Friday, June 27, 2014

What Exactly Do You Do Here?



You should know, if you don't already, that I keep some pretty big databases.  Mostly because all of the various metro and city rankings that are released (that have some legitimate metrics to them) exist in a bubble.  There isn't a way to compare potentially correlated data.  So in that vacuum do metrics like Texas Transportation Institute's Mobility Index, of which, the congestion ranking is used as the be all and end all of transportation policy.  And it's horribly flawed to the point that it's adherence and adoption of policy based on it is downright pernicious to cities and economies.

So far I had been keeping up with metro metrics for things like highway capacity, population, gdp, commuting patterns, etc.  This morning while waiting for security installation at home I began including things like educational attainment (% of college degrees), walkability (using Leinberger's WalkUP measurement for commercial real estate % in walkable neighborhoods), and TTI's time lost to 'congestion' delays as well as their monetary value for said lost time.  This is where things start to get interesting.

The transportation dinosaurs of the 20th century love to substantiate their insatiable thirst for new highway capacity for two primary reasons:  congestion relief and economic growth.  However, highway capacity does neither.  In fact, considering what does yield (or at the very least correlate with) economic growth, new highway capacity very well might actually hinder these things.

(Note: some of these have far fewer data points as metrics occasionally only keep track of largest 10, 15, or 20 metros.  This is always a work in progress...as are cities...and policy.)

We'll start with the only oldie, but goodie:  Vehicle Miles Traveled to Highway Capacity.  It's pretty obvious the more and bigger roads you build, the more people drive.  The common mistake we make here is thinking that the tail of the real estate market wags the dog, when in fact it is the dog of transportation policy that wags the tail of behavior and development patterns.


















The significance of this chart is that there are metros largely ranging from 20 miles per day per person to 40 miles per day per person.  For those 40 miles/day metros, people are driving twice as far, which means you need twice the road capacity to accommodate it.  Since people are already driving more because of past road building, we end up chasing our tail trying to keep up with the inertia of our own creation, hence, sprawl.

Think of it this way, if you take a traffic count on 635 in Dallas, you're probably counting the same car over and over again along several miles of it.  However, if you take traffic counts along Champs Elysees or a typical high density urban spine, you are likely seeing many different cars at each check point.  80k, 80k, 80k and very well might be 240k total cars.  You get double or triple the capacity simply by shortening trips without adding a single bit of actual physical capacity.
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Now, let's get into some of TTI's numbers that have the power to shift policy all over the country.  Below is their average hours per year lost to congestion in relation to average metro commute times.  It isn't terribly surprising here that places with greater delay tend to have higher commute times.  However, it's also important to note that almost every city falls within the 25-30 minute commute time.  This holds true when you expand the chart to include many more metros.  The two outliers off to the right, below, are also the highest incomes of the metros charted (NY and DC - where median metro income is 26% and 40% greater than median large metro income).  People are willing to tolerate longer commutes for significantly increased cash money.














Since that last chart made sense that means we absolutely have to add more highway capacity, right?  Not so fast.  Let's compare highway capacity (lane miles per capita) to delay...














Huh.  So, you're telling me that adding lanes does nothing to eliminate delays?














Earlier I referenced that people will spend a bit more time commuting in order to make more money.  However, as the above chart shows, the correlation between commute time and income is fairly weak since all cities tend to exist in this half-hour radius tension.  Notice again, most cities fall within that 25-30 zone that all cities throughout the history of time have also.  Infrastructure moves the market more than the market moves the infrastructure.  So why do we design our infrastructure where origins and destinations currently are if they're ever shifting based on the infrastructure we build?

/raises hand.  "I know! I know!  It's because we let dinosaurs with blinders on determine the outcome of the most important and complex invention in the history of civilization."














When you think of congestion (when it's framed simply as a traffic engineering problem), you think of traffic jams.  When I think about it from an urban point of view, I think of it as commerce, friction, people getting around creating social and economic exchange (which is precisely why funneling people INTO cars then INTO narrow highway corridors in the densest, most active part of town is terribly misguided and short-sighted).  Instead of traffic jams, think of Jane Jacobs' sidewalk ballet or Ben H. Baillie's public ice skating rink (same idea).

The point of the previous paragraph was to provide context for the preceding chart showing that delays are greater in areas of higher GDP.  There is simply more friction, more economic activity happening, thus more delays...particularly if you're trying to drive through it.  I have very little delays walking around (provided there is ample choice and availability of things to walk to).














Not a dissimilar graphic above, since TTI uses their delay metric to calculate the cost per person congestion costs residents of each metro.  And then we're all supposed to think, "OMG, we better invest in bigger roads because it's costing me money," when they trot out their $120 billion per year lost due to congestion.  But there is a catch that isn't mentioned.  It isn't even what is visible above that more economically vibrant places tend to be more congested.  Nope, more critically...



