Monday, September 19, 2011

Cul-de-sacs may be unsafe

This month's Atlantic has an interesting article about the work of two University of Connecticut engineering professors, Norman Garrick and Wesley Marshall, on the relationship between street design and traffic safety. (Garrick is an engineering professor at the University of Connecticut). The article notes that cul-de-sacs are in part a result of government pressure rather than the free market, and goes on to discuss Garrick's empirical work on traffic safety.

Garrick examined crash data from 24 medium-sized California cities, and discovered that:

the safest cities had an element in common: They were all incorporated before 1930. Something about the way they were designed made them safer. The key wasn’t necessarily that large numbers of bikers produced safer cities, but that the design elements of cities that encouraged people to bike in places like Davis were the same ones that were yielding fewer traffic fatalities.

These cities were built the old way: along those monotonous grids. In general, they didn’t have fewer accidents overall, but they had far fewer deadly ones. Marshall and Garrick figured that cars (and cars with bikes) must be colliding at lower speeds on these types of street networks. At first glance such tightly interconnected communities might appear more dangerous, with cars traveling from all directions and constantly intersecting with each other. But what if such patterns actually force people to drive slower and pay more attention?

“A lot of people feel that they want to live in a cul-de-sac, they feel like it’s a safer place to be,” Marshall says. “The reality is yes, you’re safer – if you never leave your cul-de-sac. But if you actually move around town like a normal person, your town as a whole is much more dangerous.”

In other words, a cul-de-sac alone is safer than a gridded street alone. But cities dominated by cul-de-sacs force more traffic onto a few big commercial streets- and because those commercial streets tend to be wider and accommodate faster traffic, accidents on those streets are more likely to lead to death or serious.

The article discussed in the Atlantic article can be found at Marshall's home page, and Garrick has a home page full of presentations and slide shows.

Michael Lewyn

September 19, 2011 in Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Why planning is overrated

It is conventional wisdom in some circles that “comprehensive planning” and sprawl are polar opposites- that planning is the enemy of sprawl.

But in fact, a comprehensive plan is almost as likely as a zoning code to be pro-sprawl. Many of the land use policies that make suburbs automobile-dependent: wide roads, long blocks, low density, single-use zoning, etc. can just as easily be found in a comprehensive plan.

For example, Alpharetta, Georgia is an outer suburb of Atlanta. Its plan’s future land use map , like the city's zoning code, lists a variety of single use zones. Most of these zones are quite low in density; the highest density, for apartments, is only 10 units per acre, barely enough to support minimal bus service. At these densities, not too many people live within walking distance of public transit, so there is not enough demand to support buses running more often than every half an hour or so, let alone rail service.

The plan also provides for numerous zones that are clearly incapable of supporting public transit, such as a “residential estate” area of 3-acre lots and a “very low density” area of half-acre lots. The plan provides that only 4% of the city’s land is to be used for apartments, as opposed to 54% for low-density residential.

Moreover, the land use map reveals that what passes for compact development in Alpharetta is not intermingled with the city’s offices; instead, high-density residential is a buffer zone between the city’s large stock of offices (near the Georgia 400 highway) and the city’s even larger stock of single-family homes. As a result, most of Alpharetta’s renters will not be able to walk to work even if they work in Alpharetta.

The transportation elements of suburban land use plans may also support car-oriented sprawl. For example, Jacksonville, Fla.'s comprehensive plan calls for 150-foot rights of way on major streets, thus effectively mandating streets with eight or ten lanes. Such streets are a bit too wide for most sane pedestrians.

In sum, comprehensive plans will typically reincorporate the status quo. So if a municipality's zoning code favors sprawling, low-density development, so will the comprehensive plan.

P.S. A more comprehensive discussion of these plans and their deficiencies is in a more extensive blog post at www.planetizen.com.

Michael Lewyn

September 15, 2011 in Comprehensive Plans, Local Government, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My next article: sprawl in Canada and the U.S.

