Friday, February 15, 2008
One striking modern American invention is our reliance on the automobile for tasks undreamt of even a generation ago. In much of America, including outer St. Petersburg, Florida, where I travelled today, there is now a mini rush-hour from noon to 1:30, as thousands of workers drive to lunch and then back to their workplace. How could land use law discourage such behavior?
The vehicles called Segways offer transportation that is faster and less taxing than walking, but not as environmentally harmful or congestion-generating as driving. But where should these moderately paced vehicles travel? Most states have enacted laws that allow Segways on sidewalks and bicycle paths. But some cities chafe at the prospect of the computer-guided chariots on busy sidewalks, especially when bicycles are not allowed. A proposal in St. Louis would impose a fee for using the two-wheeled wonders in the city’s Forest Park. Among the potential complications are complaints from handicapped persons in favor of Segways.
As I see it, the problem with Segways is a magnification of that with bicycles -– they may be too fast and unwieldy for busy sidewalks and Saturday park paths, but too slow for streets. Safety should come first, but law should also be kind to anything that encourages Americans to leave their cars in their parking spaces …
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Once upon a time, innovations in land use came from the United States—the skyscraper, the shopping mall, zoning, the drive-through burger joint. But as United States land use law has discouraged innovation, other countries have taken up the challenge. In Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, the government is building what is called the world’s first carbon-neutral city: Masdar, with the assistance of designers and firms across the globe. The city will take advantage of abundant sunshine to soak up solar energy, offer free public transportation, provide a system for easy recycling, and supply desalinated water from the Persian Gulf. The plan is for the city to house 50,000 residents within eight years.
Will Masdar become a model for “green” urban design and laws? Can its features be put in place in societies without top-down control? I’m not sure, but I do know that Masdar sounds a lot like the “ideal” cities I used to draw with a pencil when I was 12, as did countless other kids across the world. Perhaps we might be able to agree on “best practices” for urban design before the century is out …
Monday, February 11, 2008
The flurry of post-Kelo state legislation designed to limit eminent domain caused some observers to predict that local governments would be hampered in their ability to engage in useful public projects. Just such an example arguably is playing out in Denver, where a pending bill (a couple years later than most) would limit the Regional Transportation District’s power to take property for expanding the light rail FasTracks system by eminent domain. The bill would allow the taking of private property only for “public transit purposes,” which threatens the ability to take land for parking and for transit-oriented development. Without parking, the authority expects limited use, which in turn would dry up federal funds.
I don’t see why parking is any less for “public transit purposes” than is the land for a station or for a slope on the side of tracks – the ability to park one’s car is an integral part of urban rail systems in our age.
As for the transit-oriented development, the necessity seems less strong. If rail stations result in a demand for land uses such as apartments, retail, and mixed use (as we all assume it should), these can be achieved through rezoning and letting the supply respond to the demand.
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