Thursday, July 31, 2008

Walkable communities make us healthier

Duh!!! As we've noted on this here blog many times before, more and more studies show that living a more active lifestyle in a walkable community can promote better health. Now a University of Utah study is out which again adds credence to this argument. The study has been picked up by most news sources. Here's the NY Times on it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Kunstler on the tragic comedy of suburban sprawl

Q&A with the author of The Geography of Nowhere.

Sidewalks critical to the health of a community

I have been meaning to write a several-post series using many of the tenets contained in The Death and Life of Great American Cities as a basis while relating those tenets to issues we face today, but this opinion could be a start. Jane Jacobs starts Death and Life with a several-chapter discussion of the importance of sidewalks. Fifty years later, sidewalks remain extremely important. Without sidewalks, there is no walkability.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Walkability on NPR

Alex Chadwick interviews Christopher Leinberger about the "walkability" of neighborhoods in the wake of Walk Score's list of walkable cities. Did I say walk enough?

The End of White Flight?

A very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal examines the recent trend in large cities throughout the country of an increase in the white population in city centers. The author looks at the effects of this trend and touches on possible reasons, but misses the boat. As we have discussed numerous times on this site, more and more people seek a more dense, walkable community, with access to public transporation and parks, retail and other commercial opportunities within walking distance and shorter commute times. The property available with such amenities is inevitably in the city core as opposed to the suburbs. The story is not really one about race but about a general population increase in the city core. Its about walkability, not race.

The Crocs 6 walkable cities

This time from Crocs, the rubbery shoe manufacturer. The cities include New Orleans, Denver, Aspen, Vail, San Francisco and Las Vegas.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Thursday, July 17, 2008

WalkScore ranks America's most walkable cities

WalkScore has produced a list of the most walkable cities in the country, with the top 10 profiled on the site. No real surprises on the list, save maybe L.A. Here are the top 10:

1. San Francisco
2. New York
3. Boston
4. Chicago
5. Philadelphia
6. Seattle
7. Washington, D.C.
8. Long Beach
9. Los Angeles
10. Portland

The guys behind WalkScore have added some really cool features, incorporating what they did originally in Seattle to many other cities. I love the mapping tool which shows which parts of town are car dependent, somewhat walkable, very walkable and a walker's paradise. The rankings also list the walk scores for individual neighborhoods within each city.

Looking further down the list of the top 40 U.S. cities, I'm a little surprised by a few rankings. Houston ranks higher than Austin, which is a huge surprise. Charlotte is lower at 38 than Atlanta at 22. While that may be true for the city as a whole, it is certainly not true for the city center in Charlotte, which I've found to be one of the most walkable in the South.

Other cool new features on the site include a list of 138 "walkers paradises," neighborhoods with a walk score of 90 or above (The top 10 are all in NY or SF.), an article promoting walkable neighborhoods as a solution to problems including the energy crisis by Alan Durning of the Sightline Institute, Back to the Future: Walkable Urbanism by Christopher Leinberger, and a petition to implore Congress to support walking, biking and transit in the 2009 Transportation Bill.

Check out WalkScore and find the score of your neighborhood.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An update on the Honolulu rail issue

We included three articles from the Honolulu paper examining the light rail experiences of D.C., Charlotte and Portland. This is in advance of the proposed $3.7 billion rail project in Honolulu. Now comes news that the anti-rail group Stop Rail Now has temporarily failed in its attempt to bring the issue to a general vote, although they vow to keep fighting.

I agree with Stop Rail Now's attempt to get the issue put before a general election. The spending of (likely) over $4 billion on something that will have a tremendous impact on the everyday lives of Honoluluans is important enough to place on the general ballot. However, I seriously disagree with Stop Rail Now's reasons for opposing rail. Let's address a few:

1. Rail will costs billions. Yes, it will, but so will the continued cost to upgrade and improve the highway system, to build more and wider (and wider, and wider...) highways, to create the system of underpasses and elevated expressways for which Stop Rail Now argues, to fund solutions to deal with the environmental issues caused by all of those cars and to develop infrastructure to house all those cars (i.e. structured parking decks, surface parking lots, etc.).

