Thursday, November 4, 2010


This is a long post.

However, you should still skim through it because it is in easy to read outline format!

This is basically my structured methodology about how to create an actual transportation revolution, one street at a time.

So, here it is:

Key to a Social Revolution: Transportation Equity

Transportation equity follows one basic tenant: we should build our cities for people instead of cars.

Currently, most urban areas are being developed with only cars in mind. This phenomenon is occurring in both the developed and developing world. It is especially apparent in the United States, the first country where car became king. This pattern of development has created problems, including, but not limited to:

A. Middle class families going broke paying for a car oriented lifestyle
B. High bike and pedestrian fatality rate from collisions with cars
C. High fatality rate from car collisions in general (#1 killer of young children)
D. High pollution levels as a result of the majority using a vehicle for transport

There are many more problems, but I will focus on these for now. There MUST be a better way for humans to live, don't you think? For centuries we have lived in actual communities where we knew our neighbors and interacted with them more frequently, where walking down the street wasn't a danger to ones health. Wouldn't it be nice if there were people actually using the sidewalks we have paid so much money to build? What if people could actually survive and thrive in modern society without having to buy a car for every family member?

I believe we can create this society- if we really want to. This is my first attempt at creating a template for the process needed to make this change occur. For this template, I use the neighborhood surrounding my old elementary school as a potential case study. Nothing has actually been done in this neighborhood, but this template serves as a guideline for what could be done if one wanted to make change happen in this neighborhood.

I desire this kind of change because having more people interacting in neighborhoods leads to cumulative positive benefit. When you know and are comfortable with your neighbors, when you feel better at the end of every day because you have been walking or biking, when there is quality public space in the neighborhood and less car traffic, cities improve. Better health is acquired. Quality conversation about real local issues is had. Safety improves with more "eyes on the street". Transportation equity is, in some ways, the most significant way to begin the process of necessary transition in our society.

So, how does it happen?

I. Community Support: Without community support, little will happen. Some change could occur (using eminent domain, for example) but overall, with community support, one has much more flexibility with a project. Plus, connecting with people who have different opinions is an educational exercise that allows one to think outside the box and acquire new ideas.

A. How to Acquire Community Support: First, when talking with community members, assert the desire to retain the assets that already exist, assets that make the place nice. These people are already living here (usually by choice) due to existing assets. Discuss these assets, and ask community members what other assets they appreciate about the area. Then, and only then, should you get into things that they don't like/ things that should be changed. Generally, change is not a word with a favored opinion by community members (especially older community members). Based on what they said in these two exercises, you can begin to shape your argument.

B. What Will They Say? In many suburban areas, high amounts of traffic and speeders are looked upon unfavorably. However, community members also enjoy the easy automobile access that causes these high speeds. Approval for projects will depend on striking a balance between these two concepts.

Another point that community members may want to discuss is the issue of emergency response time. Emphasize in your response that no emergency access will be taken away from any part of the neighborhood; the only change will simply be a reduction in average speed. Emphasize how this reduction will make everyone SAFER.

C. How To Strike that Balance:
1. Focus On Neighborhoods With Multiple Access Points: Neighborhoods built recently in the classic sprawl style are less likely to be successful multi-modal access areas, simply because many of them are dependent on a single access point. This means that all traffic can only go through one street, limiting the utility of the street network; basically, it's hard to accommodate multiple modes (biking, walking, transit, etc.) with a single access point. Neighborhoods with a grid system are ideal, but not necessary. Multiple access points are a very important factor. Multiple through roads in the neighborhood are also essential; if there is only one road connecting the entire neighborhood, accommodating various modes will be difficult as well.

Ver Lower Manitoba Bike Boulevard en un mapa más grande

CASE STUDY: Lower Manitoba Bike Boulevard
My proposal: Turn Manitoba Dr. between Juan Tabo and Tramway into a bike boulevard/multi-use corridor. This innovative project would connect the existing Bear Canyon Arroyo Trail, which currently ends at Juan Tabo, to Tramway, which has one of the busiest multi use trails in the state of New Mexico.
The existing plans call for a new paved multi-use trail to cut through land that is currently open space, housing many native animals and plants. My plan would mean no disruption to this unique, relatively wild area. It would also help to reduce auto speeds and increase safety in a neighborhood that contains an elementary school.
The reasons for potential success of this project are many and varied. They include:

A. the neighborhoods opposition to the current plan with the paved trial through the open space (and therefore the desire for an alternative)
B. the neighborhoods desire to reduce thru traffic and traffic speeds in the neighborhood (speed bumps have already been installed on Manitoba for that reason)
C. the design of the street layout in the neighborhood, which includes two parallel through streets. Though only one of the streets (Manitoba) actually cuts through the entire neighborhood, the other street (Key West) parallels Manitoba for the vast majority of the route
D. the desire by the city to make all of Albuquerque more bike friendly, while providing a multi-use connection between the current end of the Bear Canyon Arroyo Trail and the Tramway Trail
E. the desire by the city to accommodate all users, including handicapped individuals, walkers and bikers on existing roadways. The sidewalks in this segment are not currently ADA accessible so this could be another justification for the project.

The other very important aspect of this plan includes the existing elementary school, SY Jackson. Much of the traffic in this neighborhood is generated by parents dropping off and picking up their kids at this school. If more of these kids were walking or biking to school, this neighborhood would not need the existing traffic capacity. With a multi-faceted, comprehensive biking and walking education system at this school (involving the faculty, the students AND the parents), a very different neighborhood structure could emerge.

The big barrier to the success of this education program is parents fearing for the safety of their children. This is a legitimate fear, as the existing network of streets and roads are dangerous for a child. However, if you explain the project that is proposed, and its potential to make the streets safe for walking and biking, opinions can change.

How Can One Change Opinions?
A. Start Small: before hosting a big, public community meeting about this project, talk first to people in small groups. For example:
1. the teachers lounge
2. neighborhood association meetings
3. high ranking individuals, such as the principal of the school
4. low key PTA meetings
If you start at these smaller venues, and then begin to acquire larger pools of support, this plan has far more potential to work. Most rational people AGREE with the basic tenants of this plan (safer streets, less traffic, community building, revitalizing existing infrastructure, healthier kids and healthier neighborhoods in general). Support for these types of projects is always hard to find due to lack of EDUCATION. If you educate the stakeholders about all the potential benefits of this project, success is very attainable.

What are the potential benefits of this project and other similar projects?
This project is considered a "traffic calming" project. In this situation, the term "complete street" could also be used. The term complete street refers to a street that is arranged to accommodate ALL potential users (opposing to incomplete streets, which only cater to cars). What benefits have been observed from other projects such as this?

