Over at the Slate Nimble Cities project, I discuss the suggestion from a few readers to install moving walkways in cities (as it turns out, an old idea).
Archive for the ‘Cities’ Category
I found myself on the carerra septima this afternoon in Bogotá just shy of 5 p.m. (having just consumed a wonderful dish of la posta negra de Cartagena at the Club Colombia, watched the Netherlands defeat Uruguay, and had a cup of tea from coca leaves to counter the effects of altitude sickness — it seemed to do the trick). In any case Carerra 7 is one of the city’s principle arteries, multiple lanes divided by an island. At 5 p.m., though, something curious happens on this street: It turns into a massive one-way boulevard out of the city, and towards the north. This is an old and much-discussed idea — contraflow lanes — one that was practiced briefly in cities like Los Angeles and made a splash recently in emergency management circles for mass disaster evacuations.
But it was striking to see it in action. At just the stroke of 5 our car was still on 7, and there was already a small stream of vehicles beginning to seep across from the other lane. Their movement was cautious, exploratory, with the first vehicles coming across employing their hazard flashers. Their numbers began to surge, and it was immediately evident that staying on 7 was not prudent. There were one or two traffic police scattered about, and there are signs advising of the change, but one got the sense this was just a bit of ingrained civic behavior, as routine as the clock itself.
I’m wondering if the new development pattern in the Lakewood scheme is having any effects on transportation (i.e., what’s the VMT of people living in Belmar versus others)? And on the subject don’t miss the National Academies podcast (and paper), “Driving and the Built Environment.”
Over at KCRW’s Design and Architecture, Francis Anderton considers a part of the built environment often overlooked in transportation questions: Shade. It is remarked that trees in Los Angeles are placed to provide shade for cars, not people walking on sidewalks.
I finally got around to seeing Greenberg the other night, and I’ll reserve commentary on the film save for one aspect that intrigued me: The idea that the eponymous character, just coming out of a breakdown and drifting through life, does not drive. He did at one point, it seems, but after moving to New York, his license seemed to lapse (this town will do that to you). This becomes the subject of more than one joke in the film (watch Greenberg the pedestrian struggling through vehicular L.A., watch him be emasculated as he asks a woman to drive him, etc.).
It left me wondering: What other films have use car-less-ness, or a non-ability to drive, as an occasion for some kind of scorn, pity, laughable contempt or outright comedy? Has non-driving ever been presented admirably in a film?
Via Ian Sacs, here’s a program that speaks to the heart of the networked, “cloud commuting” city I talked about earlier, vis a vis Adam Greenfield (and it turns out “cloud commuting” has already been theorized by frequent Traffic appearer David Levinson): Hoboken’s Corner Cars:
The program, called Hoboken Corner Cars, seeks to sprinkle car-sharing vehicles on-street throughout the entire city – complete with exclusive, reserved parking spaces – so that these vehicles are much more accessible and convenient than any personally owned car. Existing car-sharing statistics in Hoboken justify this special treatment; for every one of these vehicles placed in the community, over 17 households will choose to give up their cars, taking cars off the street and culling the glut of “recreational” ownership for residents who commute daily via transit. An additional 20 or more households say they postpone or stop considering buying a car because car-sharing vehicles are available. The cherry on the sundae is a potential savings per household of $3,000 to $5,000 over vehicle ownership.
There’s some good proposals already, a mix of pragmatism and futurism, wild-eyed rants and thoughtfully considered suggestions. One thing I’m not seeing a lot of though is already existing ideas, in cities around the world, that should be extended to other metropoles. But I trust these will emerge as ideas and voting continues.
Over at Gerry Gaffney’s User Experience podcast, there’s an interesting conversation with Adam Greenfield (among other things, a user experience designer at Nokia) that takes a brief turn towards transportation:
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about something that I’ve been calling transmobility. And I go into this to some degree in the new book, “The city is here for you to use”, the notion that once you take a vehicle, or any other object, and you make of it a networked resource, it’s no longer an object anymore, it becomes something with the nature of a service, it becomes something that you can schedule, something that you can share, something that has a presence on the network and is capable of locating itself, and you can book it or swap it or any of the other operations that you can perform on a networked piece of data you can now perform on that physical vehicle.