Those places that make more money, despite having 'greater congestion', actually spend a lower percentage of their income due to these supposed congestion delays.  So, what exactly are we 1) measuring and 2) trying to ameliorate?



So when we compare walkability via Leinberger's WalkUP metric of percentage of commercial real estate (the places of social and economic exchange) within walkable neighborhoods to TTI's congestion cost, we see that, yes, indeed there is congestion (by TTI's metric) is related to the amount of walkability.  Those darn pedestrians (who aren't in cars and causing vehicular congestion) are getting in the way and keeping me from driving 60 mph, which is how TTI measures congestion (whether cars are going fast).  This is one of the fundamental flaws of TTI's mobility index.  They aren't measuring mobility at all.



So when we compare to delays, it's basically the same chart except it is compressed (and I'm unable to delete it from the formatting so here it is).



















Now sticking with Walkability metric, let's compare WalkUPs to education rates.  Pretty strong correlation.  The question is, does a more highly educated populace demand and create more walkable places or do the more walkable places attract more highly educated people?  Save your "correlation =/= causation" regurgitation.  Cities are complex systems and within complexity is feedback loops.  They feed into each other in a positive reinforcing circle.  It's how all cities work.  In the opposite direction, when you unwind any thread, say disconnect urban fabric with more highway capacity, you'll lose people and see disinvestment which then creates a negative feedback loop driving more people away, etc. etc.


















This last one is my favorite because it includes walkability to both education and income.  We already know that higher education = higher income, but when do we start talking about higher walkability = higher income (growth!) and a better educated citizenry?  What exactly are we measuring?  What do we care about as a body politic?  They say you measure what you care about and given TTI's metrics and the amount of attention they get and policy they shift, you'd think all we care about is congestion.  However, there are far better places of investment...even ones that see returns on investment, unlike new highway capacity.







Thursday, June 26, 2014

Kubler-Ross Model on Line 3, err Stage 3

We did it!  We made it everyone!  We have finally advanced the fossils of the 20th century beyond the first two stages of grief as we read an op-ed firmly planted in the bargaining stage:  Keep the Faith on Trinity Parkway's Benefits to All of Dallas.

You remember the first two stages don't you?  Denial, "it's funded and approved.  Nothing you can do.  Get over it."  Anger, "nothing but no good hipsters and rich people trying to punish the poor."  Forget for a moment that the op-ed linked above is utter nonsense or that car-dependence actually punishes the poor more than anybody else (and that's who you claim to protect? Yay, paternalism!) or that Dallas county is bleeding jobs outward, primarily to the north so that South Dallas residents must either drive further or leave altogether (both of which are happening).  No.  Instead, what I love most is the picture accompanying the piece:



"Here are some wildflowers.  Aren't they pretty.  They're inside the levee.  Now imagine this replaced with a highway?  Ain't it grand?!" ...k...

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That was fun.  Now for my real point: the nonsensical drivel that propels the dinosaurs to write that "new highway capacity eases congestion and drives growth."  Both are incorrect.  Dramatically so.  "But if we just repeat it ad nauseum people will believe it!"  Or, "if we don't even question that assumption ourselves, then we can believe what we write!"

Here's the real problem with the assertion.  We know that as you increase highway capacity, the amount everyone drives goes up.  What traffic engineers don't realize, is that they think they're chasing the market, where origins and destinations are.  But in fact, they're pushing the market, shifting where those origins and destinations are.  We don't blame the leaves for their location on the tree, it's the branches.



If driving goes up (increased private sector cost to get around) because of increased highway capacity (increased public sector cost), what are we actually trying to achieve?  Just more spending?



While there is a less strong correlation between the various GDP per capita data and amount of miles driven, it still appears to be negative.  Regardless, we know for a fact that it isn't a positive correlation.  The more people drive, the economy doesn't improve because driving around is but the means.  It is waste.  Hence, my point about Copenhagen (54% of trips by cars, 4% of gdp spent on transpo) and Houston (95% of trips by cars, 14% of GDP spent on transpo).  The 10% gap is waste simply to do all the exact same things while not agglomerating economies in an efficient, profitable, sustainable, and resilient manner.  The inertia is like the tides eating away at the foundation beneath the beach house.

Because there is no new wealth to be gained simply by spending public dollars in frivolous manner.  Ultimately, transportation is about allocation of goods and services in the cheapest and most expedient way possible.  High cost of infrastructure and high cost of getting around is literally the worst idea we've ever adhered to...luckily for most cities around the world, they've learned this lesson far more quickly than Dallas or NCTCOG or TxDOT.  Though there seems to be some new blood in TxDOT.  Severe debt and no sign of new revenue tends to shake up the thought processes.



