greatest amount of noise, but there still exists a direct relationship.  In metros 51-100, it is remarkable how little noise there is compared to the other two graphs.

This chart shows Lane Miles per Capita in relation to percentage of commuters using private automobile (single occupant + carpool).  Interestingly and predictably, having charted all forms of commuting, percentages by metro that carpool or telecommute are the most stable from area to area.  I suspect this is because these forms have the least to do with infrastructural network design and more to do with other issues such as economy, i.e. San Fran/San Jose have a high number of telecommuters.

The above shows non-vehicular commuters (transit, pedestrian, bicyclist) by population density.  There is some correlation, but you'll also notice that NYC and LA are all over the place.  There is quite a bit of noise as the r-squared is lower than just about anything.  Detroit and Dallas-Fort Worth are last of the top 20 MSAs.  Despite having the most extensive light rail system in the country, DFW has the lowest transit ridership.  Square pegs and round holes and all that.

Lastly is highway lane miles to density.  This is the only inverse relationship of all of the above as you see.  More highway lane miles per capita, the lower the density.

Some other data of note:

  • Of top 20 MSAs, DFW has more driving commuters than any other metro except for StLouis and Detroit.  Good company.  I suspect given the exsanguination effect, DFW has merely only recently had their throat cut, while StL and Detroit have long since bled out.  Never fear.  It hurts only but a little.
  • DFW despite the extent of the mass transit, have lower percentage than every other top 20 MSA commuting via transit.  Some of these other metros barely have transit service.
  • DFW highway lane miles per capita seem pretty low (7.39 in 2009 figures), but of the top 20 metros only Houston (10.18) and StL (10.53) have greater.
  • Having calculated the most highway lane miles per capita of all of the top 150 metros, the top 5 are: Greensboro, NC (1.449), Little Rock (1.409), Tulsa (1.246), KC (1.254), Wichita (1.226).  Look at that Kansas hustle.  This is not a list you want to be on.
  • The top 5 in terms of all types of roadway miles per capita of the top 150 MSAs are: Pensacola, Augusta GA, Jackson MS, Little Rock, Birmingham
  • Having charted road miles per capita to density, again there is a very high indirect correlation.  For once, LA and NYC actually have something in common.  They both have very low total road miles per capita.
While transportation planners will tell you it's the lack of density that demands more highway miles (and due to inertia, this is somewhat true), but rather it's the additional infrastructure that then disperses the housing and (delayed) real estate markets, thus demanding even more highway infrastructure.  It feeds upon itself.  However, this belief that transportation planners are merely serving the market as it currently exists without having an additional effect upon that market is like scientists unaware that their observation of tests can change the actions of the test subject they're observing.  Only, this is far more direct.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Last Night's Presentation

Hi.  Here's the presentation I gave last night to the group of Student New Urbanists (SNU).  Apparently, I forgot to check the box enabling embedding when I uploaded it so embedding is disabled FOREVER.  Anyway, you'll just have to click this link right here to see it.