Posts Tagged ‘sprawl’

Jane Jacobs: Going beyond the simple needs

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

The My Wheels are Turning blog has another great article about urban design in Traverse City. That article reminds us of this Jane Jacobs quote.

Automobiles are often conveniently tagged as the villains responsible for the ills of cities and the disappointments and futilities of city planning. But the destructive effects of automobiles are much less a cause than a symptom of our incompetence at city building. The simple needs of automobiles are more easily understood and satisfied than the complex needs of cities, and a growing number of planners and designers have come to believe that if they can only solve the problems of traffic, they will thereby have solved the major problems of cities. Cities have much more intricate economic and social concerns than automobile traffic. How can you know what to try with traffic until you know how the city itself works, and what else it needs to do with its streets? You can’t.
— Jane Jacobs, Death and Life of Great American Cities

Bicycle advocates can find many examples to support Jacob’s quote. It’s relatively easy to define transportation problems in terms of motor vehicle levels of service (LOS) and average daily traffic (ADT). LOS and ADTs are easily measured and quantified for motor vehicles.

How do you measure real and perceived safety issues that create latent demand for non-motorized transportation options?

There’s also been recent discussion nationally about how congestion is measured in the U.S. This discussion was kicked off with the recent CEO for Cities report called, Driven Apart: How sprawl is lengthening our commutes and why misleading mobility measures are making things worse.

A new report from CEOs for Cities unveils the real reason Americans spend so much time in traffic and offers a dramatic critique of the 25 year old industry standard created by the Texas Transportation Institute’s Urban Mobility Report (UMR) – often used to justify billions of dollars in expenditures to build new roads and highways…

A close examination shows that the UMR has a number of major flaws that misstate and exaggerate the effects of congestion, particularly the Travel Time Index (TTI).  TTI is the ratio of average peak hour travel times to average free flow travel times… Because this methodology does not take into account travel distances, it universally rewards cities that are spread out as opposed to compact urban areas.

It’s bottom line, common sense conclusion: “What creates traffic jams isn’t more cars and fewer highways, it’s sprawl.”

And Transportation for America published this article today which concurs.

The cycle is familiar by now. A study tells us what we all know: our roads are congested. We pour billions into new roads and lanes to “reduce congestion.” Then the study comes out two years later and just as before, our roads are still congested. There’s a call for new roads, new roads open up, we drive further and further, congestion goes up. Rinse and repeat.

That hypothetical study exists in Metro Detroit. It’s SEMCOG’s Congestion Management System Plan. It fails to mention sprawl as a possible cause for congestion (and never mentions increased bicycling as a partial solution.)

It does focus plenty on the LOS’s for motorists during peak travel time.

Oakland County: Healthy communities are not a priority

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

First Lady Michelle Obama has kicked off a national campaign to fight childhood obesity which helps tie sprawl to unhealthy living.

In my home, we weren’t rich. The foods we ate weren’t fancy. But there was always a vegetable on the plate. And we managed to lead a pretty healthy life.

Many kids today aren’t so fortunate. Urban sprawl and fears about safety often mean the only walking they do is out their front door to a bus or a car. Cuts in recess and gym mean a lot less running around during the school day, and lunchtime may mean a school lunch heavy on calories and fat. For many kids, those afternoons spent riding bikes and playing ball until dusk have been replaced by afternoons inside with TV, the Internet, and video games.

Similarly, the U.S. Surgeon General released a report stating:

The car-dependent design of our communities has made it much harder for our children to walk to school and much harder for us to shop and do other errands entirely on foot or by bicycle.

Recommendations include:

  • Build or enhance infrastructures to support more walking and bicycling.
  • Support locating schools within easy walking distance of residential areas.

Now contrast that with Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s archaic position on sprawl:

Well, let me state it unequivocally: I love sprawl. I need it. I promote it. Oakland County can’t get enough of it. Are you getting the picture?

Then in his 2010 state of the county address, Patterson said he’d allocate $50K per year from the Brooksie Way run to healthy living mini-grants:

I want Oakland County to be the healthiest county in the United States and I want my residents to enjoy a healthy quality of life.

So, mayors, supervisors, community leaders, there is $50,000 available to you for programs which have as their sole purpose the improvement of the health of your residents.

Patterson clearly doesn’t understand the connection between sprawl, obesity and unhealthy living.

In the first such national study, health researchers found that people who live in counties marked by sprawl-style development tend to weigh more, are more likely to be obese and are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure

As for his $50,000 program, keep in mind that Oakland County gives $1 million a year to the Road Commission for Oakland County to build and expand roads.

Improving Oakland County’s quality of life is clearly in the backseat, if not the trunk.

And we are getting the picture.

Estimating Bikability in Metro Detroit

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

The Center for Neighborhood Technology recently released a web tool that allows you to look at different geographic data relating to housing and transportation costs.

It’s called the H+T Affordability index. The thought is we shouldn’t look just at housing costs when evaluating house affordability. We need to consider transportation costs as well.

Often you’ll hear home buyers mention how much more house they can get further in the sprawling areas. What’s often not mentioned is living there has higher transportation costs because there’s more driving, less public transit, and reduced walkability and bikeability. Combining housing and transportation costs should give a more accurate estimation of affordability.

What’s interesting about the H+T web tool is it lets you select and view different datasets. One very interesting dataset is the average street block size. The smaller the blocksize, the most walkable the area likely is.

And more bikeable.

Below is a screenshot showing average block sizes for Metro Detroit. Based on my experience, this matches well with this area’s bikeability. Detroit and the inner ring suburbs are very good while the outer suburbs are not very good at all.

Average block size for Metro Detroit

There are some dark spots in otherwise bikeable communities. These are often parks, golf courses, major industrial zones, or other superblocks.

Does this map estimate road bikability in your neighborhood?

New Urbanism: Built to Last

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Yo, here’s a fun, snappy Friday video via Streetsblog:

Accessibility vs. Mobility

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Traffic engineer Ian Lockwood from Glatting Jackson has been to Detroit a few times now for planning efforts to spur redevelopment and revitalization.

He’s highlighted a key concept for bicycle, pedestrian, and transit advocates. Current U.S. traffic engineering culture pursues greater mobility, i.e. how fast someone can get between places. That’s often why they are stuck thinking primarily about cars, wider roads, higher speeds, and interstate expressways.

Lockwood says we should all focus on accessibility instead. In doing so, we’d try to rein in sprawl, increase density, and improve transportation options.

Perhaps given our automotive heritage, Detroit seems particulary focused on mobility. A recent Brookings Institute report found Metro Detroit led the nation in job sprawl. Seventy-seven percent of our jobs are more than 10 miles from the city center.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“From transportation to workforce development to regional innovation and the provision of social services, the spatial distribution of a metro area’s jobs can ultimately influence its economic productivity, environmental sustainability, and social inclusion and equity,” wrote Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior research analyst at Brookings and author of the 23-page report.

Is there any wonder why we can’t find enough money to repair our roads?

At a recent traffic engineering meeting, Jonathon Levine, a researcher from the University of Michigan gave a presentation about accessibility versus mobility. Fortunately it’s on-line but be forewarned: it’s a little traffic geeky. Even so, the first couple minutes really nail the point about accessibility versus mobility.

And for those that can’t make it through the entire video, this slide really captures the main thrust that accessibility should be the ends. The means includes mobility, proximity (how close things are together) and connectivity (can you access them remotely, e.g. through the Internet).

Levine's Accessibility model for transportation

This needs to be the transportation paradigm for Metro Detroit, and if it were, it’d make bicycling a viable transportation option for more people more often.