Dallas and Detroit, Similar Processes, Dissimilar Ages

I've come to the conclusion recently that if weren't for the Park Cities, yes, I know, that Dallas would be in full fledged flight mode right now.  Why?  The Park Cities provided stability, a backstop from the half of the flight that was headed northward.  It also provided the impetus for the at the time investment in what is now known as uptown, deemed so risky it had to find the capital in Japan.  The developers thought process, "there's no walkable housing in Dallas.  Let's provide some between where we live and where we work."

Lucky for us it succeeded, largely I believe due to timing.  The 1990s saw the very first seedlings of a return back to cities, which ultimately paid off in Baby Boomers downsizing and desiring more empowering neighborhoods in their advanced age at the same time that Millennials began graduating college, moving into the work force and demanding interesting, walkable places.  They grew up dependent upon others for mobility.  They are an equal and opposite reaction to car-dependence.

Not that that has particularly changed how we plan cities, at least in Dallas and Detroit, as both plan new freeways at the same time they're discussing whether to remove a freeway, as the two most recent centuries pass in the night.  However, the similarities don't end there:



Both are struggling with job and wage loss (that Dallas or better yet DFW has boomed during this period might be more damning).  I believe there be a relationship to this disinvestment and decay, a physical one that is planned, designed, financed, and constructed.  You can see it in Detroit here:

1949

The richest city in North America, turns into a cartoon...

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 11.18.14 AM

I made a similar animated gif of Dallas over the decades:



It's about displacement and disconnectivity, leading to disinvestment and decay.  Disrupting local and long established social and economic networks.  Some might call that neighborhood fabric.  Either way, it was torn apart by dinosaurs stomping through the city like Godzilla in pursuit of some kind of ideological purity that whitewashes and erases the complexity of cities that their models just can't understand.  Can't understand them, externalize them.

The result is a form of monoculture, car dependence, which we share with Detroit as the two most car dependent major metros in the US.  Monoculture predicts collapse.  It can't adapt.  It is unresilient.  Lucky for us we have the example of uptown to build upon and spread.  As well as Bishop Arts and Lower Greenville.  And Main Street in downtown.  The binding thread of all of these successes?  Traffic engineers fought every single one of them.





Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bad Intersections of Dallas: What Flow/Friction Mean and Why They Matter



Sometimes I start things and get to busy I can't keep up with them.  One is a series (of 1) about the bad intersections of Dallas (and DFW), of which there are too many to count.  Since I've recently moved from downtown to the hipster paradise of third world Amsterdam we call North Oak Cliff (oh noez, I'm the yuppy pushing the cool factor out - Brooklyn is so over anyway), I've come into much greater contact with an intersection everyone knows is terrible: Zang and Beckley at the point of the Zang triangle.

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Today, I'm going to explain why it's so terrible, why it matters, and why everyone complains about high taxes and bad roads.  We've designed our city that way and it's time to change course.

First, the basics.  Zang and Beckley is a five-way intersection including the residential street Eldorado.  The intersection is very close to a major (but underutilized) park (Lake Cliff - which is beautiful and full of potential), a major employer (Methodist Hospital), an elementary school (James Hogg - which, if anything, perhaps rather than liquor laws near schools we ought to have 'safe zones' where traffic throughput isn't prioritized over say, kids getting to school in one piece), and a booming housing market since so many people want to be part of the interesting character of North Oak Cliff (what I've always referred to as the Trastevere of Dallas (ok fine or Brooklyn or Left Bank).  All of those things are inherent advantages ripe for placemaking, public spaces for social and economic exchange, however squelched for the narrow minded focus of traffic throughput, at high speed.

There are three primary problems with this intersection and I'll touch on each in more detail afterwards:

1) Each of the primary arterials entering the intersection are individually over-built.

2) The intersection itself, once you exceed four-way, must be designed as a special case, otherwise both traffic flow and socio-economic exchange suffer.  Either of which could be prioritized and defended, but having neither is catastrophic.

3) Concrete medians.  Oh, those awful concrete medians, occasionally only 2' wide stretching into the intersections.  I'm going to spend the remainder of this post on the first two, since this one is mostly a trivial annoyance in proportion.  However, it's these medians that encourage higher speed flow while not doing anything a well designed median can and should do, provide pedestrian refuge for crossing or shade trees/vegetation.  Furthermore, they stretch so far into the intersection that they prevent decent tactical tests in examination of better ways to design the street.  Therefore, let's just (at least hypothetically) rip the entire thing apart and start again.
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First, let's get to the scale of the roads and the traffic counts.  Below is Colorado by Methodist Hospital.  It isn't part of the intersection but is useful to the case study because Beckley counts drop by a quarter whence crossing Colorado, presumably and partially due to Methodist circulation and access (and the residential behind).  What his means is that Beckley can change character after crossing Colorado southbound.




