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?