Saturday, November 28, 2015
So it puts my faith back in Hollywood to know that, even with nothing in the theaters that both of us really wanted to see, we randomly picked a movie that both of us liked in the end.
Brooklyn is a BBC film based on a Colm Tóibín novel and adapted by Nick Hornsby (who wrote my 46th-favorite novel of all time).
I can relate, being a descendant of (Scotch/)Irish immigrants. The movie is all about assimilating to a place that is a lot like home only with much more exciting, new, and diverse opportunities abounding.
Saoirse Ronan is exquisite as an average girl named Eilis Lacey from a small, insular Irish town who transforms into a vision of beauty and kindness in Brooklyn. Ronan has been kicking around in movies like The Grand Budapest Hotel ever since she became one of the youngest people to be nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar back in 2007.
Emory Cohen is highly likable as the man she falls in love with in Brooklyn, and the two lay out plans for a promising life in Eilis' new home country.
Brooklyn is a minor movie in many ways. Not a lot happens. But it's little moments, like the immigration advice given by a woman on the boat and the hilarious conversations Eilis has with her fellow new arrivals at their boarding-house dinner table, that paint a much bigger picture of the human need for experience.
***1/2 out of ***** stars
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
This is the second of a two-part Mobility Lab series. Part 1 looked at the big-picture history of transportation funding in the United States. Part 2 examines ways we can fund transportation in a future of flat federal funding.
The world of transportation is innovating and shifting at a clip no mere mortals can expect to follow easily, but one would never know it by simply glancing at the flat and seemingly unexcited way Congress has taken to keeping roads and transit barely patched.
Luckily, life does not end and begin on Capitol Hill.
States, localities, and companies are offering some truly inventive methods of finding funding sources to supplement what will be available from the federal government for maintaining and replacing crumbling roads, bridges and transit systems.
The public-private path
Let’s start with an example from Sao Paulo, Brazil, which offers perhaps a gold standard for public and private entities working together for public good. An incredible 50 percent of trips taken in Sao Paulo are by transit, but planners identified a gap, where city-operated buses and state-owned trains didn’t connect very well for travelers.
According to TheCityFix, the city constructed a seven-mile, six-stop underground metro line called Linha 4 with “$1.6 billion in public investment and $246 million in private investment from seven different financial institutions.”
As TheCityFix notes, the new line is “a resounding success, demonstrating that public collaboration with the private sector is possible” and:
- it integrates several fragmented public transport systems
- the line increases access to jobs for the marginalized living on the periphery of the city
- by its second year of operation, Linha 4 met its demand target to serve 700,000 passengers per day and reduced commute times by about half an hour, and
- the line had an estimated net present value of $364 million to the local economy and boasted average annual returns of 14.4 percent to the operator and 18.7 percent to shareholders.
Back in this country, Miami’s city commissioners have decided enough is enough. Lacking certainty from federal funding, it’s taken matters into its own hands by creating a special fund to help think into the future – rather than constantly playing catch-up – about transportation projects.
This article was originally published by Mobility Lab.
- Although the fund started with a mere $1.6 million when it was established last month, commissioners think the legislation will permit it to grow fast. The Miami Herald reports that other deposits into the fund will come from:
- 20 percent of any unrestricted, one-time payments to the city of at least $500,000
- 20 percent of any cash payment by developers for “air rights,” sold by the city’s public benefits program, excluding amounts reserved for affordable and workforce housing
- 25 percent of Miami’s general fund ($615 million in 2016) from each budget year, and
- new legislation that allows transit-oriented-developments to pay the city to receive reductions in parking requirements, which developers and activists worked together to push through.
As if all that isn’t impressive enough, Miami worked with several semi-autonomous entities to pitch in $30 million to get Tri-Rail trains connecting downtown to Palm Beach County by 2017.
The citizen-activist route
As we’ve seen with Mobility Lab’s own Transportation Techies and TransportationCamp, passionate movers and shakers can make change happen outside the policy and business avenues.
“Anyone can take action to make their bus or train ride more enjoyable. Even more important, by organizing, fundraising, and carrying out quick fixes, ordinary citizens [can get] transit decision-makers to take notice,” says Erin Barnes of ioby, which, along with TransitCenter, documented 10 projects throughout the U.S. where “community-led change is shifting the culture of transit agencies.”