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Here is Zang shorly after passing through.  Sure lives up to the lofty name 'boulevard' does it not?




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Below are the rough traffic counts and approximate percentages of the capacity they're built for (amazing how many arterials in Dallas are in the 30-40% range.  It's almost like that's a standard or something, cough cough.  Sure, the traffic flow is great, but there are implications (you mean besides the original widening took private property and destroyed buildings?) worth considering when you acknowledge that roads, our public infrastructure should not be about 'moving cars' but facilitating social and economic exchange.  Moving traffic (of any form) is a means, not an end.  However, the dinosaurs treat the movement of traffic as an end itself.  Therefore, these roads get a grade 'A' from them, but an 'F' from economists and citizens alike.  We must design better and to design better we must think better.



















I use a red-yellow-green system, but in a counter-intuitive way.  Red is very low traffic (we'll get into that).  Green is a good traffic balance appropriate for the purpose of place.  Above, Beckley south of Zang is green despite only 44% because it becomes more residential in scale and nature at this point.  Yellow (not shown here) is for higher traffic areas approaching capacity.  Red, semiotically has bad connotations (STOP), and thus represents the worst case scenario.  Here's why:

Think of flow as infrastructural burden.  Widen the roads traffic flow moves better but it increases tax burden to maintain.  It also often erodes investment and economic activity along it, ie tax base.  Economic activity = friction that can interrupt flow or flow can erode, depending upon how the space is designed.

In the Red cases above where traffic is too low for the properties along it, we have the following condition:

Infrastructural Burden (cost) >>> Tax Base (benefit)

A better situation is either:

Infrastructural Burden = Tax Base, or even...

Infrastructural Burden <<< Tax Base.

In the scenario, traffic flow may be terrible.  However, the high value of increased tax base means the ability to afford other amenities such as increased transit to maintain mobility.  Think of Stroget in Copenhagen.  Ain't no cars getting through (except morning deliveries), but amenity and value is high.  Excuse the colloquialism, I'm trying to fit in.

Zang east of Beckley only moves 7-8000 cars per day despite (formerly) being a 6 lane arterial.  That's our nightmare scenario.  A two lane road can handle that traffic.  Lucky for us the new Oak Cliff streetcar will be eating up some dedicated lanes.  However, because the tracks were laid centrally (if memory serves) riders would have to cross two lanes of traffic to board.  We can narrow this segment of street down to one travel lane and one dedicated street car lane in each direction.  That gives us plenty of more space to play with for other investments and/or opportunities such as on-street parking or bike lanes or whatever we want.

The busier part of this road network is where Beckley bends into Zang as it transitions through the intersection.  Through here, the traffic is still only in the middling teens of thousands of cars per day.  14k, 16k, 18k varying on date and location of count.  For comparison, these are the typical counts for road diets around the country when 4 lanes are converted to 3 (one lane each way with a center turn lane).  We're dealing with 6(!) plus a center turn lane.  Thus, the road is built for 44,000 cars per day.  That's Broadway.  That's also anything but.  See, my red yellow green flow-to-friction gradient.  These roads can easily lose a lane on both sides.  That's critical if we want to redesign the intersection

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Prioritizing FLOW on the streets as they approach the intersection then has negative implications once we hit the intersection.  I mentioned earlier that with anything more than 4 roads meeting at an intersection (this is 5-way), we have to make special design precautions.  The reason, with the way signalized intersections work, is that with 10 directional movements, only 4 can ever be moving at one time.  Whereas a typical intersection is 4 of 8.  This creates an artificial choke point where traffic flow is actually reduced.

Because it's designed entirely for the car and all space is given over to it, there is little to no economic activity happening either.  At least, much less than could be.  The only pedestrians are those traversing from parked cars to get Spiral Diner's ridiculously good blueberry pancakes.  You're willing to take some risks to get those pancakes.

Somebody even had enough of a sense of humor to paint some crosswalks.  As if.

Therefore, it's at least defensible to have the goal of FLOW or FRICTION, however when neither performs then we must rethink how the intersection is designed.  Choke points can only fit so many cars through them, but they make for some of the greatest public spaces in the world when they're redesigned.  See Times Square or Campus Martius in Detroit.  However here, the effort to prioritize flow undermines both flow and the friction of activity.  There is a way to do both better.