A. Safety: Auto speeds decline; accidents are reduced; noise is reduced; through traffic/ traffic volume is reduced. Ironically, the major factor that make walking and biking dangerous for the kids in this neighborhood are the parents who are driving their kids in and out of this neighborhood. This is why the involvement of the school AND parents in this plan is so crucial.
B. Economics: This could be a big selling point to the parents. There is a significant economic cost to driving and picking up their kids every day. There would be significant gas and time saving over a long period if parents did not have to do this.
C. Health: this is a selling point to teachers AND parents. Many studies have shown that when kids exercise before class (walk or bike) they perform far better in the classroom. They focus better because they released some energy before coming in and sitting for a few hours. They also sleep better at night, and these are just some of the benefits that come with exercise. In addition, walking and biking can help to solve the obesity crisis. Just a small amount of exercise every day can really help this problem move in the right direction.
D. Freedom: this will be a hard point to get through, but certain demographics may be quite partial to it. American ideology dictates that cars = freedom. The open road and a full tank of gas have become a very important parts of our modern culture. Recently, in some circles, the conversation has been changing. People are beginning to realize that the car is a consumer item. If you live in a community where the car is the only option (or where it is treated like it is the only option), you are NOT free; you are restricted. Creating areas where one has the ability to bike, walk, skateboard, ride transit or use anything else outside of a single occupancy vehicle to travel = OPTIONS for residents. America is about options and freedom; an environment where one can CHOSE how to travel is more free and equal than an environment that only provides one single option: driving.

If and when these arguments are successful, and the community embraces positive change, one can then move to the hardest part of this project: how to pay for it.

II. Capital
Without cash, nothing happens. Ideas are fantastic, but unfortunately, they go nowhere without financial support. For projects like this, where social equity is a main selling point, cash can be found in many different places.

A. Government: Historically, for projects such as this, government was the primary, if not the only, source of funding. Since streets are a government funded project to begin with, this makes sense. However, there are many different levels of government to choose from:

1. Local-City of Albuquerque: Since this trail network is a city based project, CABQ would be the most likely to fund this project. As of right now, though, there is no money available. There is no telling when money will be available, and with the current Republican mayor, it is unlikely for taxes to be raised any time soon. So, it may be necessary to look for alternate sources of funding.
2. Metro-MRCOG (Council of Governments): These are regional planning agencies, required by federal law to exist in large metro areas. In ABQ, MRCOG is responsible for innovative projects, such as the Rail Runner and long-term regional traffic planning. They may be willing to help provide support for an innovative project such as this.
3. State: The state frequently gives money to transportation projects (including the Rail Runner). With the delivery of a convincing argument to certain state leaders, it may be possible to acquire money from the state.
4. Feds: With the current administration, alternative transportation is finally coming back in vogue. Innovative projects, such as TIGER grants and Safe Routes to School campaigns have been receiving national attention. This project would fit the criteria of many of these innovative programs, allowing an opportunity for federal funding of this project

B. Non-Government: This would be a game changing proposal, but this project could possibly acquire money from non-governmental groups. Who would be interested in such a project?
1. Local Small Businesses: Many small donations from local businesses could add up. For example, Flying Star contributes heavily to the local community every year and there happens to be a Flying Star adjacent to this neighborhood. They could give a heavily advertised donation, and then ask people to make donations in turn. Though this would probably add up to a small amount of money, this could be a way to close some gaps if needed.
2. PTA: For items such as new bike racks at the schools, the PTA could help to pay and fund-raise. This would be difficult because it would require a lot of political support. However, it would not be impossible.
3. Cutting edge tech companies (think Google): In a future with limited public funds, private organizations may take the place of government to fund certain things. This already happens: think charter schools, the Pepsi Refresh Challenge, the competition for Google broadband, etc. Since this is an infrastructure project, it would be a bit of a harder sell, but there may be companies out there who are looking for just this kind of creative project to put their name onto.
4. Non-Profits
a. Local: There are many local groups that specialize in doing projects that initiate social equity. However, in a city like ABQ, the need is far greater in other, less wealthy neighborhoods. Competing against these other, poorer neighborhoods would not only be challenging, but unjust.
b. Non-Local: There are many large groups in existence (both nationally and internationally) that LOVE these types of projects. For example, there is a group on Portland, OR called Depave that rips up unneeded asphalt (usually old parking lots) and puts in gardens. Sure, they may not have any funding, but they might be able to rally up some people who could get some money, or maybe some volunteers who would help with the project. Essentially, the whole idea is that there are people out there.

and finally….

C. The INTERNET! Yes, the Internet, that virtual world filled with… everything. There are many ways that the Internet could be used to help accomplish this project, but the best example I can think of right now is Kickstarter. It works like this: you post a video, say how much cash you want for the project, and wait a few months. If at the end of the set period you make it to or past the amount you wanted, you keep the cash. If you don't make it to your set goal, everyone who donated gets the cash back. If a well made video were posted on here, and money was made, this could be enough to get this project rolling into high gear (more money = more capability to acquire more resources).

With some research, some spunk, some confidence and a high speed Internet connection, this project (and many like it) is entirely possible.

In summary, getting massive social change to occur is NOT easy. However, with a solid game plan and a reliable template, ideas can grow and flourish, while positive change can occur.

I am not saying this template is an end-all, be-all solution to the problems currently facing our society; I simply see it as a very important part of a new transition, along with a TRANSPORTATION REVOLUTION.

Who's with me?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

New Title, New Vision, New Ideas

Here I am, back again.

I have not written in a very long time. This is due to the fact that I am in España (Spain)! I will be in Europe until early January and then return to the University of Arizona for one and a half more semesters.

The first item I would like to address is a project I have been working on with Parking and Transportation Services at the University of Arizona. Last year, I noticed an interactive map on the PTS website. It had some neat features, such as traces for various buildings on the campus, maps of parking zones and CatTran routes. However, the map left me wanting more transportation information, especially for SunTran, the Tucson city bus.

I visited PTS and talked to the person who created this map. He liked my ideas so much that he decided I should add the things I wanted to the map! How about that for innovative collaboration?

Though I made quite a few changes, the major ones were adding more SunTran stop icons (all stops within close vicinity of the U of A campus) and adding stop information to all of the stops (both SunTran and CatTran). Also, this map is now linked directly to the U of A home webpage. Here is the current live version of the map as it exists now. I am now listed as a collaborator. Though I have more ideas about things to add, I will wait until next semester to address them.

So, back to the title of this post.

New Title: I decided to change the title of this blog (yet again) to "Urban Transport Revolution: Ideas for a More Intelligent Future". Why the name change?

