Murder Machines: Why Cars Will Kill 30,000 Americans This Year. A good essay-length look at how social norms regarding streets and safety have changed over the last century, and why our current norms and design guidelines lead very predictably to tends of thousands of preventable deaths each year. Covers a lot of the same territory as Peter D. Norton’s excellent book Fighting Traffic, which gives a detailed historical account of the transition, between about 1915 and 1930, from streets being universally accessible public space to being nearly the sole domain of motorized transportation. Ralph Nader effectively spearheaded a campaign for safety measures that protect those inside these deadly vehicles. We need just as powerful a champion for those outside them, who make up about a third of all motor vehicle casualties in the US. Streets don’t have to be designed to kill people. Giving up a little bit of convenience for motorists frees up a lot of space and safety for everyone else.
I’ve always been a sucker for a good time lapse. This one strikes me as a time lapse within a time lapse. It’s half a day, compressed into less than 5 minutes, with people flitting around like moths, posing for pictures with an ice sculpture of the future. Only the time lapse eyes of the camera can see what’s happening. And by the end the passers by probably can’t even tell what the message might have been. But the art is a piece of time lapse too. A century or a millennium compressed into a day of melting. Even that is a stretch for our attention span. Even the 5 minute video seems long and slow. How can we create a society with a more meditative mindset? With an attention span that reflects the extent of our impacts in deep time?
Will Toor and Mike Salisbury at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project have put together a good paper called Managed Lanes in Colorado (it’s a PDF) that looks at the policy rationale behind (and a few issues with) creating additional highway capacity in the form of managed lanes with tolling, that also allow high occupancy vehicles and transit to take advantage of the investment, addressing some of the “Lexus Lane” criticism of using tolls in the public right of way (on projects that are still mostly publicly funded). It’s not quite as fun to read as my magnum opus from this winter on the same topic (US 36: For Whom the Road Tolls) but might be more appropriate for forwarding to policymakers.
It’s the relative attractiveness of different modes of transportation that shapes our choices, and American cities are still terrified of making driving less attractive. This really puts a cap on what fraction of trips we can get over to biking, walking and mass transit. Partly because driving is such an ingrained cultural norm (even if it’s just as easy to drive as to bike, the default behavior amongst most people will be to drive), and partly because accommodating cars well means degrading the walking, biking and transit amenities. In a place like Boulder where people actually have alternatives to driving — no, not everyone, and not for every trip, but many people for many trips — we have to start putting some downward pressure on driving, or we’re never going to get much past our current bike/ped/transit shares. And it’s not like this has to be punitive — a lot of it is just removing historical crutches that have been provided to cars, like free parking. Cities like Bern and Freiburg and Zürich have 70% or more of their trips being done outside of personal motorized vehicles. It’s doable (in the fullness of time). Let’s do it!
In 2010 Portland, Oregon made it cheap and easy for people to build ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units — also known as “granny flats”, “in-law apartments”, “carriage houses”, etc — small secondary dwellings that are on an existing property), and to nobody’s surprise, the tiny homes boomed. This kind of housing adds density without changing neighborhood character, lets people live lighter on the land, and helps makes housing affordable both for the renters, and the homeowners who now have a rental income that was impossible before. And they do it all without any public subsidy.
Boulder can do this too.
There have been a bunch of links floating around recently about the German city of Hamburg’s plans to “go car free” in the next 15-20 years. For example this BBC Future article which references this post on Inhabitat, which then points to Arch Daily which finally links directly to the actual city planning site from Hamburg (auf deutsch of course).
Unfortunately, these seem to be just click-bait headlines. As far as I can tell (and I don’t read German) the real point of the plan is to create an extensive, connected network of bike and pedestrian greenways that provide easy access to the entire city, without requiring users to interact with motor vehicle traffic, “eliminating the need for cars.” Which is awesome! But also very different from “going car free”. There are plenty of cities where cars are generally unnecessary, but some people still choose to use them some of the time, and I don’t see why Hamburg would end up being any different after the implementation of the greenway plan.
A great series of 5 posts from Charles Mahron at Strong Towns on how the suburban growth pattern we’ve seen in the US for the last 60 years is indistinguishable from a growth Ponzi scheme. We use federal (or sometimes state) money to make capital investments, but leave the maintenance and operational costs to local governments, which usually have no revenue source sufficient to fulfill that obligation — because this type of development does not come anywhere close to being economically productive enough to pay its own way in terms of tax revenues. For a while you can continue this by making ever larger capital transfers for more growth… but like all Ponzi schemes, it eventually collapses in ruin.
I have some urban envy: a development under construction in the Lloyd neighborhood of Portland called Hassalo on 8th (almost like you’d buy it at Ikea…) has 657 apartments, 1,200 bike parking spaces, and 328 (underground) car parking spaces on 4 city blocks with car-free streets between them. They hope to land a grocer for one of the ground floors. Special attention to parking for families (cargo bikes and trailers). Bike Portland has more details.
One of the new buildings is 20 stories tall, but if everything on the superblock were built to 7 stories, I think overall it would have a similar FAR or probably close enough anyway.
And why is it we can’t we build something like this in Boulder?
Moving to the city seems to be a one-way trip, and a couple of new studies sheds some light on why.
People re-normalize risks that they are exposed to on a regular basis, while often over-estimating novel risks. Driving is vastly more dangerous than flying, but it’s much more common for people who drive regularly to fear flying. In the same way, “crime” is often cited as a risk associated with city living, but once you’ve been exposed to the risk for a long time, and it is familiar, the perceived severity of that risk decreases significantly.
At the same time, it turns out your mode of transportation — the way you pass through the world around you — affects your snap judgements about the people you encounter. Driving makes it much more likely that you will assume the worst about others, while walking predisposes you toward relating to them as human beings.
So once you’ve moved to the city, and begun to live an urban, walking life, it feels like a safer, homier, more human place to you.
Graphing Parking is a site dedicated to visualizing the wonkery laid out in Don Shoup’s tome The High Cost of Free Parking. It maps out visually the requirements that different cities have for parking associated with various land uses all over the country. Occasionally they make sense…. but generally, it’s a random city destroying mess.