In public debate over suburban sprawl, one common argument is the “Inevitability Theory.”  The Inevitability Theory is based on the following chain of logic:

1.  Sprawl happens even in places where government policy doesn’t favor sprawl (such as Canada, Europe, etc.)

2.  Therefore, sprawl is an inevitable result of the free market, rather than government policy.

The Inevitability Theory is designed to rebut the environmentalist argument that sprawl is the result of American public policies such as highway construction, minimum parking requirements, anti-density zoning, and anti-pedestrian street design.

My next article criticizes the Inevitability Theory by focusing on Canada.  Part 1 of the Inevitability Theory discussed above can be broken down into two assumptions: (a) that Canada sprawls as much as the U.S.; and (b) Canadian public policy is antisprawl.  But in my article, I challenge both assumptions, arguing that:

a.  Canada is less suburbanized than the United States; even controlling for changes in city boundaries, Canadian central cities have been more likely to grow than their American counterparts.  Even Canadian cities that have lost population are better off than many older American cities.  For example, the fastest-declining major Canadian city, Montreal, lost 18 percent of its population between 1971 and 2001 (excluding areas annexed to the city in the intervening decades).  By contrast, St. Louis lost 44 percent of its population, and other cities such as Cleveland and Detroit lost over 30 percent of their population.

b.  If you treat sprawl as a matter of “how we develop” rather than “where we develop”,Canada again differs.  14 percent of Canadian commuters (as opposed to 6 percent of Americans) use public transit to get to work, and 5 percent walk (as opposed to 2 percent in the U.S.)

To be sure, Canada has some automobile-dependent cities and suburbs.  But is this necessarily the result of the market at work?  In my article, I show that Canadian cities and suburbs have the same kind of anti-density, pro-sprawl regulations as their American counterpart.  For example, in both nations, municipal zoning regulations limit density, thus limiting the number of people who can live within walking distance of public transit and other destinations.  And in both nations,  zoning regulations require businesses to install large amounts of parking, thus reducing density, making driving more convenient, and also making businesses more inhospitable to pedestrians (who often have to walk through large parking lots).   And in both nations, streets are often designed to be too wide to be comfortably crossed.  However, Canadian regulations do tend to be more lenient (and thus less anti-pedestrian) than their U.S. counterparts.

The full article is at http://works.bepress.com/lewyn/65/ .

September 6, 2011 in Comparative Land Use, Density, Local Government, Parking, Pedestrian, Scholarship, Sprawl, Suburbs, Transportation, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Transportation PodCast from the Commonwealth Club of California

Driving today I happened upon a radio broadcast of a talk given by Polly Trottenberg, Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy at US DOT, to the Commonwealth Club of California. Here's a description of her talk from the Commonwealth's web page:

If you have ever been stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge, late to meetings, or have had a ruined weekend because you couldn’t make it to a destination in time, you know that California suffers from a major transportation infrastructure problem. From pot holes jarring people’s necks and backs, to bridges collapsing nationwide, thousands of commuters are being affected every day by America’s inadequate and faltering transportation infrastructure system. U.S. Department of Transportation Undersecretary for Policy Polly Trottenberg explores solutions to this serious crisis. Trottenberg works toward implementing the president’s priorities for transportation including safety and creating jobs. The DOT employs more than 55,000 employees with a $70 billion budget that oversees air, maritime and surface transportation missions. For 12 years she worked extensively on transportation, public works, energy and environmental issues in the U.S. Senate, for Senators Barbara Boxer, Charles Schumer and Daniel Patrick Moynahan.

Her talk doesn't focus only on California - I tuned in during the question and answer session, when she took a broad range of questions on high speed rail, TIGER grants, freight movement, transportation safety, and other topics. You can download the podcast here.

Jamie Baker Roskie

September 1, 2011 in California, Federal Government, Politics, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene

Looks like as I write this on Saturday, Hurricane Irene has hit North Carolina and is poised to strike the Northeast tonight or tomorrow. It's not particularly strong (as hurricanes go) but it's incredibly wide, so a lot of people will be affected. I'm currently looking at a baseball game that was moved up a day for a doubleheader. Major hurricanes and their aftermaths bring all sorts of land use and other legal issues into focus (see, e.g., Robin Paul Malloy, ed., Law and Recovery from Disaster: Hurricane Katrina (Ashgate 2009).