It turns out to change the nature of urban mobility entirely, at least potentially. It opens onto something that I think of as transmobility, where again you’re really taking the network seriously, and you’re understanding what it can do to vehicular mobility. And I think a really, really crucial and important aspect of that is shared bicycle systems.
The bicycle is an incredibly supple and finely-grained way of using urban space. To be kind of wonky about it I don’t think that there is any finer tool in the psychogeographer’s toolkit than the bicycle. It allows you to traverse comparatively large stretches of ground in short order, and yet you still have something of the pedestrian’s ability to make instantaneous decisions about: I’m going to stop here, I’m going to turn down this corner. And yet as opposed to walking it lowers the opportunity cost of having made a bad decision.
So if you turn down a street and you find out that it’s really not that interesting, you really haven’t made that great [an] investment in time whereas on foot, obviously, if you make a wrong turn and you walk to the end of a block, there’s a significant investment of time involved in doing that.
The bicycle is just… It is hard for me to imagine a technology that has less downside and more upsides than the bicycle. It’s just an incredible thing, and the degree to which we could turn bicycles into network resources and ensure that everybody in the city can use them, and allow them to sort of insufflate the street network and the street grid, it’s tremendous.
So yes, absolutely one of the things Urbanscale is interested in doing is the next generation of network shared bicycle systems.
Lovely word, that: Insufflate. But I was intrigued by Greenfield’s concepts (and thought they’d be suitable for the Nimble Cities project), which, I should say, are somewhat in spirit with the “mobility internet” as envisioned by Bill Mitchell and the other authors of Reinventing the Automobile (and please turn here or here for remembrances of Mitchell, by two friends of his, and mine; I didn’t know Mitchell but had engaged with his work on various occasions).
And I wonder if there’s some useful metaphor here vis a vis cloud computing; instead of just having one’s application (e.g. music library) running native on one’s own device (limited in memory, etc.), one can gain access to a shared music library as one needs, where one needs, through the cloud, for an arguably richer experience in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
I hereby trademark the phrase: “Cloud commuting.”
India overtook China to top the world in road fatalities in 2006 and has continued to pull steadily ahead, despite a heavily agrarian population, fewer people than China and far fewer cars than many Western countries.
It goes on to cite a few reasons:
A lethal brew of poor road planning, inadequate law enforcement, a surge in trucks and cars, and a flood of untrained drivers have made India the world’s road death capital. As the country’s fast-growing economy and huge population raise its importance on the world stage, the rising toll is a reminder that the government still struggles to keep its more than a billion people safe.
In China, by contrast, which has undergone an auto boom of its own, official figures for road deaths have been falling for much of the past decade, to 73,500 in 2008, as new highways segregate cars from pedestrians, tractors and other slow-moving traffic, and the government cracks down on drunken driving and other violations.
As R.J. Smeed first noted, having fewer cars is by no means an indicator that one will have fewer traffic fatalities (and an important distinction in the developing world is that traffic fatality categories are topped by pedestrian deaths). But one thing that goes unmentioned in the piece is research, cited in Traffic, by Elizabeth Kopits and Maureen Cropper, that links a nation’s rate of traffic fatalities to its GDP. When GDP climbed from $1200 to $4400 in the countries studied, the fatality rate dropped by a factor of three.
According to the CIA Factbook, the 2009 estimated GDP of China was $6600, while in India it was $3100. Just by this measure alone, the discrepancy between the two countries could be predicted, if not fully explained (for there would be many other factors at play here, like culture, governmental structure, etc.). It’s not hard to imagine why higher GDP would lead to fewer deaths (in this regard it’s not properly correct to call traffic deaths, as is often done, a “disease of affluence”); as development levels increase, there’s not only more money for engineering, enforcement, etc., but also a reduced likelihood of corruption (roads are built to standards, police less willing to take bribes), accompanied by a greater societal emphasis in safety in all kinds of areas of life. But the real question is how India can close the huge fatality gap with China even if it can’t immediately narrow the GDP gap.