2. Rail will be an "environmental blight" snaking through town as high as 120 feet. Somehow this supposed "environmental blight" is much worse in the eyes of Stop Rail Now than a system of highways, including the elevated expressways mentioned above, snaking through Honolulu. One rail line is much easier to disguise from view than a 10 lane interstate. This does not even consider the issue of the environmental pollution caused by cars versus the lack thereof caused by light rail, which Stop Rail Now fails to mention. This argument is ridiculous.

3. Rail is noisy. And cars are not? If you have stood next to a new light rail line such as the one in Charlotte versus an interstate, at any time of day, I am convinced you would state that the highway is MUCH noisier than light rail.

Put the issue before a vote, but vote for rail in Honolulu.

Cities struggling to meet increased transit demand

A CNN report examines the issue we have previously discussed regarding the rise in mass transit ridership in recent months. Note that those cities that have engaged in comprehensive, regional transit planning efforts (Denver, Phoenix) seem to be reaping the benefits today. Unfortunately Atlanta, as the article notes, does not have such a region-wide plan. Mayor Franklin can make excuses, but there simply seems to be no leader willing to take charge of this very important issue. As we have previously argued, Atlanta is in desperate need of a regional transportation PLAN. It is time for action.

Another study linking walkable neighborhoods and good health

This time is is the journal Epidemiology, finding that walkable neighborhoods help to decrease the risk of high blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health. This comes on the heels of similar studies by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association.

Five Reasons to Love $4 Gas

From the left wing AlterNet, five reasons to love $4 gas.

1. The mass transit boom. As we have noted on this site, there is push for additional and better mass transit throughout the country and beyond. Ridership is up in many places that have existing mass transit, and many locations are considering installing new transit.

2. Lower obestity rates. I think this CAN happen with more walkable communities, more people using alternative commuting methods such as walking and bicycling, but I don't think this is happening yet. Walkability certainly can lead to lower obesity and better health, but $4 gas does not directly lead to lower obestity rates.

3. Fewer accidents. This again is caused by fewer cars on the road due to more use of alternative commuting methods, including mass transit. Less cars should also mean a little less road rage, reducing accidents even further. But again, we have not yet seen direct evidence of this yet.

4. Shorter commutes. Well, if I am any indication of a trend, this is happening. As we noted regarding Atlanta, more people are moving back into the city core, reducing commuting time. This trend started before $4 gas, but should continue as more people do the math that I've done.

5. The alternative fuels craze. We'll see where this leads, but there is certainly more publicity given to hybrids, ethanol, electric cars and the like these days. With GM continuing to experience a decline, could the big car companies' grip on transportation and petroleum-based cars be slipping? Again, we shall see.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Stop harrassing cyclists

Nice opinion piece over the weekend in the L.A. Times urging motorists to share the road with cyclists and to "give them a break." Guess some of these folks in Portland didn't quite get the message.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Parts of Broadway to become dedicated pedestrian, bike areas

I missed this last week, but apparently NYC is shutting down 2 of 4 lanes on Broadway between 42nd & Herald Square to create a public park-like setting along the east side of the street, with pedestrian areas including cafe tables, chairs and umbrellas, and a dedicated bike lane.

Instead of the proposed streetcars in Atlanta, I wouldn't mind seeing this tried on parts of Peachtree.

How to Live Well Without a Car

Chris Balish, author of How to Live Well Without Owning a Car, was featured on the Today show this morning, giving us tips on how to either live without a car or to significantly cut down on car usage. As I noted on Friday, the savings can be significant.