But right now I'll just offer a few basic observations from experience living on the Gulf Coast. Growing up in New York I had no experience with hurricanes. Since living here I've been through the storm or the aftermath of Tropical Storm Allison and Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike.

The most important decision is whether to stay or go. On this question you should really trust the authorities. In 2005, Houston was the major evacuation center from New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina. Having volunteered to help with the 100,000+ refugees in person and being well tuned-in to the scenes of the destruction, suffering, and lawlessness in the aftermath, many Houstonians instinctively decided to evacuate several weeks later when Hurricane Rita bore down on the Southeast Texas coast. But the mass evacuation turned out to be miserable--or worse--for most. The entire state's highways were gridlocked, all the gas stations were sucked dry, and the majority of evacuees either spent 24+ hours on the road (in 100 degree heat) or got stranded.

Most local governments now have fairly sophisticated data on where storm surges (which are the most dangerous parts of hurricanes) are going to hit. During Hurricane Ike in 2008, the civil authorities did an outstanding job in communicating exactly which low-lying areas needed to evacuate, while the word of the day to everyone else was to "hunker down." This turned out to be quite effective. You can see that New York City has something similar with it's pre-planned hurricane zones and it's order as of this writing to evacuate Zone A. Ike devastated Galveston but loss of life was kept down and the 4+ million in Houston handled it much better than Rita.

If you rely on public transportation, prepare for it to be shut down. New York has already closed the subway. Don't plan to drive unless you have to. In fact, if you do "hunker down," get your hands on as much stuff as possible, particularly water, ice, batteries. Gas up and get cash now. Get some food that will last a week or more. Tie down or move indoors anything that could become a projectile. There are lots of hurricane-preparedness websites out there (even Louisianan James Carville has chimed in) so I won't repeat everything you'll find there. Prepare to be without electricity, internet, or cell phone service. If you have relatives or friends in the interior, it's a good idea to contact them now and ask them to serve as a "rally point" for communications or even to meet up with family in case power and communications go out for a while after the storm.

Bottom line, take it seriously. Don't assume that the danger is linked to the "cat" number--Allison was downgraded to a Tropical Storm before it hit Houston, and did more damage than any of the other hurricanes (just ask my friends at the University of Houston Law Center). But don't overreact by fleeing if you don't need to or without proper supplies. Go ahead and have that hurricane party, and bond with neighbors in the cleanup, but not until after you've done everything you can to prepare. Remember, it it turns out to be not as bad as you thought, that's a good thing. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Hopefully you'll all safely bid Goodnight Irene.

UPDATE: Looks like the storm has moved into New England towards Canada, and it turned out to be not as bad as anticipated. Great news. Some pundits will predictably complain that it was overhyped, but that's doing a disservice to everyone involved, and hopefully will not cause excessive underreaction next time. These are incredibly dangerous and destructive events, and once people start dying it's too late to change your mind and start taking it seriously. Better safe than sorry, and it doesn't hurt to have a dress rehearsal in an area of the country that doesn't have as much experience responding to this particular type of emergency.

 

Matt Festa

August 27, 2011 in Beaches, Environmentalism, Houston, Local Government, New York, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

America's Top 10 Walkable Cities, 2011

Or so says WalkScore, according to this article America's Ten Most Walkable Cities of 2011, by Jason Notte in The Street.  A lot of the usual suspects are on the list, which you can see by clicking over to the story.  Also interesting is the description of Walk Score:

The people behind Walk Score, a Seattle-based service that rates the convenience and transit access of 10,000 neighborhoods in 2,500 cities, have spent the past four years judging the distance between residents and amenities and ranking places based on the results. That "walkability" led to the first set of rankings in 2008 and the use of those rankings by more than 10,000 cities, civic organizations and real estate groups in the years that followed.

Once something becomes measurable, then you have numers that start to play a role in policy debates, budgets, and markets.  I suspect we'll see even more use of metrics and quantitative analysis in areas like livability, sustainability, and so on in the years to come. 

I'm not familiar with their methodology, but if you go to the Walk Score website you can check out the walkability score for your own address.  Mine: 68 ("somewhat walkable").

Thanks to Mubaraka Saifee for the pointer.