I’m slow to this, but the video debate, featuring Charles Komanoff and others, is here.
For those of you who are, say, too gripped by World Cup analysis (Nani is out? Lee Dong-guk might return for South Korea?) to devote too much time to this sort of thing at the moment, Felix handily provides a crib sheet to the full video.
For my money, Reihan Salam is the most interesting voice in this debate: A conservative writer for National Review — which one might think would place him close to Corey Bearak in this debate — who is actually staunch defender of public transit — the result of being of a longtime outer-borough resident and subway commuter (of course, many right-wingers favor congestion charging — one might say, to rephrase the old saw about liberals and conservatives, ‘a congestion charging advocate is a free-marketeer who has been mugged by New York City congestion.’)
“The idea that you should pay $2 or $9 to drive in to New York when other folks have to pay some amount to take a subway into New York and have a much smaller impact, in terms of traffic congestion, seems pretty fair.”
Over at The City Fix, I picked up some facts about urban autorickshaw drivers in India, via a study by Leslie Phillips and her team at the University of Texas:
It is more than 50% likely that a driver has a family of up to 8 people to support, and in order to do so, a driver works an average of 10-12 hours per day. Recent statistics from Delhi suggest that nearly 80% of auto rickshaw drivers rent their vehicles, and pay out roughly half of their daily revenue in rental fees.
They are socially distanced from the government and the manufacturers of their product:
While they are an integral part of transportation in almost every major Indian city, the auto rickshaw drivers are perceived as a nuisance to the system. The findings of our study corroborated this point: auto rickshaw drivers are a struggling population caught in a system where they are treated with utter disregard by the government and are often resented by their own customers. Most of the recent auto rickshaw reforms have been reactionary, as regulatory authorities and traffic police attempt to crack down on poor behavior (traffic violations, emissions) as opposed to implementing systemic reforms. Meanwhile, manufacturers generally do not perceive rickshaw drivers as their end client, but rather focus on the passenger when designing and positioning their vehicles. This has created a crucial disconnect in the auto rickshaw industry, where the very people who ultimately drive the success of the industry (the drivers) are left out of the process.
These pressures result in some unsavory practices (though this no doubt made for fascinating fieldwork):
While the interviews with randomly selected auto rickshaw drivers went relatively smoothly, the MBA group’s experience in India with the auto rickshaw drivers (what could be considered the “tourists’ perspective”) was the complete opposite. The majority of students who rode in auto rickshaws in Delhi and Bangalore were not given the option to use the fare meter but rather had to negotiate the fare from one destination to the next. Despite the agreed upon destination, drivers often took us to a different tourist location (commonly a souvenir shop) while still demanding to be paid. Many of our classmates speculated that there must be a kick-back for drivers who delivered tourists to these locations. Indeed, two auto rickshaw drivers who we interviewed revealed the details of the tourist payment scheme: If they succeed in bringing a group of tourists to a local shop, the driver will receive a two-liter gas coupon from either the owner of the shop or the “rickshaw boss.” A two-liter coupon is enough to keep a rickshaw tank full for at least a day and thus provides a strong incentive to break the agreed-upon route – and trust – with the tourist customer.
There’s hope yet for the drivers, with organizations like NyayaBhoomi, a cooperative that is “intended to create a brand image for auto-rickshaws by providing radio (call) auto-rickshaw service, improving driver behavior through training, instituting a formal fare collection system through GPS devices installed in vehicles, and creating an organized sector with employment benefits (i.e. insurance and pension policies, uniforms, regular vehicle maintenance) for drivers from revenues obtained through advertising.”
This advertising revenue would come from advertisements on the autorickshaws themselves, which already tend to be fairly well adorned, as the painted mudflaps below indicate (though, sadly, this is a somewhat fading art form, replaced by sticker-based art, or none at all).
In the end, Komanoff found that every car entering the CBD causes an average of 3.23 person-hours of delays. Multiply that by $39.53—a weighted average of vehicles’ time value within and outside the CBD—and it turns out that the average weekday vehicle journey costs other New Yorkers $128 in lost time. At last, urban planners could say just how big the externalities associated with driving are, knowing that the number was backed up with solid empirical analysis.
