Friday, June 9, 2006
Many locations, including those in California and Virginia, are allowing hybrid car drivers to use lanes that are otherwise reserved exclusively for car-pool vehicles. This is bad policy, I suggest.
The reason for car-pool lanes is to relieve traffic congestion by encouraging shared riding and alternative means of transportation. Driving a hybrid, however, does not serve these goals -- indeed, with new hybrid SUVs, the low-emission vehicles aren't necessarily smaller cars that take up less space, and driving a hybrid does not mean that one drives less often. The benefits of hybrid vehicles is that they are fuel efficient and pollute less (I look forward to buying one once my '98 Saturn gives up). Although government encourages these benefits of hybrids, government also encourages people to contribute to charities and to eat their vegetables. Should these worthy acts entitle one to drive in the car-pool lanes?
By mixing the goals of traffic relief and fuel/pollution, governments risk losing popular support, which has always been tenuous at best, for car-pool lanes.
Wednesday, June 7, 2006
Here are an uneducated easterner's thoughts -- perhaps ignorant, perhaps obvious -- about the land use plight of the American Indian tribes of the West. Traditionally, the tribes were either nomadic (such as the Apaches) or agricultural (such as the Hopis), often on marginal land. With their modern-day concentration on reservations -- often very poor land, of course -- the tribes were unable to continue a nomadic lifestyle and have found subsistence farming to be very difficult. Thus a young Indian is faced with a dilemma: the traditional way of living is all but impossible on the reservation, and joining the dominant, non-Indian economy means leaving one's culture behind. Today, of course, gambling has recently brought in a lot of money, and pleasant new houses are visible across Indian lands. But support through the money of gambling is not a culture ….
Tuesday, June 6, 2006
What kinds of commerce should cities encourage to revitalize their downtowns? I was recently in Albuquerque, which, like many sun belt cities, saw its old commercial downtown whither in the suburban age. New Mexico's biggest city has tried to revive its downtown with nostalgia: its Central Avenue was a stretch of the famous old Route 66 (eliminated by unromantic highway managers when Interstate 40 was run through the Southwest) and still holds a lot of interesting Art Deco buildings. But while the city tries advertising nostalgia, the successful new businesses I saw on Central Avenue were all youth-oriented: night clubs, dance spots, and hip bars. This is a lesson that policy makers and planners are often reluctant to understand: While it may be possible to lure single young people with few responsibilities to the bright lights of downtown, it is far harder to attract suburban families, who seem to prefer the big parking lots, short walks, and controlled atmosphere of the suburban realm.
Monday, June 5, 2006
One of the most thorny dilemmas of land use policy is the city park. For many years, downtown parks and squares have been magnets for the homeless, drug addicts, and other antisocial types, thus making them to anathema to the average citizen. In a less tolerant past, winos might have been told to "scram" by the cop walking the beat; by 1970, however, few cops patrolled the streets and the striking down of vagrancy laws restricted law's ability to regulate the parks. The shunning of urban parks by the average citizen was exacerbated both by suburbanization (auto-bound commuters saw no reason even to consider visiting an urban park) and the American attitude of favoring private space (homes and offices) over public space.
In the past 20 years, however, revived attention to urban amenities has led many cities to pay renewed attention to their downtown parks. Yesterday, I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, whose Plaza was laid out by the Spanish soon after 1610, making it one of the nation's oldest urban squares. Compared with my last visit nearly ten years ago, the Plaza at lunchtime was flush with urban activity. One section seemed permanently reserved for groups of scruffy, hackysack-playing teens; meanwhile, a respectful distance away, Indian families ate lunch on the grass, while many of the ornate metal benches were filled with weary tourists (like me) resting their feet and adjusting their cameras.
What has helped the Plaza? One small but significant change that I noticed is that lunchtime carts, previously restricted to side streets, were now conveniently placed at each corner of the Plaza, offering green chile corn tamales, turkey drumsticks, and hot dogs. By allowing this type of commerce, Santa Fe lures lawyers in gray suits and others who might see no reason to visit and sit down. Once a critical mass of non-threatening people are observed, the urban park seems friendly to all.