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Below is roughly how the junction looks today with some approximated linework for travel lanes.  You can see that there are several other roads that funnel closely into the various five roads forming the intersection.  We can either squeeze all of these travel lanes through this confined space poorly, or we can try to move the same amount of traffic through, albeit in a calmer fashion, in order to 1) carve space out for people and 2) make the space more comfortable and appealing for people.  Nobody wants to inhale traffic fumes nor sit at a cafe if the road is so busy and loud as to not be able to hear.



















So what if we were to appropriately size the streets entering the junction, thus improving some of the geometries and radii which makes for loads of extraneous paving and underutilized square footage.  Then, we create a roundabout of sorts, a slow-moving two-lane rotary, with cross walks, within the confines of existing buildings allow.  Because of the odd geometries, we have some existing (and interesting) buildings in some odd places.  What if we were to incorporate the little wedge building within a 'triangle-about'.  Sure, we're taking some private land in the area, but we're also turning over more public space into either developable private land or from road paving to people space.  The crossing pedestrian crossing points are all foreshortened as well.



















Green above doesn't necessarily represent green space, but rather repositioned land.  This could be green space, or plaza space, or cafe space, or some on-street parking or bike lanes (in existing right of ways), or widened sidewalks, or street trees, or even to leverage land use intensification and development.  All of that could still be determined.  The key point, however is that we can actually improve the traffic flow (as I mentioned the choke point inherently under-performs) while also flipping the equation so that there is pedestrian activity, thus friction, and in turn, increased socio-economic exchange occuring.  The very purpose of cities, and thus the purpose for our infrastructure as a subset of cities.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sam's Club, East Village, and De-Coupling the Showroom from Storeroom

You've no doubt heard of the kerfuffle regarding the proposed Sam's Club going into the "East Village" area east of, ahem, West Village and US75.  First, never trust a rendering or believe you will get what is shown in a rendering.  Renderings are more often than not eye-wash and can be used to deceive.  That alone points to the deeper issue of Dallas zoning being the wild west.  Again, never make fun of Houston's lack of zoning if you're a Dallasite.  Our situation is worse as it combines all the byzantine and convoluted bureaucracy without any of the predictability.  The development market doesn't particularly like regulation, but what they like less is lack of predictability and arcane, time wasting negotiations with micro-management (which are the two things our current zoning and development process ensures).

Everything is a negotiation.  You have to pay attention to the smallest of details in the PDD, which is legally binding (but malleable if you go through another rezoning process) unlike renderings or conceptual plans that aren't submitted into the zoning case.  That doesn't address the issue that the neighborhood feels deceived, which may or may not be the case.  I have no idea what happened.  I do know that slipping a stipulation that within a mixed-use zoning classification an allowance for 100,000 sq ft big box is against what the site warrants or was envisioned in the comprehensive plan (which, like many planning efforts in Dallas is also a non-binding paper planning doomed to sit on a shelf).

That editorial aside, what I really want to mention is a compromise.  I don't think anybody is particularly against Sam's as a business, but they are against the suburban (and frankly 20th century) nature of the development prototype.  There ought to be legitimate concerns about what happens to the box if/when it goes dark.  There are no stipulations forecasting what to do with a potentially empty box in the future, which if you're going to allow an inappropriate us there better be something to address the long-term utilization of the site.

Back to the business model of Sam's.  It clearly will make money for both the developer and the business.  It may very well be destructive to the surrounding neighborhood, which is what they're concerned about.  There is also concern about what it will do to the traffic in the area and the intersections and frontage roads along 75 which are already stressed.  You may have noticed, but Sam's is an entirely car-based business.  And maybe therein lies the opportunity.  We can intensify the development and density by rethinking Sam's model for a walkable urban prototype, that frankly, they will need as more people move inward in all cities, but may not all have SUVs to transport the 4000 rolls of toilet paper and the 72 inch screen TV they're picking up.

The thing about big boxes is that they combine display with warehouse under one very big roof and footprint, which is low intensity development on very expensive land, which is rather inefficient all around.  What if instead, we could de-couple the showroom from the warehouse.  Instead of driving up in your pickup truck that you (and definitely I) don't have, what if the Sam's Showroom was part of a mixed-use, walkable district like West Village, but instead of 200,000 square feet or whatever it is, it's a 25k space but there is no warehouse.  Instead, you peruse what they have, almost as if shopping online but with some things you can touch and feel, you get the window shopping experience, other categories might be on ipads to flip through.  Then, instead of loading up the moving truck you have to rent, you have a digital shopping cart of things you pick and choose.