With some out-of-town visitors to entertain, my destination yesterday was (where else!) the MTA’s Transit Museum. There I noticed a small detail that had escaped my notice prior — i.e., the presence of bike tolls on the Triborough Bridge. Can any transpo geeks out there enlighten us as to any more details about this? What was bike traffic like across the bridge when it opened? Was there a special toll booth, or did cyclists merge into a car lane? When was the toll scrapped? And for that matter, when did the (little-observed) policy of cyclists walking their bikes across the bridge(s) come into being?
For an excellent case study of incredibly thoughtful and detail-oriented transportation planning — see a few of the details below — I recommend this dispatch by Meena Kadri, reporting from Ahmedabad, in the Indian state of Gujarat.
On board the buses the most applauded feature is the provision of at-grade boarding — a hallmark of the best BRT systems, whereby passengers enter and exit buses at raised station platforms, without having to climb or descend stairs. Not only does this improve accessibility for the elderly, challenged and very young; it’s also been hailed as a plus point by many saree-clad female passengers. The span of income groups using the service is immediately evident and signals one of the BRT’s biggest impacts in Ahmedabad. Even motorists are being lured by the efficiency of Janmarg. Raju Schroff, who owns a local factory, now takes the bus to work. As a result, he says, “My daily commuting time has been more than halved, and I arrive at work calm rather than hassled from being stuck in traffic.” Jagu Desai, a tribal laborer, affirms her appreciation of its speed and comfort, and she seems pleased that her views were as much of interest to me as Schroff’s. Voice announcements and LED displays in both Gujarati and English — also a new feature for public transport in the city — are appreciated by the diverse passengers. As bus operator Panchal Kirti reports: “Not only can deaf people watch and blind people listen but people who can’t read are not excluded from being informed. So everyone on board can relax till their destination is announced.”
Ahmedabad’s comprehensive planning has pushed well past the mere concept of BRT — right through to encouraging physical resilience and solidarity amongst bus operators. Driver Jintendra Patel recalls that the two-month training included daily yoga sessions. “Yoga helps maintain calm and focus while driving,” he says, “and it counters the back problems that develop from sitting for long periods.”
I’m in Shanghai at the moment, hence the gap in communication. Yesterday I trekked out to the World Expo (the typically anodyne theme: “Better City, Better Life”), a frenzied display of national industry, easy-to-digest cultural narratives, and pinpoint logistics (all those teams of marching soldiers, all those Disney style queue management systems). I began with the choreographed uplift of the USA and finished, reeling from the sun, with an earnest summation, from some rump sub-deputy minister, of all that Turkmenistan, that curious Caspian outpost rich in natural resources and the government corruption that goes along with it, had to offer (in short, architecturally decadent monuments, nice rugs, and pipelines — miles of pipelines; and now, Air Turkmenistan).
Where most countries went with grand, overarching messages of prowess, benevolence, and inclusivity, the day’s most rewarding experience had to go to the Danish pavilion, designed by Bjarke Ingels (who’ve interviewed several times in the past). Rather than overwhelm with several dozen messages, the approach at the Danish pavilion was simple: A white circular building, with perforated brise soleil style apertures, housing a white corkscrew ramp, rising from a pool containing Copenhagen’s famous Little Mermaid, up which one could walk — or, as pictured above, cycle (and that’s me, rather baking in the Shanghai sun) — along the way picking up a few discrete messages comparing Denmark and China across various indices. The whole way up, meanwhile, a long curving bench ran along the edge of the bike path, so people could sit, drink a Carlsberg, and watch the bike and pedestrian traffic go by, much like in Copenhagen itself (and I know Mikael from Copenhagenize will object to the helmets accompanying the bikes, but they were very nice helmets). It was charmingly low-key (yet somehow dramatic at the same time) and a more purely enjoyable experience than the multimedia fireworks going on elsewhere. I was wishing I could take the bike with me when I left — the Oman pavilion, so close on the map, was endlessly far away.
Next up for Streetfilms: Ray Kelly?