Matt Festa

 

August 7, 2011 in Budgeting, Chicago, Density, Local Government, New Urbanism, New York, Pedestrian, Planning, Sustainability, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"Transportation as a Civil Rights Issue"

An interesting article in Wired magazine on a new report from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights on transportation equity:

According to the report, the average cost of owning a car is just shy of $9,500. That may not sound like much until you realize the federal poverty level is $22,350 for a family of four. One-third of low-income African-American households do not have access to an automobile. That figure is 25 percent among low-income Latino families and 12.1 percent for whites. Racial minorities are four times more likely than whites to use public transit to get to work.

Yet the federal government allocates 80 percent of its transportation funding to highways.

“This is the civil rights dilemma: Our laws purport to level the playing field, but our transportation choices have effectively barred millions of people from accessing it,” the report states. “Traditional nondiscrimination protections cannot protect people for whom opportunities are literally out of reach.”

Read the full report here.

Jamie Baker Roskie

August 3, 2011 in Federal Government, Race, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Carmageddon That Wasn't

Just as summer semester was ending for me, there was a media frenzy in Southern California about a scheduled 53 hour closing of the I-405 freeway.  The closure earned the nickname "Carmaggedon" and, like so many media-hyped doomsday-type events, it turned out to be much ado about not much.

For the record, traffic fell to 65 percent below its usual volume on LA’s freeways as many people wisely passed a summer weekend close to home or took advantage of the free transit available in many parts of the city, and the road itself opened 17 hours early. The only remarkable story was the one where a handful of cyclists and transit users raced the JetBlue passengers across the city. The riders of bikes and subway trains won handily, reaching the finish line before the Burbank-to-Long-Beach flight had even touched down and setting the intertubes all a-Twitter with their apocalypse-defying exploits.

There are lots of potential take-aways from this non-event, from the obvious benefits of relying less on our cars to the potential fun in pitting bikes against planes in all kinds of races.  It seems as if, hype aside, good planning and an effective public education campaign helped avert a lot of traffic-related suffering.  It's good to remember the benefits of cooperation, given the news coming out of Washington lately...Maybe we should let traffic engineers solve the budget crisis.

Jamie Baker Roskie

August 1, 2011 in California, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Feinstein & Allen on CBAs with Transit Agencies and Gentrification

Brian D. Feinstein and Ashley Allen have posted Community Benefits Agreements with Transit Agencies: Neighborhood Change Along Boston’s Rail Lines and a Legal Strategy for Addressing Gentrification, forthcoming in the Transporation Law Journal.  The abstract:

Residents of Greater Boston located along the proposed Green Line rail extension have expressed concerns about potential gentrification and the resulting displacement of low-income residents. To assess these concerns, we examine the effects of the earlier Red Line extension on neighborhood demographics and housing costs. Based on our conclusion that gentrification occurred following the extension of the Red Line, we propose a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) as a tool for mitigating these effects following expansion of the Green Line. We provide a short summary of CBAs in general and then outline the bargaining structure and major provision for our proposed CBA.

Matt Festa

July 23, 2011 in Development, Local Government, Scholarship, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Salkin on the Impact of Technology and Innovation on Urban Development

Patricia Salkin (Albany) has posted From Bricks and Mortar to Mega-Bytes and Mega-Pixels: The Changing Landscape of the Impact of Technology and Innovation on Urban Development, published in The Urban Lawyer, Vol. 11, pp. 42-4/43-1, Fall 2010/Winter 2011.  The abstract:

This article reflects upon the impact that technology and innovation has had on urban development. From NASA's Landstat program, to Google maps and GPS, technlogy has had a significant impact on urban planning and land use law. The article begins with a discussion of the impact of the elevator and steel technologies on urban architecture and density, and then moves to changes in transportation such as the automobile and the development of public transportation systems. Green buildings, GIS, satellite data, online mapping, personal computers, the Internet and cell phones are all examined.

Matt Festa

 

July 21, 2011 in Architecture, Green Building, Planning, Scholarship, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 11, 2011

NIMBY Beverly Hills

In a kind of ultimate "not in my backyard" move, the City of Beverly Hills is setting aside $350,000 to fight the LA Metropolitan Transit Agency's attempt to run the subway under Beverly Hills High...