Take a look at just these four incredible projects highlighted in Trick Out My Trip and you’ll no doubt want to devour the rest of the short report:
- In a heavily industrial corridor of Brooklyn, N.Y., a dark and decidedly unappealing transit hub at 9th Street is being revitalized with funding provided to the community in order to demonstrate its vision to the Metropolitan Transit Authority of how the area could be improved.
- The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition and MARTA teamed up to raise money for self-service bicycle maintenance kiosks at high-density MARTA transit stops. This is a brilliant and subtle way to get people thinking about how they can take more than one mode on their journeys.
- PLAY Denver raised funds to create safe, stationary opportunities for children to play while waiting for the bus with their parents – a nice way of making that type of travel just a little bit more attractive and less stressful. Similarly, in Seattle, local leaders installed free libraries at bus stops across the city, offering a little fun and productivity for people on their journeys.
On-demand technology companies like car2go, Zipcar, Uber, and Lyft are certainly performing a service by opening people’s minds to the fact that there are now many transportation options – something that hasn’t always been obvious in the past.
But what truly makes it apparent that these companies are onto something is that automotive titans like Daimler, Honda, and General Motors are getting into the mobility game.
Ford Motor Company has been perhaps the most outspoken about the need to adapt to new realities brought on by population, traffic congestion, air pollution, chronic sickness, millennial habits, and countless other social issues.
Ford mobility manager Erica Klampf recently predicted that the company’s semi-driverless cars will be on the roads in five years and that its e-bikes will be a real part of the solution to help people take more multi-modal trips.
Earlier this year, Ford announced the first round of winners for its Innovative Mobility Challenge Series, which awards more than $200,000 to winners who designed improvements in categories such as deliveries, software, and parking and traffic congestion. Some of the winners include:
- An electric individual podcar in Argentina that launches out of a shuttle bus offers a better way to connect people to public transportation.
- A Los Angeles-based crowdsourcing app called Crowd Park allows lot owners to set their prices based on demand and helps users to find information about flexible pricing and real-time alerts for near-expired spots.
- A MultiModal Transportation Platform app from Chongqing, China – where extreme congestion and the sharp mountains and valleys often require multiple modes of transportation – now combines city-based mass transit information about buses and trains with options for localized transportation such as bicycle rentals and rickshaws.
Transit advocates need to get louder to influence a quiet public
Of course, all of this is a roundabout way of saying that roads and transit in this country need funding from somewhere. All of the above examples are wonderful, but they are all makeshift. A larger dedicated fund, much like what Miami has initiated locally, is imperative at the national level.
The most logical and simple options for such a fund remain through a “pay at the pump” gas tax indexed for inflation and a tax in which drivers pay per mile driven.
But these are much harder done than said. In focus groups conducted a few years back by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Brookings Institution, it became abundantly clear that “people don’t understand transportation” and especially the way it’s funded.
As Streetsblog noted, people surveyed in the D.C. region:
Don’t see themselves and their own driving as contributors to the problem of congestion. They blame construction and other drivers (especially those from “other jurisdictions” – D.C. and Virginia residents love to beat up on “Maryland drivers”) – anything but their own driving. They assume that congestion pricing can’t work because everyone on the road is there because they have to be. They don’t think they, or their fellow drivers, have choices in travel behavior.
The Washington region is relatively well-served by transit and ridesharing, so many of them were probably wrong in assuming they don’t have options. Be that as it may, participants were supportive of adding new transportation options. Even the most car-centric people — those who live far outside the urban core and drive alone to work — thought it was important to build more transit and facilities for biking and walking. In fact, these improvements were, to many, a prerequisite to any pricing change.
That all seems to take us back to square one: continue to educate the public about transportation options (through pilots, by discussing the benefits, and by being louder than transit advocates have been in the past) and hopefully the public will one day become vocal enough about improving traffic to influence policymakers and other leaders.
Photos: Top, Linha 4 in Sao Paulo (Metro de Sao Paulo, Flickr, Creative Commons). Middle, a PLAY Denver project (PLAY Denver, Facebook).