After checking out, which you would also do digitally, the warehouse, which can be sited on appropriately cheap land in need of employment in South Dallas, would assemble your order and deliver it to your home that day.  Re-thinking the entire warehouse shopping model would allow the site to develop in a more neighborhood/context appropriate manner, would generate more revenue for the developer, more tax base for the city, and would give Sam's a new prototype for how they might locate in any major city in the world (think of the market penetration).

If they don't want to derive a new urban model, then maybe they don't belong in cities and ought to be fought for their prototype.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Future Dallas - Cutting Room Floor

As you likely know, the Dallas Morning News is running a Future of the City series this week leading up to the New Cities Summit to be held in the Arts District over the next few days.  One of the out of town speakers is already bitching about the inherent pedestrian unfriendliness of our streets.  Those things tend to happen when the most powerful transportation official thinks infrastructure responds to land use (rather than vice versa) and that urban design is about decorating the fringe around transportation decisions already made.  The result is rube-goldberg-ian, clunky contraptions that are mere simulacra of cities rather than the elegant simplicity of the highest quality urban design.

Any way, several locals were asked to provide a short snippet about what we saw the future of Dallas being.  I was the only one that responded.  As such, my piece is getting cut since I'm not a "panelist" or an "expert" even though some of those already quoted are little more than "empty suits" (not my words - though I may not necessarily disagree).

No worries, you can read what I submitted here:

Expression of its people.  
My particular vision for the future of Dallas isn’t as important as ensuring that a city, our city, is an expression of the citizenry.  The only future residents of a hypothetical future city that we can be fairly confident of are our young people.  The way for the city to be an expression of its people is to design for them, not cars, and facilitate the city to function as cities must, as accelerators of progress, improved quality of life, and opportunity for all.  And that is through human-scaled urbanism; density that is designed as a response to the pent-up demand for cities, real cities with walkable neighborhoods.

I often hear those who oppose the various projects I might be working on to improve Dallas suggest, "well, we're not Copenhagen.  We're not Vancouver.  Or, we're not New York."  Of course you're not.  But those places aren't each other either.  Melbourne, NYC, Copenhagen, and Vancouver are all very different. Each has made huge leaps in livability in the last few decades by prioritizing safety and amenity for the pedestrian.  Great cities are populated and businesses patronized best by pedestrians.  If you want them, and long-term success for Dallas, prioritize the pedestrian. From outsiders looking in however, Dallas is no different than Houston, Phoenix, or Atlanta.  To those of us living within these cities, we immediately identify the differences, but those slight divergences aren't necessarily about urban form or behavior patterns but rather subtleties to the weather, geography, or sports teams.  Those subtleties aren’t what makes any city particularly memorable.  We’re all the same, particularly on the global scale, the world class scale, of urban studies.

We’re the same because we have designed entirely for the car.  It undermines the ability of our citizens to interact with each other, with the latent magic of the city, and with nature.  We must shed the last remaining vestiges of 20th century thinking in a 21st century world in order to compete as a truly world class city; to achieve everyone’s dreams for what the best Dallas is that Dallas can be.  To do so, we have to listen to the next generation, the millennials, those under 35.  Empower them.  The future of Dallas will be their Dallas.  They don’t want car-dependent cities and they certainly don’t want the debt that comes with coerced car-dependent infrastructure.

You ask, “what about the traffic?” I ask, “what about the city?”  We’ll get what we care about and prioritize.  If we prioritize choice, we'll get a city that is the expression of the people.

Encouraging Words from new TXDOT Exec Director

Joe Weber's only been on the job for a little over a month, but he's saying some very encouraging things:

First, on recognizing the need for an internal culture change:
“I know that multi-modal, some people don’t like to hear that, but there’s a reason that our great legislature said in Austin in the 1990s, ‘You’re not the Texas Highway Department anymore. You’re the department of transportation,’” Weber said. “Because [in] transportation, we have to think multi-modal. That means a culture change.”
Second, understanding who we're building infrastructure and cities for:
“The biggest culture shock I had was spending six years at [Texas] A&M [University] and having students come into my offices,” he said. “A lot of them [did not] care whether they had their driver’s license or not or whether they own a car or not. It’s common. It’s that kind of generation, and we have to think about that.”
Third, awareness that projected population growth can't be handled strictly through highway expansion (or afforded):

He urged attendees to envision the future in 40 years and what the transportation needs will be for a state that could double in population during that time.
“I don’t know that we’re going to be slapping pavement down on roads 40 years from now,”

Lastly, a mention about DFW metropolitan area:
“You’re going to see more of them, and you’re going to see more creative and imaginative types of those kinds of partnerships,” he said. “I’m not sure if we can make it without them. Look at the size of some of the projects. They’ve got $12 billion in projects going on in the Metroplex. You’ve got $4 [billion] or $5 billion of projects going on here [Houston]. Who’s got that kind of money by themselves?”  
Perhaps there's a need for a culture change at the MPO level as well.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Space Between Buildings - Shared Space

Short docu film on Space Between Buildings:
The Space Between Buildings from Annabel Slater / R. Samarasinghe on Vimeo.