Jamie Baker Roskie

July 11, 2011 in California, Local Government, NIMBY, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Europe: Annoying Drivers on Purpose

I haven't been able to blog as much as usual lately, and one of the reasons is that we just moved.  It was a local move, but I'm sure you all know what a hassle moving is.  But today, the move actually helped my blogging.  It seems that the previous tenant failed to cancel his multiple newspaper subscriptions.  I rarely read news on dead tree anymore, so I might not otherwise have seen this morning's front page New York Times Story by Elisabeth Rosenthal called: Across Europe, Irking Drivers is Urban Policy.

ZURICH — While American cities are synchronizing green lights to improve traffic flow and offering apps to help drivers find parking, many European cities are doing the opposite: creating environments openly hostile to cars. The methods vary, but the mission is clear — to make car use expensive and just plain miserable enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation.

Some cities have closed entire streets; some introduced stiff fees for driving into the city; many have reduced on-street parking drastically; bike lanes have replaced car lanes without offset for traffic; others have purposely added red lights to mess with drivers; Zurich's tram operators seem to have the ability to change the lights to their favor as they approach.  (I'm trying to imagine how much a magic traffic-light-changing remote control clicker would fetch on e-bay.)

According to the story, and probably not inconsistent with what some of you may have observed, many of these European cities have dramatically improved in walkability, transit options, and quality of public space.  How much the policies are related causally to the result isn't clear, but we can assume they've had an impact.

I'm not entirely sure what I think of all this.  I'm a strong proponent of improving urban life by incentivizing higher density, mixed-use development and increasing pedestrian-oriented neighborhood viability and transit-oriented development.  Love it.  Still, I am hesitant to pursue these goals through policies that actually make things worse for some people on purpose.  What do these policies do to affordable housing?  How about people from lower socioeconomic strata that need to make their living from driving goods and services around the city?  How do public shared bikes help women who don't cycle (and families with kids)?  By all means, make mass transit better, faster, more economical.  But purposely creating red-light patterns just to deliberately piss people off just concerns me a bit.  It also would seem to thwart a number of smart-growth-friendly options that nonetheless rely on roads, such as bus rapid transit.

Admittedly I'm looking at this from the urban planning side more than the environmental side, but it seems the environmental benefits of these policies will be much more difficult to observe than the effect on quality of life; it's easy to see the quality of life in the very nice and improved transit-accessible mixed-use public spaces, but these types of policies would seem to generate a lot of external costs--on purpose.  Maybe that's a tradeoff people are willing to make.  But to acheive the same progressive land use goals, I still have a preference for a positive approach (e.g., incentivizing (or even just allowing) smart growth and new urbanism) rather than purposely making some aspects of urban life worse by degrading capabilites to make some people's lives "miserable." 

Matt Festa

June 27, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Comparative Land Use, Density, Downtown, Environmentalism, New Urbanism, Parking, Pedestrian, Planning, Politics, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Giant Kenyan Superhighway

My husband grew up in East Africa and follows the regional news fairly closely.  A couple of days ago he sent me a link to this NPR story about a gigantic superhighway being built in Kenya, 16 lanes wide in some places, that engineers hope will alleviate Nairobi's epic traffic problems.  Apparently, some folks still haven't gotten the decades-old news that  you can't build your way out of traffic congestion...

Jamie Baker Roskie

June 24, 2011 in Comparative Land Use, Globalism, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why Women Don't Cycle

Thanks to my friend Tracie Sanchez of BikeAthens and leader of our local women's cycling group "Westside ladies who ride...in skirts if they wanna" for alerting me to this blog post on Grist.org. An excerpt:

A widely cited 2009 study found that women are more likely to choose to ride on quiet residential streets, while men are more likely to choose direct routes even if they have heavier traffic. Women are an "indicator species" for cycling, this study concludes, and that cities can cajole greater women ridership by building safer-feeling bike infrastructure.

Much is also made of another concern women often express in surveys -- that cycling to work will impede our ability to conform to professional norms in clothing, makeup, and hairstyles. The response can be seen in the proliferation of the "Cycle Chic" brand, tweed rides, and the commingling of bicycling and high fashion in advertising.