This article was originally published by Mobility Lab.
I was quoted in this fascinating USA Today article about the future of cities, which really could be like the Jetsons we have always imagined. It was also published in about 40 other Gannett papers in local markets throughout the country.
You really should watch the 1:30 animated video that shows what city transportation networks will look like. If that inspires you, my quotes are about halfway down in the middle of lots of other truly expert opinions:
You really should watch the 1:30 animated video that shows what city transportation networks will look like. If that inspires you, my quotes are about halfway down in the middle of lots of other truly expert opinions:
Most transportation researchers agree that livability in urban centers is directly tied to “reducing the number of vehicles in those cities,” says
Paul Mackieof Mobility Lab, a research startup funded by Arlington County, Va.“It all starts with technology,” he says. “ Transitdata has to be open and shared, so we all know what (transportation) is where. We’ve been programmed for so long not to consider public transit options because we aren’t sure if we can count on them. Once we can efficiently get somewhere by transferring between a variety of options, everything will change.”
At the Disrupting Mobility 2015 Summit, Paul DeLong of car2go said he’s sick of fighting with wife about missing his kids grow up because of the horrendous traffic between work in downtown Austin and his home 17 miles north of the city.
“The more people talk about this and the more we can tell this story [and demand our leaders do something about traffic], then we can do the disrupting you all are talking about,” DeLong said.
Not only is his message about storytelling powerful, but it’s crucial for all of us to step back and consider how we all are not just talking about disrupting mobility in the future, but how we are disrupting mobility already.
An example of DeLong’s belief in storytelling being the real deal is, well, Mobility Lab. It is really one of our three pillars: research, collaboration, and communications (which is just another word for what we’re trying to do really well: storytelling).
Most people think Mobility Lab is one of those “silly little companies doing start-up apps,” as Nicholas Negroponte of MIT Media Lab described those business types at the summit. And it kind of is that, but most people don’t know that Mobility Lab was started by and is mostly funded by Arlington County, Virginia’s government?
We have been “disrupting mobility” from within the government for about four years now. It’s truly forward thinking that the county lets us do this. But the transportation leaders there know Mobility Lab is one of the big reasons Arlington is considered a national leader in transit-oriented development. Sometimes we trumpet the innovations happening at home, but mostly we bring the best practices from around the world back to Arlington so the locals can constantly learn.
Arlington was great long before Mobility Lab came around. But before the Orange Line of Washington, D.C.’s Metro opening in the late 1970s, Arlington was little more than an interstate buzzing into the District. It took a long time, but now the Orange Line contributes to a pleasant walkable and bikeable three-mile stretch between the Potomac River and the Ballston neighborhood. This area is why Arlington was recently named the top location in the country for millennials: it has a bustling business climate, and there is rarely bad traffic – even though the area is dense with housing and offices.
Nearly 20 years ago, the county’s transportation department began researching its results for the TOD and transportation-demand planning. And eventually it was decided that research needed a home, which was originally going to be used a background information for something called TDM University that would help other regions learn how Arlington had transformed so they could do so as well.
There are TDM (transportation demand management) agencies and TMAs (transportation management associations) all over the country, but they are underfunded and little known. Arlington has the largest TDM organization in the country, and it is part of the transportation department.
So building on the years of research that the new Mobility Lab began housing, it was wisely decided that the research needed to be unwrapped. Its stories needed to be told not only to Arlington but to the entire TDM industry.
Mobility Lab has recognized over the past three-plus years that we have an opportunity to reframe this TDM concept by communicating it in ways that people care about. We needed to connect this obscure TDM ideas to their lives by making it relevant to the issues that connect with their lives beyond transportation: economics, tech, sustainability, education, planning, policy, and many others.
We recognized that fewer transportation reporters existed in the mainstream media, so there was an information gap we could help fill. We are now a media company, of which there are far too few in the transportation space. We take all we are learning and put it out in front of large audiences because, for far too long, we’ve all been talking amongst ourselves, and the car companies and car-only roads have been winning.
Think about the beautiful cars on beautiful open roads you see again and again in Super Bowl commercials. Contrast that to any Super Bowl commercials you see about people happy on public transportation.
