bicycle infrastructure, bicycles, Blooming Rock, Blooming Rock, density, development, healthy cities, James Gardner, NYC, Phoenix, planning, sprawl, suburbia, urban design, urbanism

CitiBikes in NYC A Hit!

Earlier this month, I wrote a post for Blooming Rock Development‘s blog about the forthcoming Phoenix bike share program. This news came in light of the mishaps with New York City’s CitiBike program. But, as streetsblog reported yesterday, the program is a hit regardless of difficulties with the bikes! This comes at a time when the heat is also so extreme that NYC set a record for the most energy used in a single day.

Citibike Usage

In just 8 weeks, usage skyrockets

As the streetsblog article states, this exceeds usage of bike share bikes in London, a city with approximately the same population. This type of program will certainly increase the number of people using active transportation to get to work, school, or the like. 30,000 daily users (perhaps more) in New York will benefit from a healthier mode of transport. We will see if Phoenix follows in its steps, but the built environment here in Phoenix will likely be a hindrance to high usage of the bikes (though, a spokesman from the City states that Reinvent Phoenix will seek to increase bikeability). Though, at least in NYC, they’ve proven that heat doesn’t deter people from riding!

architecture, bicycles, comprehensive planning, density, density, development, garden cities, healthy cities, James Gardner, neighborhoods, planning, public health, sprawl, suburbia, transportation, Uncategorized, urban design, urbanism

Sustainability, Suburbs, and Cars, too? Can it be true?

All of us involved in urban planning are concerned with the sustainability of our cities, especially as it pertains to automobile use and its side effects (higher rates of obesity, higher rates of hospitalization for asthma, higher rates of cancer, etc.), but it would appear that, despite these significant health concerns, Delucchi and Kurani of U.C. Davis have developed a model “sustainable city” that sees no need to curb auto use or retrofit suburbia. And though we are seeing signs of peak-auto in the U.S. already; the Atlantic Cities states,

“They believe that car ownership is so desirable that any effort to address sustainability must embrace it, rather than defy it.”

This statement may have been reasonable to utter ten years ago, but right now, the demographic trend, and the rise of an informed class of consumers is pushing us toward less automobile use, more transit and TODs, and more people biking and walking to work. HUD even has a move-to-work (MTW) program in place to encourage locally designed, denser, more sustainable development to make federal expenditures more efficient.

Delucchi Kurati Model

Delucchi Kurati Model

Delucchi and Kurani claim that the secret to higher sustainability is the existence of a dual transportation network.

“Traveling around town, residents would take the “light” road network. They would walk, bike, or drive tiny cars incapable of exceeded 25 mph. There would be no on-street parking at all. The general idea is to promote interaction and accessibility. Conventional cars would travel the “heavy” road network out of town, mostly to commute elsewhere for work or shop at big box stores confined outside the city limits.”

This leads to an outcome that mimics two popular models for planners: the garden cities model (pictured below) first proposed by the British planner Ebenezer Howard, implemented in Letchworth and Welwyn; and also the segregated bus rapid transit BRT system for Curitiba, Brazil. Surely, a combination of these two ideas would be potent, but it raises more questions that in it answers.

Garden Cities of Tomorrow

A Model Garden City

Curitiba BRT

Curitiba BRT

For example, would biking and walking increase, or would use of these micro-machines be so convenient that we would take them everywhere in town? Would I be able to drive my privately-owned automobile directly to one of these “heavy” out-of-town corridors, or would it be left at a park-and-ride? If so, this diminishes the desire to own an automobile even more. Why not, at that point, just connect the cities by heavy rail or by BRT systems? Or, why not promote a ZipCar model of car usage, with an on demand availability, rather than continue to promote the status-quo?

To me, this model perpetuates a dying trend while putting an unfamiliar twist on it, which is counter to the psychological reasons for hanging onto the suburban, auto-oriented model in the first place.