The new name is more broad because my posts and ideas have become more broad. Though I am primarily interested in transportation, I am also interested in EVERY facet of urban life.

In addition, transportation does NOT exist in an isolated bubble; its success or failure depends on a huge variety of factors, with walkabiltiy being a huge part of the equation. Changing the current paradigms of American transportation policy will truly require a revolution. Though some cities and states are beginning to understand the work necessary, there is a long struggle ahead of us.

New Ideas: Maybe there are not new, but they are important.

Walkable mixed-use density = successful transit. This equation may look simple, but it is incredibly complicated. Some think density is the primary factor in transit success, but it's only one part of the equation. If these dense areas are:

a) dense single use and not mixed use (miles of apartment buildings without a grocery store)
b) dense and not walkable (divided up by lots of fences, walls, major busy streets, etc.)
c) walkable but not dense (dense is a vague quantifier, but basically anything with only single family homes)
any other combo, transit is not guaranteed success. Sure, there are a few examples of these outlier patterns leading to quality transit ridership, but they are not easy to find.

Jarrett Walker, in his blog Human Transit, goes into these issues with more depth.

Once the governments controlling the cash understand the connections between all these things (plenty of other people [PDF] already do), the revolution can begin.

Anyway, that's all for now. Hopefully, I will be posting more often now.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I have just completed my short five day stay in Madrid, España and am now in Alcala de Henares to begin my actual studies.

Though I usually write about transportation, I am interested in anything remotely related to urban form and development and this topic is definitely related.

During my adventures through Madrid (by foot and by Metro), I noticed a large amount of paint on the walls of the buildings around me. Some of it was quite ugly and would be considered vandalism by most:

Other examples were more colorful, but would be considered "tags" by many:

However, a "tag" is a pretty negative term to describe the colorful work posted above.

There were many pieces that had tags on top of art on top of tags and onward. Everything became a multilayered piece of work:

And then there was this piece. It is obviously a tag but it made me laugh (value of positive emotional response) due to the resulting geographical juxtaposition of a boutique clothing store + the symbol of anarchy:

Then there were the residents/store owners: some mornings, they would be cleaning the scribbled text off the walls in front of their storefronts. Other retail establishments seemed to embrace the work done on their facade, or maybe they encouraged it in the first place. The store I saw with the most creative solution had a portion of their sign that said "Please do all graffiti here" with an arrow to a portion of the wall.

In the end, this entire situation leads to a question: How do authorities and governments pursue the issue of "street art"? Do they promote some of it and condemn other parts of it? Who makes that judgment call about what should stay and what should not? Does allowing paintings on buildings lead to "taggers" thinking they can mark the walls of the city as well? How much money is the Madrid police spending every year to "clean up" the ugliest of the tags?

In these specific neighborhoods (specifically Malasaña and Chueca), there seemed to be a good balance of the authorities respecting what looked like art and cleaning up the uglier tags.

In my personal opinion, the street art really enhanced the neighborhood. The vivid colors really brightened the narrow streets. It provided me with insight and perspective about the residents of the area. In addition, it helped me to understand the culture in existence without going inside a single residence.

However, I do not live in these neighborhoods; I am simply a visitor. I have a feeling a lot of the residents hate the graffiti, especially the older residents. I also thought about my parents house in Albuquerque; my parents would probably be appalled if any of these colorful forms of expression started popping up in upper-middle class Glenwood Hills.

This whole discussion goes back to the events that occurred just a few weeks ago in Albuquerque.

A few months ago, this beautiful piece of work popped up on the side of a Downtown building.

A couple more similar works popped up around town, but no one talked much about it. The small amount of local discussion I heard about it (through the comments on this post) was mostly positive (Why can't he paint my house?).

Then, the artist, nicknamed the "Rainbow Bandit" for his colorful pieces of self expression on private property, was arrested by APD. This occurred days after a great anonymous interview about him ran in a local "alternative newspaper" called the Alibi.

While I understand the motivation behind his arrest, I have no idea why APD was focusing on him. There are so many other taggers in the ABQ metro area that do some really ugly, crappy work. His colorful drip paint rainbows all over town were beautiful; one of them appeared on a post-crash half-build ugly skyscraper, making this eyesore that much prettier.

So, art or graffiti?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Goodbye ABQ Ride, Hola España

I have not posted for a long time. This has been due to the fact that I have been extremely busy working at the ABQ Ride offices and preparing to study abroad in Alcala de Henares, España.

This summer, I had a paid internship at ABQ Ride. During my time there, I managed to accomplish my major goal: to resign the ABQ Ride System Map. To give you an idea of the major changes I made to the system map, here is the old one:

As you can see, it is hard to read, cluttered and complicated. Here is my new one:

If you want a direct link to the map on the ABQ Ride website, here is the location.

My priorities for the revised map were an easy to read key and cleaner, less cluttered lines. Another priority I had was showing a better distinction between the lower frequency routes and the higher frequency routes.

Interestingly enough, almost as soon as I was done with the new map, Jarrett Walker of Human Transit wrote a great post about the importance of frequency-based transit maps. Local blogger John P. of Carfree in 'Burque wrote a post in response to the Human Transit post; it included an ABQ Ride Frequency Map. Johns map happened to include many of the elements I added to the new map. This entire situation highlights the potential power of the interconnected Internet to influence ideas and policy.

Though I admit my new map is not perfect, it was the best I could do with the time and resources provided to me.

In addition, this summer I also created 4 other ABQ Ride maps for each of the major system transfer/transit centers: Alvarado, Uptown, Northwest and Central & Unser. Other than the Alvarado map, none of these maps previously existed in any form. I hope these documents can help people more easily navigate the ABQ Ride system.

This summer, I learned many things about life in the office, transit planning, politics, bureaucracy, transit funding, the City of Albuquerque, ABQ Ride and many other things. There is one very important point I would like to write about at this juncture; it is a major difference between the transit system in Tucson (SunTran, which serves an average of 13,534 daily riders) and ABQ Ride (which serves an average of 7,948 daily riders).*

Since both metro areas have a very similar population (and similar demographic indicators as well), one would expect similar ridership. What gives?

Local geography helps to explain the differences: in Albuquerque, the city is divided up by 2 major interstates (1-25 and I-40) + Paseo del Norte + the Rio Grande river basin; in Tucson, the street grid is relatively well connected, with the only major freeway (I-10) skirting the edge of town.

There is also another reason for the difference:

Regional vs. local.

Tucson has a single REGIONAL transportation system. This means that there is one service provider for all the local transportation needs. This makes sense, as Tucson is a relatively small isolated metropolis.