Every organization at Disrupting Mobility, and all the other groups working on transportation and urban planning, need to go out and hire journalists and strategic communicators to tell their stories. And to tell the very simple story that our cities need fixing and we will have to look for low-cost yet effective ways to connect people that are popular, fast, and affordable. We need to shape the mainstream media conversations or our ideas will continue to exist in our inner sanctum of experts.
As part of our goal of collaboration, we work closely with Arlington Transportation Partners, which helps about 700 employers, 300 residential communities, and 80 commercial properties learn about commuting tax benefits and how they can install bike parking and showers, among other issues that make it easier to stop driving so much. We also are housed with the county’s educational organizations BikeArlington and WalkArlington, as well as goDCgo and Capital Bikeshare.
We run TransportationCamp, an unconference paired with the annual January Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington, D.C., that gets people excited about transportation and is now being replicated in many cities throughout the U.S. and world.
Our Transportation Techies has grown to about 1,200 members over the course of its 23 monthly gatherings, the last of which was featured in a major Washington Post article. Who knew there were so many transportation hackers and geeks in D.C. alone? They are starting to create really compelling products out of the open data that many transportation agencies and companies provide, yet there is still room for much more of this data to be turned into stories that will captivate people who could potentially change their travelling habits.
We have also provided a space for products like TransitScreen and CarFreeAtoZ to be tested before hitting the market.
All of our endeavors are designed to make planners, policymakers, and other important people sit up and take notice that the status quo has got to stop. Citizens are thinking creatively in ways that many planning and transportation-industry lifers are not. We don’t have space for more roads and we don’t have money for major new public projects, but if we think creatively, we can make a myriad of improvements.
The public sector has a chance to create pop ups and pilots that better connect existing transit systems. If they prove popular, some of those will turn into full projects and programs. The private sector can keep doing what it’s doing and hopefully governments will loosen up and play nice.
Mobility Lab couldn’t be more excited to be thinking about Uber, Lyft, Zipcar, car2go, Bridj, Split, Capital Bikeshare, and all the other companies operating in D.C. and beyond. We plan to continue finding ways to better integrate these systems into transit and to continue educating everyone about their transportation options.
Photos: Top, pedestrians in Crystal City, Arlington (Sam Kittner/kittner.com for Mobility Lab). Middle, left to right: Panel at Disrupting Mobility 2016 (Philipp Rode, via Twitter).
Take the anecdotal of my voyage to attend and speak at this week’s 2015 Disrupting Mobility Summit: I Uber-ed from home for the first-mile to the D.C. Metro, which took me right to National Airport. A breeze.
On the other end, in Boston, I took a free airport shuttle to the T subway up to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. The T got me woefully not-that-close to my hotel. I walked with two bags through a light rain for what was supposed to be a 20-minute walk. Because my phone died before I looked at where I was actually going, my roundabout walk turned into about 45 minutes (the Citymapper app was doing a tremendous job of getting me to where I was until the point when my phone died … don’t ask).
Granted, I stopped for a lunch in Chinatown in downtown Boston, but my commute should not have taken from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to get from my home in D.C. to my hotel in Boston. Clearly the Uber part of my trip was more reliable and enjoyable than the transit and walking elements, which, it should be noted, were both actually very enjoyable but slow-going.
With the likes of the University of California at Berkeley, MIT, and the London School of Economics so heavily researching the on-demand economy, travel of the non-driving variety – for ride-hailing and transit options like buses, trains, and bikesharing – will no doubt make our transportation networks more efficient and less frustrating in the near future.
Just a sampling of the exciting academic research being done to “disrupt mobility” includes:
- Bikeshare is gaining wildly in terms of both sheer number of systems across the U.S. and the basic idea that people are beginning to envision more utilitarian uses of bicycling. But there’s a huge opportunity to get less wealthy people to use bikeshare; they currently tend to be some of the most frequent users of bicycles, but not bikeshare. Governments don’t have the resources for a lot of things, but this is one they could actually embrace. Connecting poorer communities by bikeshare and adding better bike infrastructure are the kinds of affordable projects that make sense for the cash-strapped public sector. Groups like UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center have already illuminated the problem, now it’s up to governments (hopefully with collaboration from the private sector) to figure out solutions.