Toward walkability -- and happiness

Dan Burden, one of the leading experts, advocates and consultants on walkable communities, pens an article in San Jose's Mercury News arguing that walkable communities make us, as a people, happier. This follows the article we noted linking walkability and mental health.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Atlanta's in-town popluation booming

Apparently I'm not alone. More people want to abandon their cars, live in a walkable area and avoid the long, gas-guzzling commute here in Atlanta. If this is happening in a city known for sprawl, suburbia and a love of the car, it can happen anywhere.

America's top fuel-efficient neighborhoods

This ABC News/Forbes study looks at several factors, including the walkability of these areas, in determining the average cost of transit. This got my thinking about my situation. I recently moved into a high-rise building located next door to my high-rise office building. Although my rent is slightly higher than a comparable place located away from the walkable, urban center of Buckhead, I calculated my car-related savings as follows:

Parking: It costs $90 per month to park in our new office building. Since parking is included in my rent next door, I pocket this $1080 per year.

Gas: I drive a Honda Accord, which costs about $50 to fill up these days. If I lived about 10 miles from work, I'd probably fill up the car about once a week, considering I'd likely also be driving more on the weekends and after work in a non-walkable community. Now I fill up about once a month. So instead of spending about $2600 per year on gas, I'm spending about $600, an annual savings of about $2000.

Maintenance: This is much harder to calculate precisely, but the reduced miles means fewer oil changes, filter changes, tire rotations, etc. I lease my car, so it also means that I'm not exceeding my allowable annual miles per my lease agreement. As an estimate, I'd peg the savings at about $500 per year.

Total: Total savings comes to about $3500 per year. That means I can afford a monthly rent about $300 more than I would pay in a non-walkable community.

The trade-off is well worth it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Does congestion pricing really work?

There have been several recent discussions in major cities nationwide about the use of congestion pricing to ease the burden of cars in the core of major metropolitan areas. The benefits of this seem obvious -- fewer cars within cities with the proceeds from higher fees for those that choose to pay the toll going towards transit improvements. This tactic does move towards what Jane Jacobs called the attrition of automobiles, but does it solve the problem?

The following is taken from The Death and Life of Great American Cities:

In real life, which is quite different from the life of dream cities,
attrition of automobiles by cities is probably the only means by which absolute numbers of vehicles can be cut down. It is probably the only realistic means by which better public transportation can be stimulated, and greater intensity and vitality of city use be simultaneously fostered and accommodated.

However, a strategy of attrition of automobiles by cities cannot be arbitrary or negative. Nor is such a policy capable of giving dramatic results suddenly. Although its cumulative effects should be revolutionary, like any strategy aimed at keeping things working it has to be engaged in as a form of evolution.

Will congestion pricing result in an effective attribution of automobiles over the long term, or will drivers simply elect to pay the tolls?

Centers for Disease Control promotes walkable streets

Among other things to help prevent disease, the CDC recommends more walkable areas and biking. This follows up a similar pronouncement by the American Heart Association. Walkable communities can not only reduce our use of gas, but they can reduce our overall healthcare costs in this country through preventetive measures and more healthy living.

The effect of high gas prices on commercial real estate

Very interesting article from CoStar on the effects of high gas prices on commercial real estate, from changes in industrial and logistical development to changes in residential development and density to changes in rents and lending guidelines.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Two-thirds of Texans approve spending tax dollars on light rail

That's according to this editorial in the Dallas Morning News citing a poll by the Texas Lyceum. No doubt Texas, with its miles and miles of roads, long commutes and preponderance of large vehicles, is feeling the gas pinch even more than most of the country, so it is no surprise there is this sentiment. It will be interesting to see, though, if this sentiment is maintained in the event gas prices recede.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Debate on the Death of Suburbia

Today's WSJ blog Developments looks at the debate over the future of suburbia in this country. If the growing number of exurban areas with new, empty housing is any indication, the odds favor the Leinberger prediction.

Time for a comprehensive transportation plan in Atlanta

An opinion piece today in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution considers the issue facing Gwinnett County voters -- whether to approve a one cent sales tax to finance an extension of the MARTA rail line from Dekalb to Gwinnett County. The piece hits on the primary issue facing transportion throughout the Atlanta area, that is the need for a regional transportation plan addressing all forms of transportation throughout the metro Atlanta area.

