Monday, December 29, 2014

New from Nathan Lewis

Life Without Cars 2014
Once a year, we take a little time to imagine Life Without Cars. Many people live without cars today, and also without bicycles (at least for daily transport use), mostly in urban areas with good public transportation. In the developing world also, most people don't own cars, and live in urban areas with good public transportation. Before 1900, nobody used cars. ...

Continue reading at the link!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A short opinion piece from Scotland that you should read

Car-free city centres a must by Norman Armstrong
"REPORTS in The Herald as I write (November 20) tragically illustrate points I made (Letters, November 15), that our addiction to oil and cars constitutes the overwhelming problem facing western society, a problem disproportionally concentrated in Glasgow."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Required reading for today!

Here's an article that's a must-read for anyone interested in building better places in our communities. Density is not the answer, Place to Non-Place ratio is.

Places and Non-Places

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A new development built in the traditional style!

Sure, it's located in the midst of the sprawliness of outer Santa Barbara, but it's a start! Las Palmas Viejas is a small development of several "villas" off a highway west of downtown Santa Barbara. The designers involved in this project did a fine job incorporating garage doors & an even better job at the design of the "street" (which is effectively a cul-de-sac). Notice how there is no separation of sidewalk and roadbed. A change in paving stone colour does the same job while refusing to distinguish clearly separate spaces for cars and walkers, thus calming traffic.

Even at such a small scale, it's encouraging to see developers willing to try this type of project instead of typical suburban housing or superblock "townhomes."

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Look at Boone (Part 2: King Street)

King Street is Boone's primary commercial strip, and is one of the top "main streets" in North Carolina. For a half-mile the street is lined with numerous shops and restaurants. Even though it attracts a good amount of foot traffic, the sidewalk is wide enough that there is never a feeling of being jammed between the buildings and the parking lane. At times the sidewalk is arcaded, which is a plus on wet days.

View Larger Map

However (there's always a "however," isn't there?)... King Street's bipolar personality of walkable main street and major thoroughfare is detrimental. For example, the vehicular right-of-way is wide to the point that crossing is rather uncomfortable. Though the speed limit is low enough that you don't have to play human Frogger while trying to cross (like too many streets), King Street gets enough traffic to act as a barrier to businesses on the other side. The number of parking areas on the southern side (the right side in the picture) also kills the streetwall effect and most people prefer to walk on the other side.
Overall, King Street is solid by North Carolina standards but possesses way too many characteristics of modernistic, post-car urban design.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Appalachian Urbanity? A Look at Boone (Part 1: The Campus)

I recently visited Boone, North Carolina. This will be the first in a short series of posts inspired by and/or about the town (considered by some the best in the state).

Boone is well known for its natural beauty and being the home of Appalachian State University. We will get to the rest of the town some other time, but today I'll be focused specifically on ASU and its campus layout.

Like many universities, Appalachian State is laid out in a format that is somewhat reminiscent of a traditional city. A cluster of buildings connected by narrow pathways surrounds a central open space. App State's central meeting area is known as Sanford Mall. Of course, being a fairly new campus, a lot of design features are influenced by mistakes that modern cities have made in the last century.

Here is what the campus looks like from above...

The main part of the campus is framed by Hardin Street on the east side, Rivers Street on the south and King Street (Boone's main street) on the north. These major roadways (marked in purple) are essentially barriers to foot traffic and are a pain to cross, so I used them as a border separating the main part of campus from the rest of App State and Boone. The area we are looking at is 0.5 mile by 0.3 mile in size. Durham Park is outlined in green, and building footprints are marked in red.

The most prominent difference between the campus and a true traditional city layout is the huge amount of "green space." No, I'm not talking about the beautiful geographic features the Boone area is blessed with... I'm talking about stuff like this:

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Pointless green space is everywhere. We're not talking about a park. We're sitting here talking about green space, not a park... "green space."
Of course, pointless green space like this is merely a symptom of a larger design mistake. Why do we need all this green space? The architecture of the campus is mammothly scaled, and unfriendly at human eye level. (It's kind of ugly, too.) Green space makes the scene at least a little more visually appealing to people walking around.