I promise the name of the film and the name of my company being shared is purely coincidental, but not entirely accidental in that they have similar meetings and have arisen from similar logic.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Traffic Engineering Minus the Naive Ideological 20th Century Theory

You will never understand traffic until you listen to Ben Hamilton Baillie, a student of the late Hans Monderman, father of the woonerf / naked street movement.  He lives and observes the real world and treats people like people.  Magically everything gets better, safer, and more vibrant.  Watch the video.

ABWxD '10 - Ben Hamilton-Baillie from ABetterWorldByDesign on Vimeo.

The following is a twitpic I snapped of his presentation on Friday in Buffalo.  It's also discussed in the video above, but if you only have 2 minutes examine the fundamental and antithetical requirements between highways and public space.  They can not co-exist which is why smart cities, sane cities restrict highways to the exterior of cities rather than making both highways and public spaces lesser at what they do.

Embedded image permalink

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Moving Cars to Get to Jobs or Rather, Why We Should Focus on Housing Closer to Jobs

Just when you think the DMN editorial section couldn't get lower than the quality of their own commentariat (which is in all likelihood based in the Kremlin considering their grasp of the english language), the cringeworth-iest of smarmy pieces ran yesterday reaching a point where you have to wonder what is going on over there.

The gist, as always, how ever will people get to jobs in the Stemmons Corridor, home to one million hospitals or something in the vicinity, without a Trinity Toll Road?  Let's forget for a moment that between Industrial-turned-Riverfront Boulevard, Stemmons Highway itself, and Harry Hines Boulevard we already have 26 lanes of traffic.  Let's also forget that this might be the single best served corridor for rail service with the green and orange DART lines running past as well as the TRE linking Dallas to DFW airport to Fort Worth.  All of which have stops at the hospitals.

The short-sighted and reactionary logic that we must cater to origins and destinations as they currently exist puts the cart before the horse in thinking that transportation infrastructure has no effect on where those origins and destinations occur in the first place, ie the real estate market and how it arranges itself.  By catering to the origins and destinations as they exist and adding more capacity, the new infrastructure creates more outward inertia by undermining the quality of real estate locally and creating a profit margin on land regionally, further out that was not previously worth anything.

Since the effort to make driving more convenient is successful in a Braess-ian sense and that it disperses population even further, no other form of transportation is convenient if even viable.  Everyone has to get into cars, and own cars - despite 25% of the city below the poverty line - and everybody gets funneled into the same few corridors because 1) there are few other routes because of the inherent disconnection created by the highways and 2) we always assume the highways are our best route even when they rarely move more than 20-30 mph at peak hours, a similar speed achieved on under-utilized city streets.

Rather than putting more people into cars (particularly those that can't afford the high cost of private automobile use) through incredibly expensive infrastructure that doesn't pay for itself (as evidenced by the unwillingness of anybody to build it), we should be working to create more housing opportunities by improving the quality of place and desirability of the area to empower the real estate market to capitalize on the housing boom in order to reach the wide variety of needs for all income classes in high quality, walkable neighborhoods closer to where people work.

The reality is, there currently is no or very little option but to live outside of town and drive very long distances in.  The assumption that "this is Dallas therefore everyone wants to somehow live outside of Dallas" (you unwrap that twisted logic) is ignorant, at best.  That's the nicest way I can possibly put it.

So let's look at the Stemmons Corridor shall we?

The official Stemmons Business Corridor Association claims to be home to 170,000 workers (a strangely round number), 149,027 day-time population, and 14,852 residents.  I compared this data to what I found from  US Dept of Commerce census data to verify.  I replicated their boundary to the best of my abilities (using this graphic) but did not allow for any buffer that might draw from a larger surrounding area.  So when these numbers come back much lower, perhaps my boundary was too small, but I don't think so.













The above is a zoom-in on the boundary I selected for study.  You can compare it to the actual SCBA to see if it's way off.  It likely is in small places.  However, not enough to badly distort the numbers I don't believe.

More important than the blue blob graphical heat map is the numbers to the right and the radar above.  It shows that there are more like 118,000 jobs in the corridor (at least, on the tax rolls by 2011).  It also shows that 25.4% of commuters into the corridor are commuting more than 25 miles to get to those jobs.  That's an awful number.  There is no way those 30,000 commuters are anywhere close to approaching the national commuting average of 25 minutes (it's important to note here the surveys that show the preferred commute length in terms of time is about 22-23 minutes.  We like a bit of decompression time between home and work.  It's also worth noting how consistent that is throughout history of cities as well as by mode of travel, whether that be by bike, foot, train, or car).