- Kent Larson of MIT’s City Science Initiative was quoted by NPR that he’s seen “estimates that in New York City up to 40 percent of the energy consumed by automobiles is by people circling the block looking for a parking space.” So engineers at MIT have gone through a series of prototypes of the perfect pod cars that could essentially be like bikeshare, in which people could pick up one-person pod cars all over the place to rent for one-way trips. Since so many more people are willing to drive than bike, it certainly seems like the prototype that inspires people will be the one to catch on.
- The London School of Economics Cities Research Center has created fingerprints of cities in order to better understand how to integrate transportation options into the way places have been planned. And it has also researched how sprawl costs the U.S. more than $1 trillion annually. That number alone would seem to cause at least some planners and city officials to take notice that we’ve got to put great academic ideas and research into real practice now, and not within some 20-year-plan that will be obsolete in five years.
This article was originally published by Mobility Lab.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
This article was originally published by Mobility Lab, with my co-author Howard Jennings.
This is the first of a two-part Mobility Lab series. Part 1 looks at the big-picture history of transportation funding in the United States. Part 2 will examine ways we can fund transportation in a future of flat federal funding.
As the Senate and House are finalizing touches on the first new transportation authorization bill in more than 10 years, everyone agrees there are major problems with our transportation systems in the U.S. But nobody agrees on how to fund the necessary improvements.
The new six-year bill will provide some welcome certainty, but it is not expected to provide adequate funding to meet the needs for new capacity in any modes, and there will likely be few incentives for innovation.
The bottom line is that we must improve transportation as a path to better health, better places to live, a more robust economy, and ease of personal mobility. In reaching these goals, however, it seems clear that states and localities will have to be inventive in finding funding sources to supplement what will be available from the federal government.
A majority of the interstate highway system is well beyond its 50-year design life-span. And even the new authorization bill, with no real increase in funding, will not come close to covering the need for maintenance and replacement of crumbling roads, bridges and transit systems.
In fact, it is fair to say that the U.S. transportation system has been in a state of crisis since at least 2008, when Congress had to begin transferring funds from the General Fund to the Transportation Trust Fund just to meet operating obligations. Plus, funding has been authorized on a year-to-year – or sometimes month-to-month – basis since the last long-term authorization law, SAFETEA-LU, expired in 2009. Disagreement over how to fund transportation and at what level have stymied Congress ever since.
The 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax was first devoted entirely to transportation by creating the Highway Trust Fund in 1956 to fund the interstate highway system. In 1982, the Mass Transit Fund was created within the Highway Trust Fund. There were gas-tax increases by presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, but the tax has not kept pace with inflation since 2005, and the revenue it brings in isn’t enough to cover current highway and transit needs, let along provide expansion.
Since 2000, the balance in the Highway Trust Fund has declined dramatically and since 2008, both the Highway and Mass Transit funds have been within a month of running out of funds numerous times, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Congress has responded in an ad-hoc manner year after year, authorizing transfers from the General Fund as stop gap measures. In all, Congress has authorized a total of $65 billion in transfers from the General Fund since 2008, and the CBO estimates the average annual shortfall to be on the order of $15 billion per year at least through 2020.
Voters in various surveys support a gas tax hike, but California voters recently opposed one, reflecting the fact that the tax is tough for politicians and a conflicted public to deal with. Moreover, the gas tax is not a viable long-term solution because it will produce less and less net revenue in the coming years.
States also tend to use a tax on gasoline to support highway and transit projects, supplemented by revenues from tolls sales taxes, other local taxes, and general local and state revenues. Their sources are typically not keeping pace with inflation or overall needs either.
So where should more reliable funds come from? Growing congestion, lessening mobility, slower goods movement, and higher citizen frustration are going to be in our future unless we figure out better approaches.
There is nearly unanimous agreement that the gas tax has basic structural problems as a long-term revenue source. Vehicles today are getting better and better gas mileage, and the total mileage that Americans drive is no longer rapidly increasing as it once did. So the tax produces less and less revenue each year relative to the need. But no other funding mechanism has emerged to take its place.