What do you think about this? Is it too far-fetched, or would you go for this? Does it solve any problems, especially those associated with the adverse effects of auto-dependency?

advocacy, bicycle advocacy, bicycle infrastructure, bicycles, development, healthy cities, indianapolis, James Gardner, planning, public health, transportation, urban design, urbanindy, urbanism

Indianapolis Poised to receive a Beautiful Buffered Bike Lane

When I think of innovative cycling cities, I think Portland, or New York, or Berkley, or even Minneapolis, but the last word that comes into my mind is Indianapolis. I mean really, Indianapolis? But, here it is – Indianapolis has decided to invest in a buffered bike lane, months after the opening of the Cultural Trail. The buffered lane will extend from 24th to 32nd St. and will have a 4-foot buffer between the automobiles and the cyclists.

Indianapolis Buffered Bike Lane

Buffered Bike Lane on Busy Illinois St. in Indianapolis

So why is this news? A buffered bike lane is quite a progressive move in an American city, and in a city not well known for its progressiveness. According to an article from UrbanIndy

“From 22nd to 32nd on Illinois Street, on street parking will be removed along the east side of the street, the bike lane moved over against the curb, and a 4 foot buffer painted on providing much needed breathing room for cyclists along what feels like a highway during afternoon rush hour. Currently, cyclists are provided a single stripe between them and a lane of automobile traffic. Unfortunately, this will only be a thermo-striped barrier with no physical separations in place however, the double strip design will add a level of separation that does not exist on any of Indianapolis’ other on-street bike lanes.”

This is a huge deal, as bicycle infrastructure vastly improves the safety of cyclists and motorists, and incremental investments can really add up. Planners and engineers alike will agree that the development of bicycle infrastructure can boost bicycle safety, but new data suggest that bicycle infrastructure even adds jobs to the local economy. Along with the Cultural Trail, this new investment in bicycle infrastructure is sure to give Indianapolis a leg up on its competitor cities, even as it sits in the shadow of nearby Minneapolis.

architecture, James Gardner, planning, Uncategorized

Top 20 Architecture Websites

Check out this link to the top 20 architecture websites from my old blogging post – the GRID.

The GRID Covers 20 Top Architecture Sites

The GRID Covers 20 Top Architecture Sites


High Country News – Sequestration sinks stream gauges

High Country News posted an article about the effect of sequestration on stream gauges owned and operated by the United States Geological Service (USGS), that are threatened or endangered due to either sequestration or other funding shortfalls. This article highlights the shortcomings in our thoughts about fiscal policy in this country. It is amazing to me that devices that are around to protect humans from flooding and monitor the environment cannot be funded due to partisan gridlock. Human health should not be jeopardized by shortsightedness. What kind of innovative mechanisms can we employ to prevent this kind of thing in the future? Would it be possible to create a more sustainable energy source for them or a more connected system that requires less money to operate? 

comprehensive planning, detroit, detroit future city, development, health impact assessments, healthy cities, James Gardner, michigan, planning, urban design

Detroit Future City – Healthy?

Detroit Future City (DFC), a plan put together by a coalition of businesses, non-profits, and government officials, has come under scrutiny by a group of organizations called Healthy Neighborhoods for a Healthy Detroit that see the DFC plan as less than ideal. The group – let’s call them Healthy Detroit – has decided to take a Health Impact Assessment approach in evaluating the DFC plan. Their conclusion is that the DFC planning process wasn’t very transparent, and that health impacts have not been taken into consideration during the process, especially for the areas of the city it proposes to end the provision of services to. A post on The GRID by blogger Meg Mulhall speaks more directly to the disconnection of services to the disenfranchised neighborhoods in Detroit. The Huffington Post takes a decidedly different view of the Detroit Future City plan and beams about its inclusions, which focus on economic growth, land use, city systems, neighborhood revitalization, physical assets and civic engagement. This plan is beautiful, there is no denying that.

City Systems Evaluation

City Systems Evaluation

From a stand land use planning perspective, I must say I agree with HuffPo and that the DFC plan does have some exciting inclusions, like the possibility for a live-make zone, where artisans can create and live in the same spaces. But, it is arguable that a plan touting its city’s potential as a “future city” should include at least a modicum of attention to public health impacts made by the built environment. The AMA has officially declared obesity a disease, and obesity rates are higher in the US than any other country, you’d be a fool not to consider this in a 21st century planning effort.