Albuquerque, on the other hand has both a REGIONAL and LOCAL transit provider: ABQ Ride is local, while Rio Metro (the group running the Rail Runner) is regional. This means that funding is DIVIDED between these separate agencies.

How can Albuquerque expect to create a seamless, efficient network when the cash is split up between two different agencies? Though this issue may not be the deciding factor behind the ridership differences in these two cities, I believe it is an important issue that should be discussed by local leaders. After all, I'm not sure Tucson would have received federal dollars for their modern streetcar project without the unified force of a REGIONAL transportation system.

This was my major observation about ABQ Ride vs. Tucson/Suntran vs. regionalism/localism vs. transit networks in general.

Anyways, that all has come to an end and I am now in Spain. I will be here for the remainder of the year, studying Spanish and other assorted things. I will try to blog as often as possible, but I will be studying full time so we shall see.



*All the data used was acquired from the Brookings Institute website from the interactive State of Metropolitan America Indicator Map. If you have not played around with this incredible interactive data set DO SO NOW! It is chock full of interesting, interactive demographic data from across the United States. Have fun!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Layers of NYC

Yesterday, I spent the day touring New York City. I saw many interesting bits of urbanism, from the World Trade Center construction site (which, after years of delays, is finally being reconstructed) to the High Line (an old raised urban railroad that has now been turned into a spectacular park/public space).

New York City is a place like no other, especially in the context of America. Its density and population is unrivaled by any other urban area in these United States. It's transit system is not only extensive, but it is also used by a majority of the population. The city has recently received positive attention from the urban planning world as a result of the new planning director in NYC Janette Sadik-Khan. Her new policies on creating bike friendly and pedestrian friendly infrastructure have caught the eye of planners across the globe.

When I visit places like NYC, I try to figure out what exactly makes the city such an interesting and desirable place, both to live in and to visit. Parts of the answer may be obvious (such as Central Park), but some aspects of the city seem like true turn-offs. The streets are filled with speeding, stinky cars. The subway stations are old, dirty and hot. The traffic is terrible, and it is almost impossible to find one peaceful, quiet spot in the entire city.

So why go?

For people who live there, the simple answer might be employment. But in my opinion, time is the thing that truly makes this place fascinating.

Since people have been living on this little island for such a long time, layers and layers of culture, history and urbanism have been created over time. One could walk for 3 blocks and hear 20 different languages, We were sung to by an African-American trio on the subway (they were pretty talented). There were 4 different bands playing at one single relatively small park we visited (Washington Square Park).

This kind of culture can not be created overnight.

The people who argue about the urban/surburban divide never touch on the issue of time. Cities are usually more interesting places than suburbs simply because the cities have existed for a longer amount of time.

Mix of use is also incredibly crucial. When buildings have a mix of uses (basically residential + anything else) they allow people more options about where they live and work. This allows for a variety of transportation options: walking, biking, roller-blading, skateboarding, bus riding, train riding or even automobile driving. People are always clamoring for more options in life; auto dependent development does NOT provide many options.

Overall, time has led to the creation of city filled with layers. It has layers of culture and layers of infrastructure. It is an organically growing place with constant movement and evolution. Some call it the City that Never Sleeps. What allows the city to stay awake all night?

One important aspect of that is the 24/7 subway network. When you have a transportation network running all day and all night, people will use it all day and all night. This is especially true in a city such as NYC, which has high density and a robust diverse economy.

How can we create incredible places such as NYC? Time is one very important ingredient.

A great public transportation network also helps.

Biking in the Cape: Some Lessons and Ideas

Today, my family and I enjoyed a long bike ride through Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This ride was made possible by a national program called Rails to Trails. The program is pretty self-explanatory: previous rail lines are converted into bike and/or multi use trails. It is great program that has led to the completion of many fantastic trails across the nation.

The Cape Cod Rail Trail was very well designed. All of the road crossing points were well constructed, making both the trail and the road crossings easy to traverse for both cycles and motor vehicles. Part of the reason the crossings were so functional was due to the fact that all the at-grade crossings involved only two-lane of one lane roads. All the wider roads had grade separated crossings (usually tunnels, with the occasional overpass). These crossings helped to illustrate a larger point of cycling: people will be far more comfortable cycling if there are grade separated crossings. Yes, this point has been made, and yes they are expensive, but they go a VERY long way towards making life easier for both bike riders/pedestrians and drivers.

So who was using this trail? Since Cape Cod is primarily a tourist destination, I expected to see mostly recreational riders. Predictably, after traversing this trail for its entire length over a period of 7 hours, I saw very few people on the trail who seemed to be locals. This was understandable, considering the wealth of the residents of Cape Cod. But then, I thought about all the service workers in the towns on the Cape; the children who attended the local schools; the people who lived a short, bikable drive away from their place of work: why were these people not present on the trail?

Lack of connectivity is the answer.

Since the trail was built primary for recreational purposes, the planners made very little provisions for commuters. The trail was required to follow the rail right-of-way, which means it doesn't necessarily go close to many of the major towns. In fact, there is only one major town that it passes through. In this town, the whole area around the trail is filled with parks and businesses that cater to bikers. Why can't the other towns in the area have this?

I envision a future where the Cape Cod Rail Trail is the spine of a larger, regional network. There would spurs that would go to every nearby town and every nearby school, along with every nearby major employment center. All of these spurs would have way-finding signs from the main trail. Currently, the majority of the Cape (along with the majority of the USA) is very auto oriented, with little to no commuter bike infrastructure. The development of the peninsula is not necessarily suburban, but it is sprawling and spread out in nature.

My main point is this: having long, recreational trails are beneficial to large portions of the population, but they do little to reduce intra-urban journeys. This type of trip (within an urban area, and usually a short distance, no more than 2-8 miles) is by far the most common trip type in America; it is also the easiest type of car trip to replace with a bicycle.

If we really want to reduce traffic, reduce emissions, reduce auto fatalities and reduce obesity, we MUST focus on the low hanging fruit. In this situation, the low hanging fruit is the potential to replace short car trips with other modes, such as bikes.

If we can build great recreational trails, we can also build quality commuter networks. It's time to stop wasting money on subsidies for car trips that are wasteful and unnecessary.

It's time for a transportation revolution.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Capping Freeways vs. Taking Them Out: Lessons from the Big Dig

Today, I spent a lot of time ambling around a recently built park in Boston. It is called the Rose Kennedy Greenway, and it is a nice public space. It is diverse, containing fountains, benches, flowers, lawns, long walkways and sculptures. The greenway is surrounded by densely populated areas, providing a green space for many who previously did not have one. The linear aspect of it makes it an ideal place for walking, running, biking and other forms of recreation.

Why is this park so unique?

It is located on top of I-93, a major interstate highway.