Atlanta has long been a model of sprawl, but recent infill, mixed-use projects have brought many more residents back into town. That is a positive step, and it allows people like me to live, work and play all within walking distance (I live next door to my office building in Buckhead). But, a more comprehensive plan is required to address the region's growth and struggling transportation infrastructure. MARTA has suffered throughout its existence from a combination of poor planning, poor perception and NIMBY-ism. Counties like Cobb and Gwinnett blocked attempts to extend the rail line into their communities for fear of attracting lower-income, urban commuters. This short-sighted thinking has resulted in more, larger highways to transport residents of Cobb and Gwinnett into the areas of Buckhead, Midtown and Downtown for work. Those residents have few mass transit options and are forced to drive into the city core. The problem has worsened with $4 a gallon gas.

Solutions such as a comprehensive, region-wide transportation plan involving MARTA rail and bus, GDOT and other stakeholders can alleviate some of this problem. But, the problem won't be addressed on a piecemeal basis. Extensions of the MARTA line won't be built overnight; in the meantime, gas prices will continue to increase. The time is now for comprehensive planning on transportation in the entire metro Atlanta region.

Gas prices increasing transit use

Even in southern California!!!

D.C.'s Light Rail

The third in the series of articles from the Honolulu Advertiser examines the proposed D.C.-Dulles line extension with a focus on the challenges of obtaining federal funds for mass transit projects.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Lessons from Portland's light rail system

The second in the series of articles in the Honolulu Advertiser looks at Portland's relatively "old" light rail system, often cited as a model for light rail and transit oriented development. Its not perfect, and any such system will certainly have its critics, but it continues to attempt to improve upon itself.

New Charlotte light rail ridership higher than expected

The first in a series of articles in the Honolulu Advertiser examining that city's proposed light rail system looks at the new light rail system in Charlotte, its early successes and challenges.

$7 gas and 10 million fewer cars on the roads

There are some very interesting projections in this CIBC World Markets research paper (thanks to the Freakonomics blog), essentially predicting a U.S. automobile environment similar to that in Europe.

Sacramento's efforts to promote density and walkability

Great article in the Wall Street Journal today focusing on Sacramento's efforts to impose density, transit-oriented development and walkability in a very car-driven town. As this article suggests, promoting these plans is not always easy, and developers sometimes have to get creative to get dense, mixed-use developments constructed. But, the wave is upon us, and I believe we will see more policies like this in the coming years, with the development and lending communities altering their policies accordingly.

10 Walkable US Vacation spots

I'm surprised Seaside is not included in this list, but I guess it gets enough pub for its walkability and new urbanism.

Fayetteville, Arkansas may discourage cul-de-sacs

In a move that would make Jane Jacobs proud, the City Council in Fayetteville is considering a measure which, among other things, would discourage cul-de-sacs, promote the street grid system and require shorter blocks with more frequent intersections. All great efforts to improve walkability.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Walking vs. Driving a "no brainer"

The Center for American Progress on the benefits of walking over driving, refuting a NY Times blog from February arguing that driving is actually better for the environment than walking.

A lighthearted take on sprawl and its effect on mental health

From my hometown's Baton Rouge Business Report.

Linking walkability, community involvement and mental health

Interesting opinion piece in Carson City's Nevada Appeal discussing how walkable downtowns lead to a sense of community attachment. Many articles promote the positive physcial health aspects of walking and walkable communities, but I like the mental health aspect this article implies. Walkability is good for the body AND the mind!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

More on gas forcing walkable communities

While I believe it will take more than just high gas prices to create a major demand for walkable communities, at least this is a start, and probably the start of a longer trend as this article predicts.

American Heart Association promotes walkability to curb obesity

Among other changes in our social structure, the AHA points to more walkable communities as a way to reduce obesity, according to an AHA statement in the journal Circulation.