Obesity Rates by State

Obesity Rates by State

Detroit has had its problems of late – auto industry decline (though it’s recovering), real estate collapse, real estate market monopoly, etc. etc. – but it can position itself as a truly innovative city by embracing the next generation of planning tools, such as HIAs, which would enable the city to leverage its proposed community garden corridors and its young, talented creative class.

andres duany, architecture, density, density, development, elizabeth plater-zyberk, Federal Housing Administration, infill, James Gardner, james howard kunstler, jeff speck, neighborhoods, planning, sprawl, suburbia, transportation, urban design, urbanism, Veterans Administration

Encouraging Homeownership Without Encouraging Sprawl

The American dream of homeownership has been embedded in our consciousness, that picket fence, the half-acre yard, you know the routine. There is one problem with this vision: with the large lots, the 2-car garages, and wide, curvilinear streets, sprawl, disconnectedness, and the automobile have come to rule the day.

Many great accounts of how suburbia came to be the dominant development paradigm in America are available, so I will just summarize here. James Howard Kunstler’s masterpiece The Geography of Nowhere  serves up a grave account of the tragic rise and decline of the American landscape. For a focus on the political economy of the suburbanization of America, Kenneth T. Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier is an excellent resource. And from the team at the forefront of New Urbanism, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck; Suburban Nation is a great resource for discovering the coming change in urban form.

Sun City Aerial Photo

A sprawling suburb near Phoenix, Arizona

This change is urban form is being inspired partially by us millennials, who aren’t too enamored by the current auto-dominated world in which we’ve grown up. A recent report by US PIRG show that millennials are reluctant to drive, a trend that many are associating with a blossoming online social world. Another interesting trend causing peakdriving and peak-VMT is the large number of baby-boomers dropping out of the workforce. The US PIRG report asserts that it may be 2040 before driving rises to the 2007 peak again, despite the 21% increase in population over the same period. The New York Times recently published an article covering this trend as led by the youth of the nation, and Streetsblog DC called my attention to a part of the report that is especially interesting – we millennials won’t shun the automobile forever, just until we get old, and even then, we’re probably not going to drive as much.

IBBN Flatpack Home

IBBN Flatpack Home

All this leads me to my point – the model for American homeownership needs to be adjusted to this new demographic trend. FHA and VA loans have special requirements tied to them that tend to favor newly constructed homes, most of which have been constructed at the fringes of cities. Last year, The Atlantic published an article about the decline of homeownership among young people, with the take-away points that young people are finding less employment, staying single longer, and therefore, buying less homes. Here is an observation from a young person who has secured a mortgage – the houses available aren’t what I want! I would love to see a condo, or maybe a townhome, that was in a denser urban area, that would allow me to sell my car and make a bigger downpayment, and would still qualify for an FHA loan, so I don’t have to have that 20% down. Take this home for example: a flatpack (think IKEA) home that can I can build myself in just 6-8 weeks. That’s the idea that some Dutch companies are floating to increase homeownership among the younger generation there. The cost is just $150,000 dollars, there is no labor cost, because you build it yourself, meaning you can customize it, the cost is fixed, and the financing options are available for anyone with an income of about $38,000 to $58,000. That’s solidly middle-class, where most of us millennials can expect to land, given the decline in real wages over the past 40 years (see chart below). Another advantage of these flatpack homes is that many jurisdictions in the U.S. will allow them in site-built only neighborhoods (usually the most restrictive zoning classification), as they are built on-site by the homeowner.

Real Median Earnings

Long-term Real Median Earnings for Males

It’s clear to me that the current American model of homeownership, two-and-a-half kids, Spot, Fido, and that great, big lawn is out-of-date. Our generation, and probably the following generations, will continue to demand walkable, bikeable, connected, and vibrant cities for the foreseeable future. This is not just because it is the cool thing to do (though Jeff Speck’s new book, Walkable City has certainly inspired a trend among planners), it’s because we want to shy away from the dependence upon or cars and fossil fuels and get back to a world where we can walk or bike to work, and get some exercise on the way.

How can we plan for peak-auto, cater to a generation who would like to walk or bike to work, or perhaps even telecommute? We can invest in more bicycle infrastructure, as I mentioned in my last post, but we can also encourage a culture of activity, rather than a culture of gridlock and waste.