The Big Dig, completed in 2006, was the most expensive public works project in recent American history. At the cost of $15 billion dollars, a major raised freeway was torn down, placed underground (with added lanes), and covered with a greenway/park. The results speak for themselves: when cars once flew by at 70 mph, people now run and play frisbee.

On the other hand, $15 billion dollars is a lot of cash. What if there was a cheaper solution? What if all that money was used to restore and refurbish every decaying Boston subway line instead?

Though this project is unarguably a major benefit for the city of Boston, it is truly just a small Band-Aid upon many gaping freeway scars. One of these scars occurs just steps from my hotel, where I-93 continues uncovered. This section of freeway is surround by decaying buildings and homeless people. The cars flying by are loud and polluting. Even where the highway is covered, there are smaller connector roads where the car speeds are still high. Taxi drivers recklessly fly around corners, causing pedestrians to run in fear. There are no bike lanes in this area, forcing bike riders to dodge pedestrians on the sidewalk.

Beyond this, there are vast parking garages surrounding this new park. There massive buildings do not contribute to street life, and their presence encourages people to continue driving.

What am I getting at?

Freeways are only one small part of the problem; all of the car based infrastructure is the real wound.

What if instead of covering the freeway, the freeway had been removed instead?

Some would argue that absolute chaos and gridlock would instantly occur; I disagree.

If this freeway had been removed, than vehicle drivers would learn that driving in this area would no longer be pleasant or efficient. They would either drive to the edge of it and park, sit in traffic, or bike, walk and take public transit.

Did I mention that there are multiple subways stops that directly border this park/freeway?

What if that money had been used to improve the aging metro system instead?

Here is what would occur:
Time after time, when road capacity is reduced, less people drive. As a result, less road capacity would mean less parking structures would need to be constructed. Instead of a ten story parking structure, a ten story mixed use building could be built in its place.
The people living and working in this building would not be as interested in driving since driving would be challenging in this freeway free area. Their use of a new transit system (built instead of the buried highway with the same $15 billion) would further enforce the idea of transit being a wise investment.
They could also use the new state of the art bike network (built with an extra few million leftover form the original $15 billion) to get where they need to go. Bike sharing systems would provide options for people who would prefer not to buy their own bike (more news on global bike sharing systems here).
The variety of options provided to them at all hours of the day would more than make up for the lack of a car. Zipcars and other car sharing systems would help to fulfill the desire the take a spontaneous weekend trip or a jaunt to Ikea.

How should we spend our precious transportation tax dollars?

I have some ideas...

Beantown: Urban Form and Function

Density: The part of Boston I am staying in (Back Bay) is quite dense, especially compared to the rest of the United States. This makes sense as Boston is one of the oldest American cities. It is also very diverse and educated, being home to a massive number of universities.

The city itself is different from many of the other older American cities (Philadelphia, NYC, Wash. DC) because it is not planned on a grid system. Its streets are chaotic and ancient, creating an interesting urban area with many urban layers. Much of the current city is also built on landfill, causing adjacent neighborhoods to be sometimes completely different.

As with most major American cities, Boston went through a serious decline/ urban renewal process a few decades ago. This led to the construction of some notoriously ugly modernist buildings (Boston City Hall). However, many locations that recently were open lots/surface parking have been transformed into lofts and other new/New Urbanist developments. A major project, called the Big Dig, recently covered a major freeway with a park. Though this project has been beneficial, some residents are unhappy about the quality of the new public space and the price of the project. However, it is really encouraging to see this city recovering from a period of serious urban decline. This success is in no small part due to the previously mentioned large number of universities.

All of this information goes to the back of my head as I witness an urban battle over space occur in Boston: cars vs. everything and everyone else.

This is not a new battle; it is constantly occurring everywhere. It happens to be especially fascinating to witness in Boston due the contrast of an ancient city and a relatively modern freeway network.

As recently mentioned in this Streetsblog video, the city of Boston is quickly becoming more bike friendly. It is astounding that this city was previously bike unfriendly (did I mention how many universities are located here?!?) and the city continues to have plenty of elements of a bike unfriendly city. Looking out my hotel window, there are encouraging symbols of the future to come, with brand new bike lanes, sharrows and bike boxes all visible from my room.

Just yards away form hotel exists a major freeway. This freeway is surrounded by properties in continual decline and areas that feel dangerous at night. The continual negative externalities of a surface freeway system continue to haunt many once beautiful Boston neighborhoods. Cars continue to speed by on wide urban arterials. Drivers continue to ignore pedestrians and bicyclists. Car sharing vehicles (Zipcar, etc.) are rarely if even seen, and a bike sharing network that was supposed to be up and running is nowhere to be found. Suburban style development rubs elbows with historic neighborhoods. Some metro stations are found outdoors under double tiered freeways, creating a dangerous and unfriendly pedestrian environment. Others are found in dark, old dirty tunnels, filled with squeaky trains that frequently break down.

How do we want to develop our cities? What do we want our future cities to look like? How much sense does it make to continue heavy subsidies for a network that depends upon finite fuels and massive amounts of valuable real estate?

It's time for a transportation revolution.

ABQ to Boston: Taking the T*

*Note: This is the first of a series of posts originally written in June as I vacationed across the East Coast.

After arriving at the Boston airport with my family, we boarded a shuttle bus to get to the subway. I at first saw the lack of a direct connection between the airport and the subway as a large restriction. However, the shuttle arrived very quickly, and the ride was short. It did leave me to wonder the frequency of this shuttle during off hours.

After getting to the station, we purchased a pre-paid transit card, scanned it for each family member and walked to the platform. The train (the Blue Line) arrived almost as soon as we got there, and we were off. After a couple of stops, we got off and transferred. The transfer was relatively painless: we simply walked upstairs and boarded the next train that arrived.

However, this new train we boarded (the Green Line) quickly became more and more crowded. Halfway through the trip, the train was very packed and borderline uncomfortably crowded.

We then realized that we were on the train line that served Fenway Park, just an hour or so before a Red Sox game.

The only really negative part of this whole experience was when the train stopped and the power went out for just a couple seconds. The power quickly came back on and the train started moving again, but this should not be occurring on a major subway line in a major American city.

So how is the Boston T? In my short experience of riding it, the frequency seemed pretty good (especially since it was the afternoon on a Saturday) and the train was pretty quick. The brief power outage was inconvenient, but it quickly ended, causing no harm.

Some of the stations and trains looked pretty old and in dire need of some financial assistance. I am not aware of any pending transit cuts in the Boston area, but if anything, this system could use a large financial boost.

This is the same story across America: when will we realize the true value of our transit systems and provide the cash they need instead of just barely letting them slide by?