View Larger Map

The huge amount of green space needed to neutralise the massive buildings also hurts the walkability of the campus. Desire lines like this are all over the place:

View Larger Map

Don't get me wrong, App State has a pretty nice campus. But as a result of some of these mistakes in scale and basic layout, the area is much more spread out and walking-unfriendly than it needs to be. Appalachian State is (yet another) example of a centrally designed carfree place that unfortunately retains a variety of mistakes that originate in car-centric planning.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Recommended reading: The "narrow" street: narrow for whom?

This is a fantastic post over at Urban kchoze that goes deep into the topic of optimal street width. I especially liked this little bit:

"... [a] human being is about half a meter wide ... a car on the other hand is on average 1,8-meter wide. Compacts are a bit narrower and SUVs are larger.  So when we call [these types of streets] a "narrow" street, we still judge the street from the point of view of car drivers, not of pedestrians. So I think we ought to find a better name for them: a right-sized street, or an human-scale street, or some other term."

Let's think of some ideas for a better way to describe a human-centric street!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

New look

The previous blog design was pretty darn boring, so I decided to quickly update it tonight. The links/archive/label stuff is off to the side when you hover over the sidebar that is located this way --->


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Article: "How the car industry outlawed crossing the road"

Very informative piece from the BBC! Here are some teasers...

How did America's anti-'jay'walking atmosphere get its start?
[C]ar lobby groups ... started taking over school safety education, stressing that "streets are for cars and children need to stay out of them". Anti-jaywalking laws were adopted in many cities in the late 1920s, and became the norm by the 1930s. 
[T]he cultural ascendancy of the car was secured as the auto industry promoted "America's love affair with the automobile". Car makers portrayed them as the ultimate expression of personal freedom, an essential element of the "American dream".
Some interesting statistics:
The UK is among those countries where jaywalking is not an offence. But the rate of pedestrian deaths is half that of the US, at 0.736 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011 compared to 1.422 per 100,000 in America.
Read this article to get a good understanding of at least some of the background to the U.S.'s, *ahem*, uncomfortable walking environment...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Transit terminology pop quiz: "streetcar" v. "trolley"

Random, but I found this post / infographic on CincyStreetcar Blog hilarious for some reason. I've heard the two terms confused so. many. times!

"Have you heard people referring to the Cincinnati Streetcar as a “trolley?” It’s a dated and inaccurate term. Here’s why:"

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Transportation disaster in Atlanta: how the region's car-centric urbanism is at fault

As a winter storm moves across the South (including here in normally sunny North Carolina) the worst-case-scenario gridlock event that is unfolding in Atlanta this evening shows off a major problem of Atlanta's sprawly urban form. Reports are pouring in of commuters stuck on the icy highways without a place to go, many of them miles upon miles from home. Some have resorted to walking for many hours just to get off the highway.

(Note: Although car-centric cities always have difficulty with adjusting to major winter events, the fact that this is taking place in the deep South adds to the craziness: Atlanta just isn't used to these types of events.)

Now, would Atlanta be having this same level of commuter chaos if the metro area was designed in a more organic, people-focused way? Would this amount of gridlock even take place if the Atlanta region had an effective rail and transit system? (MARTA ain't enough, folks).

I mean, really. Should a couple of inches of snow really be enough to shut down a metropolitan area of 6 million people, and even place some poor souls into life-threatening situations? No, it shouldn't. And yes, I definitely believe that the DOT down there has done a particularly awful job at handling this storm... but I think it's stupid to deny that Atlanta's sprawltacular "urban" form plays a key role in all of this.

Hundreds of thousands of people commute to and from work by the Atlanta highway system. Most of these commutes are at least 30 minutes without traffic. Of course this isn't breaking news; people across the country live far from work (at distances that would be unimaginable before the advent of the automobile). This isn't inherently wrong, either. But the Atlanta area is so car-centric that people are literally stranded without it. Tonight is just more proof of that.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Just a quick post to kick off the New Year

This model of ancient Rome is a perfect example of how a traditional city looks from above;

  • Maximum building coverage coupled w/ really narrow (i.e. people scaled) streets
  • Little to no pointless "green space," but plenty of interior courtyards and gardens
  • Numerous plazas, markets, and other public spaces