This tells me that a great number of people aren't living that far away because they necessarily WANT to, but that they had limited choice.  Dallasites aren't somehow a different species.  We all have the same basic wants, needs, and emotions, and therein lies the consistency in real estate dynamics in every city of the world.

Lastly, the radar shows that the Stemmons Corridor is pretty central to where the commuters are coming from.  There isn't really a noticeable imbalance to which direction the majority of commuters are coming from, except the least amount are coming from the southwest and southeast.  There is a spike for due south, which is Oak Cliff and the 45 corridor.



Above is the same graphic zoomed out so you can get a sense of the heat map spread over the region.
















The above graphic narrows down the commuters by income segment.  Unfortunately, the segments are very limited that we can choose from.  Above is only those making more than $40k/year which is the highest income bracket we can isolate.  The percentages are pretty similar in terms of the distances traveled, however there is a noticeable shift in the radar to the north.

What is worth noting is that the commuting numbers fall to 58k, which is 49% of total jobs in the area, meaning 51% are making less than $40/year.



Above is the lowest income segment available, only those making less than $15k/year.  While this is only 16,500 of the jobs in the area or about 15%, the average commute length increases and is derived increasingly from the south.  30.2% of these commuters making less than $15k/year are (presumably) driving more than 25 miles to get to these jobs.














Above is 2002 commuting patterns.  It doesn't really reveal too much insight except that the number of jobs has increased in the corridor a paltry 9k (low given the regional population growth of over 1 million in that time span).  The radar also suggests a significant shift to the north by 2011.  The super commutes of over 25 miles are pretty steady at 24%.  The biggest difference is about a 4% shift in the less than 10 miles to the 10-24 mile commutes by 2011.














All of the previous graphics were for jobs in the corridor.  For this graphic I shifted the analysis to commuters living within the boundary.  This is where it gets important.  Despite the official statement that nearly 15k residents live in the area, the data above suggests only 2,810 people commute to work from within here.  If we're to assume a roughly 60% resident employment to population ratio, that would mean the total population in that boundary might be 4,683.

That boundary is 10.82 square miles, meaning a population density of 432 or 12% of the Dallas citywide average.  If we were to apply Dallas citywide average density to the area, we could fit a resident population of almost 40,000 just within that boundary, or an increase of 34,756.  What is also important to note, is how short the commutes are for the residents of the area.  64% are under 10 miles.  90% are under 25 miles.  What if we could accommodate 70-80k vehicular trips per day via a density increase of 35,000 or so by city streets, walks, bikes, or bus rides all within a few miles of these jobs?  Guess what that would mean?  Solving congestion.

As a reminder, this area is home to the Trinity River, Trinity Strand and Trinity Strand Trail, lots of jobs, and lots of amenities.  Everything you need to create a real estate play for housing except walkable infrastructure when we're proposing more highways and car-dependence.  There is huge potential for housing in the area as evidence by the recent shift in the Design District towards residential densification.

As I mentioned before, there are indeed train lines running through.  The DART green line has 129 stops at Medical Market each day.  The orange line has 109.  The TRE stops 46 times per weekday.  Adding up the capacity of those trains is 53,120 passengers per day.  All of which surely wouldn't be disembarking at Medical Market, but it suggests there is further opportunity for increased commuting by train as long as it is convenient if not more convenient than driving.

Too much of transportation planning is far too narrow-minded.  The only solution for car congestion is vehicular capacity.  But it's not.  It takes a variety of strategic initiatives to get people out of cars and off the congested corridors including: 1) increasing grid connectivity as many city streets and arterials are well under capacity as the highways suck up their volumes, 2) improving DART service and convenience to increase commuting by train, 3) increasing housing options closer to jobs, and 4) doing so by improving the desirability of the land for higher density, walkable urban development which requires walkable, urban infrastructure.  The result is more tax base, less infrastructural cost/tax burden, and a more sustainable and desirable way to live.

The conventional wisdom for the impetus behind the Trinity Toll Road was that it was a real estate play.  If that is the case, and I believe that to be true, then this is not in any way about traffic or congestion relief or anything else.  If it were about traffic then TxDOT and NTTA would be all over it.  They're not.  So we're left with it being a real estate play.  However, that play is no longer viable.  The market wants housing and it wants it closer to jobs, towards an improved jobs/housing balance, higher quality and more diverse neighborhoods supporting a range of incomes.  The new real estate play is to kill the Trinity Toll Road to maximize the value of land and population density along the Trinity.