The Boston T system is a fine example of many American transit systems: old, working relatively well, but just barely hanging on to the edge.

More transit funding NOW!

Back At It from Urbanquerque

After not posting for over one month, I am trying to get back into it. I have had so many ideas and adventures that it has been hard for me to figure out how to turn them into some sort of written form. Alas, without trying there would be no success.

My living situation for this coming month is urban and unique: I am spending the month living yards away from the University of New Mexico (UNM) in a 1950's style suburban house in the Nob Hill neighborhood. My reasons for living down here are
a) my downtown summer job at ABQ Ride and
b) the fact that I am starting summer school tommorrow at UNM. I have no car for the summer so living in the far eastern part of theNE Heights with my family would be impractical.

The cost of living here in Albuquerque is extremely cheap. Since I am living so close to transit and bike-friendly areas, my transportation costs are ZERO. This is due to the fact that I am working at ABQ Ride this summer (they provided me with a free bus pass) and the fact that my father is letting me borrow his fantastic old-skool road bike.

My quality of life down here is amazing. I bike pretty much everywhere and go on long bike rides every evening as the sun sets and the earth cools down. I buy groceries (mostly from the nearby Sunflower Market) and cook almost all my own food, saving lots of cash. Basically, my only expenses are rent and the occasional grocery trip.

Most people believe that living carfree in burque is impossible; I am proud to say that it is entirely possible (in certain parts of the city) and continues to get easier.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

ABQ Bike Planning Open House: Some Great Ideas

Yesterday (May 19, 2010), I attended a meeting that discussed Albuquerques long-term plan for bikeways, trailways and other non-automotive infrastructure improvements (ABQ Bike Map [PDF]).

The Albuquerque Bikeways and Trails Master Plan Update is a series of meeting that will be occurring throughout the next year. They will be a series of discussions about the future of Albuquerque's bike and trail network.

The meeting yesterday took place at a library (Erna Ferguson Library for all you Burqueños). The format of the meeting was really good. Instead of some city officials just telling the citizens what they were going to do with our tax dollars, there were a series of interactive workshops. These workshops were staffed by the members of the consulting group hired by City of Albuquerque, Gannett Fleming West Inc. This consulting firm has teamed up with another firm, Alta Planning and Design. The people associated with this group, based in Portland OR, seemed to really understand how to create a comprehensive bike and trail network.

I remember one of the consultants from Alta discussing Albuquerque's potential to be a world class bike city. He listed these reasons:
1. Mild year-round weather
2. Lots of sunshine
3. A consistent grid-based street system (at least in the Northeast Heights)
4. Relatively flat terrain
5. The current existence of some great bike network elements

I have to say, the plan they have is pretty good and comprehensive. If they could fast-track many of these projects, I could see the mode share of bikes increasing by a large amount.

However, this will only occur if there are incentives not to drive instituted as well. Currently, Albuquerque, like the vast majority of American cities, is filled with developments surrounded by large free parking lots. As the great Donald Shoup once said, "There is no such thing as free parking." We all pay the costs of an automobile oriented built society. These costs include high bike and pedestrian fatality rates and long distances between places.

Having great bike infrastructure is essential, but in some ways, good planning and land use should be far more crucial long term goals.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Land Use AND Transportation: The Importance of Understanding the Connection

Sometimes, when people discuss transit and transportation, they discuss the issues of transportation as if they were separate from land use policy and zoning. The truth is, these two things are linked very closely.

For example, if you wanted to walk or bike to the store from your house, would you be more likely to use these modes if there were many multilane roads/highways to cross to get there? What if a bus stop you needed to access was located on the other side of an interstate? How likely would you be to use these modes?

Good luck getting across this by foot or by bike.

If we do not start to realize the link between land use and transportation, we are in for a rude awakening when gas prices begin to rise again. Luckily, the Obama administration recently announced that there would be a partnership developed between HUD and DOT to build "sustainable communities".

Though I doubt any fully sustainable communities will be created in the very near future, this partnership is a great first step towards developing walkable, bikable livable communities. Lower income housing should also be more closely developed in conjunction with transportation. A recent study, the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index, showed that affordability of housing goes way down in exurban areas when the cost of transportation is added in. Data for the Albuquerque metro region is here, and data for the Tucson metro region is here.

This link has been documented for years, but having this great new interactive data set will allow people to see the link between land use and transportation more closely.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Power to the People: Take Power from the States and Give It to the CITIES!

Today, I came across this great article from the site Next American City.

The article basically discusses the problem with federal money being distributed to state governments:
Indeed, the strength of state governments in making transportation decisions is one of the primary culprits for the highway-dependent state of the American landscape, in addition to the federal urban renewal policies and Interstate Highway legislation that are more typically singled out for blame. This fact comes to the serious detriment of metropolitan areas, which lack the fiscal ability and legal right to make full decisions about their transportation futures.

Why does this occur?
That’s because the politics of almost every state are dominated by rural and suburban constituents, or, in other words: car drivers. The urban transit users, pedestrians, and bike riders are typically at the back of the pack when it comes to representation.

The author of the article, Yonah Freemark, calls on Washington to "stem that state power". However, he offers no alternative way for distributing federal money. He seems to be in favor of the Feds having more power in distributing the money.
This issue is also covering in this blog.

I agree with Mr. Freemark: urban areas should have far more power. Money should not even be funneled in to the Feds in the first place; more tax money should be staying within localities. The amount of money each locality has would be based on the amount of economic activity occurring in each given metro area. In the case of money being distributed from a Federal level, it should work the same way: the more valuable the metro area to the economy, the more money it gets.

However, since I am talking about this issue purely from a transportation standpoint, I can see many problems with money being distributed in this manner. Since everything is so road and highway oriented, how could anyone guarantee all the money would not just be used for building new highways?

One solution could be the idea of Federal matching of funds: the more money localities would contribute to non-road projects, the more money would be provided by the Feds for transportation.

Overall though, the main point:
The Feds can not just keep throwing money at states for whatever transportation projects they want. State governments will continue to prioritize road and highway projects because that is the popular thing to do in many jurisdictions (especially the rural ones).

Let the majority be represented. Give urban areas far more political power.

Update (5/8): Here is another blog that discusses this very issue. It suggests giving the power to MPO's (Metropolitan Planning Agencies). All metro areas with a population above 50,000 are required to have MPO's, so it makes sense to distribute federal money through these organizations. In Albuquerque, the MPO is MRCOG, and in Tucson the MPO is PAG.

These groups do a lot of regional transportation planning, so it makes a lot of sense to give these agencies more money, and power.