There's plenty of truth in both the fear and fashion theories. But before we commit to blaming women's transportation practices on our timidity and vanity, I think it's worth looking at some other potential factors.

Like the economy.

Women are more likely than men to be poor. We still don't earn equal pay -- as recently as 2009, women made 77 cents for each dollar earned by men doing equivalent work. Other factors range from the kind of work available to women to hiring bias against pregnant women and mothers.

Despite the economy of bicycle transportation, households with lower incomes are less likely to have access to bikes. Barriers to bicycling include the cost of bicycle purchase when all one's transportation dollars are tied up in a car, cultural barriers such as perception and police profiling, and lack of access to safe infrastructure in neighborhoods with low housing costs.

On the days I don't cycle, it's more likely that I don't like the safety of the route I would need to take, or that I have to wear "lawyer clothes" on a 100 degree day, but I do believe that overall economic issues lead to a dearth of women riders. But bicycling is potentially economical, healthy transportation for folks in every economic bracket, so it's important to address all factors that keep folks who might want to cycle from doing so.

Jamie Baker Roskie

June 22, 2011 in Transportation | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bus Rapid Transit boom?

A lot of attention gets paid to light rail, high speed rail, and highway expansion as possible (and highly contested) approaches toward solving urban, regional, and national transportation problems.  Comparatively, much less attention is given to the emerging concept of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).  However, several citites are implementing BRT and there seems to be some positive feedback.  From the May/June issue of the APA's Planning magazine, Now Boarding, the 5:15 Express; Bus rapid transit could be the economical answer to light rail.

It's the evening rush hour in downtown Cleveland, and the HealthLine bus pulls up to a sleek, modern station on bustling Euclid Avenue. The stop is brief — subway stop brief. In less than 30 seconds, passengers have gotten on and off and the bus has pulled away. Unlike a typical city bus, there is no line for the fare box. Passengers pay their fare and board from a slightly elevated loading platform something like the platforms  made famous by the express buses in Curitiba, Brazil. In seconds, the 100-passenger bus revs up and heads east on Euclid. It occupies a lane that is reserved for express buses.

To many observers, this is the future of public transit.

Dubbed bus rapid transit, or BRT, this urban transportation mode is designed to look and feel much like a light-rail system, but without the heavy start-up costs.

In addition to all of the politics now surrounding light rail and high speed rail, I think many Americans continue to associate bus travel with lower socioeconomic status; but BRT could help change that.  While it's not as widely known as an option, it could have a lot of upside:

While BRT is a relatively new idea in the U.S., the service is a good fit for many American cities, says Robert Cervero, a professor of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied BRT in Brazil and elsewhere. Because American cities have grown with automobile travel in mind, BRT service can be more easily incorporated than light-rail lines, he says. "I think it is the right technology. It's not the flavor of the day," he adds, referring to the buzz surrounding other new transit trends. "It's a meaningful response to emerging transit needs."

BRT doesn't necessarily have to throw light rail under the bus (sorry), but it's definitely worth more attention.

Matt Festa

June 2, 2011 in Downtown, Local Government, Pedestrian, Planning, Politics, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Alexander on New Regionalist Approaches to Sustainable Communities

Speaking of HUD, here's a new article from Lisa T. Alexander (Wisconsisn) called The Promise and Perils of ‘New Regionalist’ Approaches to Sustainable Communities, forthcoming in the Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 38 (2011).  The abstract:

This Article argues that "new regionalism" is a form of "new governance." New regionalist approaches include collaborative efforts between cities and outlying suburbs to resolve metropolitan challenges such as affordable housing creation, transportation and sprawl. Such practices focus on regions as key sites for the resolution of public problems that transcend traditional local government and state boundaries. New regionalist praxis responds to local government law's failure to advance equity and sustainability throughout metropolitan regions. New regionalism promotes voluntary agreements and interlocal collaborations, rather than formal government or mandated regulation to resolve regional problems. New regionalism, then, is a form of new governance. The term new governance describes problem-solving processes that shift away from traditional government and regulation, towards voluntary, public/private collaborations including multiple stakeholders. New governance supporters assert that such approaches can enhance the participation of traditionally marginalized groups in reform and lead to more equitable outcomes. This Article examines the institutional design of the Obama Administration's Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program (the "Grant Program"), as well as its initial implementation in the Madison, Wisconsin/Dane County area, as a test of these claims. This Article identifies the Grant Program's promise and perils in advancing meaningful stakeholder participation and distributive justice. The Article concludes by making recommendations to improve the Grant Program and by outlining the implications of these observations for new regionalist and new governance practice.