Charles Komanoff reports from Gauangzhou:
With double-digit rises in car ownership and the city’s relentless expansion outpacing even the rapid provision of transit, the idea of charging a toll to drive into Guangzhou’s city center is gaining traction. The rationale is clear: drivers who pay only for their own lost time but not for the time their trips take from other drivers have little incentive to prioritize trips by car.
Singapore, London and Stockholm have been using congestion pricing for 35, 7 and 3 years, respectively, and the meeting featured detailed reports on how these cities overcame the political hurdles and improved traffic dramatically through tolling. Nevertheless, a congestion pricing plan proposed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg died in the state legislature in 2008. In my talk, I drew these lessons for Guangzhou from New York’s failure:
• To succeed politically, congestion pricing must produce dramatic increases in travel speeds — at least 15 percent — in the charging zone. (The Bloomberg plan promised only a 7 percent gain.)
• The toll must align benefits with costs. In New York, a hefty taxi surcharge — on the entire fare, not just the “drop” — would ensure that residents of Manhattan, who use taxis rather than private cars, paid their fare share.
• Transit improvements financed by the toll revenues must be instituted ahead of time, and fare reductions guaranteed.
The stance of the domestic transportation experts here has been one of cautious interest: appreciation of congestion pricing as a virtually fail-safe tool, tempered by awareness that politics leaves little room for error in designing the toll, choosing the tolling technology, and marketing the program.
The budget for the aerial perspective move chase scene just went down dramatically.
I’ve only met one Westerner who had a Chinese driving license, but his story more or less echoed that of Peter Hessler in his fascinating new book Country Driving:
By the summer of 2001, when I applied to the Beijing Public Safety Traffic Bureau, I had lived in China for five years. During that time I had traveled passively by bus and plane, boat and train; I dozed across provinces and slept through towns. But sitting behind the wheel woke me up. That was happening everywhere: in Beijing alone, almost a thousand new drivers registered on average each day, the pioneers of a nationwide auto boom. Most of them came from the growing middle class, for whom a car represented mobility, prosperity, modernity. For me, it meant adventure. The questions of the written driver’s exam suggested a world where nothing could be taken for granted:
223. If you come to a road that has been flooded, you should
a) accelerate, so the motor doesn’t flood.
b) stop, examine the water to make sure it’s shallow, and drive across slowly.
c) find a pedestrian and make him cross ahead of you.
282. When approaching a railroad crossing, you should
a) accelerate and cross.
b) accelerate only if you see a train approaching.
c) slow down and make sure it’s safe before crossing.
Chinese applicants for a license were required to have a medical checkup, take the written exam, enroll in a technical course, and then complete a two-day driving test; but the process had been pared down for people who already held overseas certification. I took the foreigner’s test on a gray, muggy morning, the sky draped low over the city like a shroud of wet silk. The examiner was in his forties, and he wore white cotton driving gloves, the fingers stained by Red Pagoda Mountain cigarettes. He lit one up as soon as I entered the automobile. It was a Volkswagen Santana, the nation’s most popular passenger vehicle. When I touched the steering wheel my hands felt slick with sweat.
“Start the car,” the examiner said, and I turned the key. “Drive forward.”
A block of streets had been cordoned off expressly for the purpose of testing new drivers. It felt like a neighborhood waiting for life to begin: there weren’t any other cars, or bicycles, or people; not a single shop or makeshift stand lined the sidewalk. No tricycles loaded down with goods, no flatbed carts puttering behind two-stroke engines, no cabs darting like fish for a fare. Nobody was turning without signaling; nobody was stepping off a curb without looking. I had never seen such a peaceful street in Beijing, and in the years that followed I sometimes wished I had had time to savor it. But after I had gone about fifty yards the examiner spoke again.
“Pull over,” he said. “You can turn off the car.”
The examiner filled out forms, his pen moving efficiently. He had barely burned through a quarter of a Red Pagoda Mountain. One of the last things he said to me was, “You’re a very good driver.”
How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.
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April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.
May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana
June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
June 27, 2009
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Utrecht, The Netherlands
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Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
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Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
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January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto
February 22, 2013
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Australian Road Summit
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