Update 5/12: Here is great article about the history of road funding. It discusses how the acceleration of the car based transportation system led to money being taken from local control and given over to state and federal control. This [PDF] is the longer article that this previously linked article was summarizing.

We MUST focus on getting our transportation money back to the local authorities. State leaders generally do not understand the idea of "sustainable transit". Metro regions do and they need the money now, more than ever, to invest in sustainable transportation options.

Monday, April 26, 2010

CNM and ABQ Ride: Working Together?

For everyone reading this post not from Albuquerque, CNM is the local community college in the Albuquerque metro area. ABQ Ride is the local transportation agency in the city of Albuquerque.

CNM and ABQ Ride do not have best relationship.

Sure, there are a few ABQ Ride routes that access the CNM campuses. Sure, ABQ Ride acknowledges the existence of CNM. However, compared to the amount of support received from ABQ Ride by UNM, almost no attention is payed to CNM. After all, the 3 Rapid Ride routes all pass by UNM.

How many CNM campuses are served by even one Rapid Ride route?


A closer partnership between CNM and ABQ Ride should be a no-brainer:
1. CNM is the largest secondary education institution in the state
2. CNM students, just like UNM students, have free access to transit. One reason the Rapid Ride has been so successful has been the fact that it serves UNM, a huge bank of citizens with free transit passes.
3. Community college attendees generally have average lower income than UNM attendees, making them perfect candidates for improved transit access.

The reasons behind the lack of a partnership between CNM and UNM are understandable. First, UNM has one major campus; CNM has many campuses scattered across the city.

Here is a map of the CNM campuses:

As you can see, there are many campuses with many locations. This is significant because many students take classes at multiple CNM locations. For the purposes of this post, I will focus on the three largest CNM campuses: Main, Montoya and Westside.

Connecting Montoya and Main: The Montoya campus is currently poorly served by bus service. Main is also lacking significant connections.

The current bus situation for Montoya: Two routes nearby (the #1 and the #5), but none that are even close to the front door of the campus.

The current bus situation for Main: Two bus routes-the 96 Zuni (which only runs on weekdays, stopping at a frequency of once per hour) and the 16/18 BUG (which has an extremely inefficient convoluted route). Solutions to improve the 16/18 are discussed here as well.

My solution: 1 new bus route and 1 enhanced bus route.

The enhanced bus route would follow the current route of the 96 Zuni route, but it would be enhanced by having a significant amount of distance added to it. The majority of this added distance would be the continuation of this route along Morris until it reaches the CNM Montoya Campus.

The route would look like this:

View 88 Morris/Zuni in a larger map

The two place marks on here are the two existing CNM campuses that this route would serve.

The benefits of this alignment are discussed in further detail in this previous post.

The other route I propose is a Rapid Ride route along Montgomery and University Blvd. The southern terminus would be the airport and the eastern terminus would alternate between CNM and the Montgomery/Tramway Park and Ride (on weekends, all the Rapid Ride trips would end at Montgomery/Tramway and on weekdays, the terminus would alternate between trips).

The route would look something like this:

View 725 Montgomery/University Rapid Ride in a larger map

Once again, the place marks designate CNM locations. This route also serves UNM and the UNM Hospital, which is growing very rapidly. This route would complement the current #5 route along Montgomery. This is similar to a route I proposed on this Duke City Fix post, which was then later discussed on this post.

Connecting the Westside campus to the ABQ Ride System
: Currently, the Westside campus is served by zero bus routes. This is understandable, considering the sprawling nature of its location. However, it is relatively close to the Northwest Transit Center, making it a good candidate for the terminus of a regular weekday route with half hour frequency.

The route would follow this alignment:

View 101 McMahon/Ellison in a larger map

The marker on the left is the Westside CNM Campus, and the marker on the right is the Northwest Transit Center. This route would be guaranteed success, based on the theory of anchoring transit lines discussed in paragraph five of this post:
So transit planners are always looking to anchor their lines. Anchoring means designing a line so that it ends at a major destination, so that there will be lots of people on the vehicle all the way to the end of the line. A line with strong anchors at each end will have more uniform high ridership over the whole length of the line, and a much more efficient use of capacity overall.

Let's review:

Currently, all CNM students, and all UNM students, have free ABQ Ride bus passes.

CNM needs to have a closer relationship with ABQ Ride.

Three (3) new bus transit lines would vastly improve this connectivity.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cyclivia in Tucson: The Posibilities for the Future

This past weekend, Tucson had its first cyclovia event.

On Sunday, from 10 AM until 2 PM, four sections of different streets were closed off to automobile traffic, freeing the streets for non-motorized activities for miles. This page has more information, and this blog has a good write up of the event.

The purpose of a cyclovia is to allow all uses other than automobiles on the streets. The problem with doing this in Tucson is the quality of the pavement. Most sections of the route were not smooth enough to allow for skateboarding, long-boarding, roller blading and other activities that require smooth pavement. This is unfortunate because some members of the community really enjoy these activities and would love to have an entire street to participate.

Overall though, it is hard for me to be pessimistic about this event. There were a lot of people out participating and interacting with the built environment in a more sustainable way. When people move more slowly through a place, they can interact with it better. They can see how bad of condition the streets are in and contact the city, demanding improvement. They can find neat restaurants and cafes they never previously noticed.

The best thing about cyclovia is taking street space away from cars. Though it was only for 4 hours on one day of the year, it represented an opportunity to take back the streets. For too many years, American transportation policy has dictated that cars are the only way to get around efficiently.

This is simply not true. Plenty of places in America are easily accessible by foot, bike or transit.

For the places that are not yet accessible,efficient land use policy can help to change this unfortunate reality.

It is also telling that much of this cyclovia route will soon be home to the route of Tucson's first modern streetcar. Construction will begin this fall (Oct./Nov. 2010), and according to project managers, the project will be complete in about 15 months. This means that next year on April 18th, the cyclovia route will look very different.

In five years, the route will probably be very different as well. Construction on the streetcar will have been completed for a long time. Development will probably be occurring along the route, and the recession will hopefully be far over.

However, the real question should be what will the first Tucson cyclovia route look like in ten years? Only time, and progressive planning policy, will tell.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Urban Solution vs. the Rural Solution: The Internal Conflict Within the Green Movement

When environmentalists talk about the sustainability/green movement, many times you hear two different solutions:

Solution #1
One side discusses the benefits of urban density. Everyone must live in dense walkable areas that stimulate community connectivity. We need to reduce automobile dependence by living close to most of our daily services and ideally, close to our jobs as well. This is the best and most logical solution to our current problem.