A variety of other sources of funding have been debated for years, including tolling, Joan Lowy of the Associated Press put it well recently:
To help fund new construction, the Obama administration has proposed letting states toll federal interstates. That’s been prohibited since the interstate system was launched in 1956, except for a few exceptions, including highways that already had tolls. Congress would have to approve the change.One way to make existing highways more efficient is “high occupancy toll” (or HOT) lanes. The idea often involves converting carpool lanes that may be relatively car free into lanes that solo drivers can pay to use. Carpoolers typically travel for free. Hundreds of miles of toll lanes already are operating in or around Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Miami, Washington, D.C., and other cities.
We’ve gotten to this point because most of our transportation system and land-development patterns make us dependent on the car. Even in places where we do have other options, most of us simply don’t consider how else we could travel and haven’t researched our transportation options, which leaves us chained to our cars.
The irony of all this is that roads were federally funded in the first place because a bunch of lawyers wanted to be able to ride their bikes on them. In 1880, the League of American Wheelmen, led by a Civil War veteran and leading bicycle manufacturer, requested that roads fall under a federal mandate, which was pushed through as the National Highway Act in 1896 and later provided a means for getting cars on the roads by the burgeoning auto industry.
Meanwhile, transportation should truly be one of those issues that is non-partisan. Reagan, the Republican standard bearer, raised taxes during a recession to fund increased infrastructure investment. As former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, himself a Republican, said at a Mobility Lab forum, “There are no Republican roads or Democratic bridges.” And Arizona’s former Democratic Representative Stewart Udall once noted that “a rational transportation policy should seek a balance between individual convenience, the efficient use of limited resources, and urban-living values that protect spaciousness, natural beauty, and human-scale mobility.”
Despite all those warm words, the new authorization law will be keeping the gas tax as the only politically feasible funding mechanism for now. And what do we do in the face of all these shortfalls and limitations?
The exciting thing about the times we live in today is that there are lower-cost solutions like:
- improving bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure
- an on-demand economy that has opportunities to improve traffic flow
- automated vehicles that also might do the same
- an uptick in private-funding possibilities, and
- a growing focus on user-based road fees to help hobbling public investment.
And fortunately, we – Republicans, Democrats, and everyone else – can still all agree that sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic is something worth fixing.
Part 2 of this series will examine some of the alternative and innovative transportation solutions that are being employed and that local leaders can use to supplement traditional projects and funding sources.
Photo: Tops, rush hour traffic on LA’s 101 freeway (Eric Demarqc, Flickr, Creative Commons). Bottom, HOT lanes on a state road in Washington (Washington State DOT, Flickr, Creative Commons).
Friday, November 6, 2015
Easton, Pennsylvania is not the first place a family typically picks to visit for an overnight vacation, but it provided a fun little getaway this week when Jackson had Monday off of school.
We left on Sunday to get there (about 3.5 hours from Washington D.C. and not far from New York and Philadelphia, in the Lehigh Valley) in time to check in to an amazing 2-bedroom suite that we way underpaid for downtown at the Grand Eastonian Hotel and Suites. Our massive layout on the eighth floor overlooked the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware rivers and out across to New Jersey. Then we had a swim in the pool to ourselves before going to sleep to get ready for the Crayola Experience on Monday.
Crayola is actually based in nearby Forks Township, but the Experience (which features some elements of the making of the colorful toys but mostly provides interactive activities for kids to get even more enamored of crayons) gives the town a real boost. It's oddly located in the middle of downtown, which is only odd because downtown is filled mostly with cigarette stores and a vape bar, and almost everybody walking around looks strung out on meth or general hopelessness. Walk out of the Experience and you're enveloped in cigarette smoke.
That said, the walkway a few blocks down back past our hotel and along the river was gorgeous. We spent the morning playing at the playgrounds and Rachel took a run.
There's also a sushi restaurant that the family enjoyed, on the other side of Easton, called KOJA Cuisine. Halfway through our meal, the sushi chef came over and asked us if we wanted anything else. He proceeded to make us a special roll that wasn't on the menu and topped an unexpectedly perfect meal.
Easton, it should be noted, is the hometown of boxer Larry Holmes, Sally Jessy Raphael, and actor Daniel Dae Kim of Lost fame.
Monday, October 12, 2015
This article originally appeared at Mobility Lab.