Matt Festa

May 15, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Community Design, HUD, Local Government, Planning, Scholarship, Sprawl, State Government, Suburbs, Sustainability, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Passengers" Radio Documentary

Somewhat ironically I I was driving home, alone, from Atlanta on Sunday night when I heard an episode of Passengers. This is a short series of public radio documentaries about public transportation.  Apparently I heard part three; among other topics, it touts Google Transit. This is a handy service that allows one to plan public transit trips - only not in Athens, as neither "The Bus," nor UGA Campus Transit are participating agencies.  This is somewhat surprising, as the UGA bus system has one of the largest riderships in Georgia, second only to Atlanta's MARTA. (MARTA does participate in Google Transit - it seems to be the only agency in Georgia that does so.)

At any rate, Passengers seems to be a great series on the basic concepts and current debate about public transit and transportation planning in the US.  You might find it to be a helpful teaching tool.

Jamie Baker Roskie

April 26, 2011 in Georgia, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mixed Use/TOD/New Urbanism/Form-Based Codes "Day"

I'm asking for your help.  I've blocked out one day near the end of the semester to focus directly on "modern urban development forms"--i.e., mixed use; transit-oriented development; new urbanism/neotraditional development; form-based codes; etc.  The casebook I use has about ten pages on this, and they're good, but I'd like to supplement it with at least one accessible, interesting article that would help introduce the concepts to students.  We have been talking about these concepts peripherally throughout the semester, but I'd like to spend one class focusing exclusively on them.  I've got lots of great books on these subjects, but I'm looking for an assignable article-length piece; it could be academic or general-interest.

So if you had to pick one article to give to someone as a starting point for learning about the trend toward mixed use and new urbanism, what would it be?  I'd love to know what you think.  Please leave a comment or email me your recommendations.  I'd love to share the recommendations with the blog readers too.  Thanks!

Matt Festa

April 5, 2011 in Form-Based Codes, New Urbanism, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Smartcode, Transect, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Final Four and Land Use in the Unzoned City

Img_0468 As many of you might be aware, the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four has been this weekend in Houston, where I live and teach.  As I write this, the championship game is set to tip off in about an hour in Reliant Stadium, about a mile from my home.  So of course you must be thinking "how is Festa going to turn this into a land use issue?" 

Already done, with my students' help.  On the first day of the semester, to make the point that land use issues intersect with almost everything that goes on in our communities, I put up the home page of the Houston Chronicle and challenged them to explain the land use issues in a given story.  The lead story was something about the then-upcoming Final Four.  So here's some of what we came up with on the fly:

Land assembly--where did they get the land to build the stadium and the parking?  It's next to the old Astrodome (you can see a corner of it in the picture), so I don't believe eminent domain was needed this time around, but you know that's always a big issue with new sports stadiums. 

Use--the Reliant/Astrodome complex was just used up until about two weeks ago for one of the nation's largest Livestock Show & Rodeo events with accompanying carnival.  It's impressive that they could retrofit for the Final Four so quickly.

Transportation--can people get there?  Do the roads need to be widened, etc.?  If so, who pays, and are there legal changes needed?  Houston has a seven-year old light rail that goes from downtown through the Texas Medical Center to the stadium, and it's been quite busy the past weekend.  Also, there've been lots of limos, helicopters, and blimps around town the last few days--where do they go?