Solution #2
The other side uses terms such as "locavore" and "permaculture". This side discusses the benefits of everyone producing their own food. Everyone should have a beehive, three chicken and a vegetable patch in their backyard. Everything you eat, or possibly even use, should be produced within ten miles of your home. Native plants and animals can and should be utilized for food, instead of exotic and foreign plants and animals. Off-grid solar panels, rainwater harvesting and natural design should be top priorities.

This weekend, I spent a large amount of time on one of these backyard production sites. It was fascinating and amazing. I learned about all the valuable flora and fauna that exists in the deserts around the city of Tucson. I drank delicious prickly pear lemonade. I was one with the Earth.

My average day takes place in a more urban setting. I bike to school and spend the day walking around the University of Arizona, one of the densest sections of Tucson. I survive pretty well without a car and get to have interesting unique human interaction all day, every day.

Here is the question: which method or technique is better? Which one is better for me? The environment? The community? Humanity in general?

These are important questions that are partially covered in the book Green Metropolis by David Owen. This book discusses the many benefits that result from living in a urban setting. In fact, Owen goes as far as saying that the green ideal of "living in the country" has resulted in suburbia itself. It makes sense: everyone wanted to live out side of "the city", so they created a place that is not quite urban, but not quite rural: suburbia.

This argument would suggest that the people who support Solution #2 are actually stimulating the growth of suburban sprawl. This may be true, but this issue is not just black and white.

Most modern suburban dwellers have very little connection to the natural world, the origin of their food, the benefits of sustainability and the concept of "walkability" in general. Then again, many urban dwellers are in the same boat. In general, few people understand the interconnected systems and supply lines that keep us alive and wealthy.

Though I agree with many tenants of this book, the key to finding great solutions to our long term problems are education.

There are no high school classes called "urban planning", "sustainability", "the modern economic systems", "the future of urban form", etc. Many of these classes do not exist in college as well.

Maybe if people understood the connection between sprawl, the natural world and the innate desire for nature among humans through education, there would be more momentum for creating an urban system that benefits everyone instead of just car owners.

Monday, April 5, 2010

What Methods Can We Use to Prevent People from Buying a Car in the First Place? 1. Carsharing

I would like to start this post with a disclaimer: I am not an anti-car person, and I never will be.

Motor vehicles are amazing inventions. They increase mobility for the users and allow owners of cars to go wherever they want whenever they want.

However, there are a few drawbacks to a car oriented society: not everyone can afford one because they are expensive to maintain. Also, since our entire build world has become so motor vehicle centric, not owning a car has become a major disadvantage. Our roads are overcrowded, so how can we prevent people from needing to buy a car?

I say "need" because many times, cars are not bought on a "want" basis. Though many times they are, plenty of people buy cars based on "need".

People buy cars if their transportation needs are not adequately met by transit, walking, biking or car sharing. Most of America fits into this category, so it makes sense that most Americans own cars.

Why do I want people not to buy cars?

Well, this is how it usually goes: once someone buys a car, all they use is a car. They no longer consider using buses, bikes or walking because a car is such a large investment. It doesn't make sense for someone to make a large investment for something they will use occasionally. Also, our modern build world reinforces high intensity vehicle usage. When someone buys a car, they reinforce this entire cyclical system.

Though the solution to this problem is multifaceted, I see car sharing as the most important solution to this problem.

I would like to use my own personal life as an example.

I do not own a car. Though I had one when I attended high school in Albuquerque, my brother now uses that car so I have no car out here in Tucson. I have no problem with not owning a car. I enjoy biking to school most days because it stimulates my mind and gives me exercise. On the days when I do not feel like biking (sick, raining, windy, lazy, etc) a bus route passes very close to my house and takes me directly to campus. This bus route is pretty good, as it comes every half hour on weekdays from 5 AM to 10 PM. Since most of my time is either spent on campus or at home, the bus and bike connections work very well for my commute.

But what about everything outside of my daily commute?

Most American driving miles are no longer the simple commute to and from work or school. People need to get to baseball practice, the mall, Baskin Robbins, the movie theater, concert and a billion other locations and events. In most cities, since everything is so spread, you sometimes truly do NEED a car to get to many of these locations.

For example, I need to buy groceries once a week. I prefer going to Trader Joes, which is too far to bike to and inaccessible by bus. Luckily, I have some awesome roommates who let me borrow their car once a week for this journey.

Alas, most people do not have my awesome roommate situation. It is at this point when most people decide that they must own a car. It is these kind of journeys that need to be tackled in order to reduce car purchases. Car sharing is the answer.

How does car sharing work? The most popular car sharing program in the nation, ZipCar, works like this: cars are distributed in a given area. People in this given area sign up for a membership. When members want to use a car, they get on the Internet (or iPhone), find the closest one, scan the car with key less entry, and go for as long as they want. The longer they go, the most they have to pay so there are incentives for people to bring the cars back ASAP.

Now, if there was a bank of these cars in my neighborhood, I would totally sign up. I would not be the only one, as my neighborhood is filled with lower income car free dwellers. The problem is, Zipcar is still a for-profit company. They will only expand into areas where profit margins are high and risk is low. Central Tucson is probably not high on their expansion list.

This is why Ray LaHood and livability proponents need to start doing more work to get local car sharing programs jump started. I am so happy to see the federal DOT give so much more credit to bikes, pedestrians and transit, but these solutions will only go so far. Car sharing should also be a big part of their push for livability.

Though car sharing still involves cars (which I am not a huge fan of) they are an essential part of any solution in society that has only been building car based for at least 70 years. Honestly, they are the most realistic solution to getting cars off the road. Just look at this infographic, and this article (both from FastCompany), for proof.

Let's stop the cycle of people needing to buy cars; add car sharing to a growing list of great solutions.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Q: Why Does Nobody Walk?

A: There is nowhere to walk to.

In my neighborhood in Albuquerque (Far Northeast Heights), I just went on a walk. As I was walking, I decided to estimate how large each house lot was: 33 of my steps. This means that only about 2-5 people live within 33 steps worth of street frontage. In this situation, a lot of street frontage is required to create enough density for any business to be successful. Though there are nice smooth wide sidewalks throughout my neighborhood, nobody uses them unless they are walking their dog. The closest services are located in a strip mall at the bottom of a large hill.

People will not walk if there is nowhere to walk to.

In contrast, my neighborhood in Tucson has no sidewalks, but many people walk through this area. This is because there are places to walk to. There are two bus routes that intersect a block away. There is a taco shop, offices, a haircut place and two food stores on this same intersection. The lot sizes are smaller, and the roads are arranged in a grid, which allows for easier walkability.

Even though my neighborhood in Tucson does not have the proper facilities for walking, MANY people walk through it because there are places to walk to.

Sidewalks are not important. Destinations are.