Children may again someday walk or bike to their schools and their friends’ houses, but to get to that point historian and author Peter Norton says we’ll have to unlearn much of what the auto industry has taught us over the past century.
“Children’s mobility has been neglected. We have seen the future GM and Ford fed us in the 1950s. To change the future, we have to recover versions of the past we have forgotten,” he told an audience this week at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia.
Norton presented some of the stories from his long-admired book Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City to illustrate just how brainwashed we’ve become in regards to how we want to design and move through our public spaces.
“People are pretty smart about how to share space optimally,” he said, noting how pedestrians originally became irritated with cars encroaching on their streets in the 1910s.
In that era, the public blamed drivers for all the child pedestrian deaths, whereas now Norton says we would blame the parents. Even as early as the 1920s, the messages began changing to “keep the kiddies off the streets.” Before autos and the notion of speed were common, kids, pedestrians, horses, bicycles, and others jostled through the streets just fine.
“Democracy, free markets, and American culture did not decree the motor-age city,” Norton said. “Before [auto-industry groups] could build the motor-age city, they had to redefine the city.”
And Norton says they did a tremendous job of it. Streets are now thoroughly car-centric, and the idea of people-centered streets remains a difficult concept for most people to grasp. These groups recognized they needed to shift the perceived cause of collisions away from drivers and onto pedestrians. Under the name Motordom, the interest groups were quoted in a 1922 edition of Engineering News-Record that they would lead the effort in a “revision of our concept of what a city street is for.”
A major part of this effort was to make walking in the street unacceptable, essentially inventing the idea of “jaywalking.” Centrally coordinated from Detroit, Motordom would enlist Boy Scouts there and in other cities to hand out cards to pedestrians to “quit jaywalking” and would hire jaywalking clowns to look like they were hit by a Model T.
Other parts of the successful effort included producing coloring books for kids, complete with language about how streets were designated for cars, and opening a new program at Harvard: teaching the first generation of traffic engineers to prioritize traffic lights for faster driving and more difficult walking.
Ultimately, Norton uses a Wizard of Oz analogy to describe the public’s perception:
“The Emerald City doesn’t solve Dorothy’s problems. It was a bogus utopia. In the book [but not the movie], it was an illusion created by green glasses that Dorothy had to wear to make the city look like emeralds. It was really made of paper mache or something. ‘There’s no place like home,’ and we have to go back to understanding our multimodal past.”
Decades later, we have never gotten the city of easy parking and effortless thoroughfares that the auto industry and its interest groups have promised us again and again, notably at the 1939 Futurama Exhibit of the World’s Fair (pictured at the top). And, Norton adds, while driverless cars would be spatially efficient, would eliminate the process of parking, and could be shared vehicles, we should be cautious in viewing them as providing a promised utopia.
Norton believes storytelling and public relations are the keys to building a future that more accurately incorporates what we have learned from our past. He said a possible blueprint is to make sure messages like “biking is normal,” “walkability,” and “good transportation choices” become better understood and more widely accepted over the next decade.
Top: Ford Motor’s “Road of Tomorrow” from the 1939 World Fair
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Here's the full article, and here are a few of my quotes:
Metro Can Blame Bikeshare for Lost Passengers, but Bikeshare Is Just Going to Get Bigger
“You’re going to start seeing Bikeshare in places where Bikeshare stations were too far apart,” says Paul Mackie, the spokesman for Mobility Lab, the Arlington-based transportation think tank. “There are going to be stations every three or four blocks.”
That kind of Bikeshare concentration, along with additional bike infrastructure like marked lanes or protected cycle tracks, could actually put a big dent in Metro’s ridership. But instead of pushing back on bikes, Metro should working with Bikeshare to attract people who might actually rely on both modes of transportation for their commutes.
“They have got to allow Bikeshare stations on all their property,” Mackie says. “It would make bike-riding so much better, it would make riding Metro so much better.”
Deficit or no, though, Bikeshare is not going to back off just because it’ll make things easier for a struggling mass-transit system, and Mackie says Metro discourages Bikeshare membership at its peril.
“For Metro to be discouraging any kinds of trips to its stations is real backward thinking,” he says. “That should be common sense.”