Local government--the stadium is goverened not by the City of Houston, but by an independent quasi-public County Sports Authority.  Plus the transportation is governed by a separate Metro agency.  However a lot of coordination is necessary for big events like the Final Four. Final Four 010

Facilities--lots of people coming in from all over the country; where do they stay, etc.  For example, I took a ULI-sponsored construction site tour about a year ago of the just-opened Embassy Suites downtown.  The city's goal was to get a hotel opened in time for the Final Four, so there was a fairly complicated tax incentive scheme put in place that involved changing the law to provide an occupancy-tax break for new hotels sited in a particular space (and they say we don't have zoning based on use).  The incentivized siting was between the light rail and the new Discovery Green park--where a lot of free concerts have been given as part of the festivities--and the downtown convention center, where the "Bracketown" official hoopla program was held.  All of this is just a few blocks from where I teach at South Texas College of Law.  Discovery Green is itself also a recently-built and critically acclaimed new urban park and public space.  Finally, all of the planning and coordination that involves a city's hosting a big event requires lots of logistics, regulatory changes, and many many permit approvals, for things ranging from temporary buildings to new signs.

So my students and I think there are a lot of land use issues involved with having the Final Four in town, and it goes to show that even in the Unzoned City, there are many ways that land use gets regulated and controlled.  It's been fun having all the activity in town, and . . . Go Butler!

UPDATE: It wasn't to be for the underdogs, so congrats to Connecticut.  The photo above was taken by Natalie Festa at almost the exact time that the national championship game tipped off.  "The Road Ends . . ." = land use metaphor?  Tuesday is the women's championship--don't tell my fellow Texans that I'll be pulling for Notre Dame vs. A&M. 

Matt Festa

April 4, 2011 in Development, Downtown, First Amendment, Green Building, History, Houston, Humorous, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Property, Property Rights, Scholarship, Signs, Sun Belt, Teaching, Texas, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Osofsky on Diagonal Federalism and Climate Change

Hari M. Osofsky (Minnesota) has posted Diagonal Federalism and Climate Change: Implications for the Obama Administration, Alabama Law Review, vol. 62 (2011).  The abstract:

The Obama Administration’s efforts on climate change continue to face daunting challenges domestically and internationally. This Article makes a novel contribution by exploring how the Obama Administration can meet these challenges more effectively though systematically addressing the multiscalar character of climate change in the areas where it has greater regulatory control. Mitigating and adapting to climate change pose complex choices at individual, community, local, state, national, and international levels. The Article argues that these choices lead to many diagonal regulatory interactions: that is, dynamics among a wide range of public and private actors which simultaneously cut across levels of government (vertical) and involve multiple actors at each level of government that it includes (horizontal).

After assessing the Obama Administration’s progress on climate change and energy issues, this Article develops a theory of diagonal federalism to explore how the Obama Administration might engage in more effective crosscutting regulatory approaches. It proposes a taxonomy for under-standing how these diagonal interactions vary across multiple dimensions over time. Specifically, the taxonomy includes four dimensions: (1) scale (large v. small); (2) axis (vertical v. horizontal); (3) hierarchy (top-down v. bottom-up); and (4) cooperativeness (cooperation v. conflict). The Article then applies this taxonomy to the case example of the Obama Administration’s efforts at reducing motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions to demonstrate how it can be used as a tool in policy-making.

The Article argues that existing diagonal efforts to regulate what cars we drive tend to be predominantly large-scale, vertical, and top-down, in line with their direct impact on automobile companies. In contrast, approaches targeting how we drive those cars, which affect those companies less directly and are grounded in land use planning, are more likely to be small-scale, horizontal, and bottom-up. This divergence creates an opportunity for normative reflection. The Article argues that the Obama Administration should consider whether these skews are appropriate by taking into account the benefits and limitations of such skews in particular contexts. It then proposes ways in which the Administration could create more balance in the dimensions and argues for the value of that balance. Specifically, the Obama Administration could explore additional opportunities for (1) greater smaller-scale governmental involvement in technology-oriented financial incentives programs; (2) federal-level, top-down, vertical initiatives connecting federal approaches to highways, railroads, and gas prices with smaller-scale efforts to have people drive less in their communities; and (3) litigation, which often has a rescaling effect, by interested individuals, non-govermental organizations, corporations, and government.

Matt Festa

March 17, 2011 in Climate, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Financial Crisis, Scholarship, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)