What is the Strategy for a Vibrant Downtown? Cars or People?

Posted on The Atlantic Cities – Place Matters is a February 12, 2012 article by Chris McCahill and Norman Garrick, Cars and Robust Cities Are Fundamentally Incompatible. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania recently published a paper that reveals the impacts of automobiles on historicially dense cities around the US by comparing automobile use to the number of residents and employees per square mile over time. The findings are not a surprise for observers of cities. Here is an excerpt from the article:

We found that cities with higher rates of driving have fewer people – a difference of more than 4,000 people per square mile for each 10 percent change in automobile use. As the Penn model suggests, this has to do with the amount of land used to move and store all those cars. As it turns out, the amount of land used for parking is a key indicator of how seriously automobile infrastructure has impacted an urban environment.

The study reveals how the strategy of cities that promote driving as a means to greater prosperity and mobility has failed. Cities that increase driving and increase available parking see people and jobs drop by an average 15% and family incomes decrease 20 to 30%.

Cities that are attracting people are actually reducing available parking. People are living closer to work and to the core downtowns where as many as 30% are walking or biking to their destinations. Here is another excerpt from the article that sums up our current condition:

Today, in many cities, roads and parking facilities continue to grow, as though the problem for the last 50 years has been that the growth was not enough. These cities might be able to guarantee a parking space in front of every destination that still remains (or they might not), but they are likely doing so at the expense of those things that cities really need – namely, people.


Two-Way Streets More Efficient in Getting to a Destination

The state Smart Transportaion Initiative (SSTI) posted a story by Chris Spahr, One-way or two-way streets more efficient? It depends on what you measure. Chris tells about the work of Vikash Gayah of Penn State that makes the case in a Transportation Research Board paper that the concept of “trip serving capacity” is a better metric of transportation netowrk efficiency than current transportation engineer measures of vehicle moving capacity, a measure of cars going fast to no particular destination. It is so time for a change in how transportaion planning is accomplished. The following is an excerpt from the story.

“The debate over one-way versus two-way streets has been ongoing for more than half a century in American cities. Counter to prevailing engineering wisdom, a new study finds two- way streets may be more efficient, if one is measuring getting people to their destinations.

Many cities have recognized that two-way streets provide substantial benefits to downtown neighborhoods for a variety of reasons:

  • Two-way streets are better for local businesses that depend heavily on their visibility to passersby.
  • Two-way streets have been found to be safer than one-way streets. One-way streets correlate with higher speeds and decreased levels of driver attention. Pedestrians prefer crossing two-way streets since drivers tend to travel more slowly on them, and vehicular conflicts are more predictable.
  • Two-way streets are much less confusing for downtown visitors than one-way streets.  Visitors driving in a two-way grid network can easily approach their destination from any direction.”


State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI) Report on Transportation Revenue Sources

SSTI Report on State and Local Transportation Revenue Sources (SSTI, 2013) This SSTI report examines innovative, sustainable transportation funding models to assist decision-makers in identifying policies and practices to augment the current fuel tax revenue system. The report provides a broad account of these funding methods, where they have been implemented or proposed, and identifies state laws, policies, and practices that permit state DOTs and local governments to pursue a more sustainable funding model. The report, completed with the participation of North Carolina DOT, as well as Arizona, Illinois,Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington DOTs, suggests ways multiple revenue sources might be packaged to support and maintain transportation systems.

More Evidence – Inner Expressway TEAR DOWNS Restore Cities

Sara Goodyear posted an article on Grist, Tearing Down highways that Choke Our Cities, that features the following video with John Norquist narrating.

In Seattle a battle is in progress over a bigger is better highway proposal promoted by highway welfare interests that are pushing Seattle’s version of the Boston Big Dig, an old syle mega billions of dollars project the country cannot afford. When you find you are in a hole you should stop digging. Fortunately for Seattle and the Country’s taxpayers a rising political star, Cary Moon, and People’s Waterfront Coalition are standing against the powerful interest that keep wasting public dollars on proven destructive transportation projects. Here is the story posted on Grist by David Roberts, Seattle’s impending car-centric mega-tunnel: a chat with urbanist Cary Moon.

Here is another story posted on Grist that is written by Kamala Rao, Seoul tears down an urban highway and the city can breathe again. Below are some pictures after the tear down. Note how homage was paid to the past mistake of the inner expressway by leaving a couple of elevated road supports as a reminder of a past mistake.

Cheonggyecheon in Seoul, Korea

Seoul, Korea's leftover concrete columns


The 2012 Top 10 Freeways without Futures

The Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) published a list of the top opportunities in North America for replacing aging urban expressways with boulevards, Freeways without Futures 2012. President and CEO for CNU, John Norquist, was the former mayor of Milwaukee where he championed the tearing down of an inner city expressway. In our local effort to redirect a new inner city expressway in Shreveport into a business boulevard John wrote an editorial for the Shreveport Times posted on Agile Planning here. Here is an excerpt from the CNU web site describing their Highways to Boulevards Innitiative:

CNU believes replacing urban freeways with surface streets, boulevards and avenues is the most cost-effective, sustainable option for cities with aging grade separated roads. As the federal and state DOTs confront shrinking budgets, and cities look for ways to increase their tax bases and revenues, support is building for connected street grids and improved transit that are less expensive to maintain and offer urban alternatives to the reconstruction of urban expressways. The Highways-to-Boulevards Initiative unites a diverse set of professionals, residents and activists in advocating for these goals and demonstrating the value of freeway teardowns to restore urban neighborhoods. final_2012_freeways_without_futures_3

Here is a video telling the story of how elevated expressway Interstate-10 destroyed Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans and how a local group is working to tear down I-10 to reverse the damage. There is a real opportunity to plan a more prosperous future for the Claiborne Avenue corridor by rebuilding a business boulevard.

Here is a post by Tyler Faulk about the list on Smart Planet, Top 12 urban highway removal projects.

Articles that reflect a trend of the end to destructive inner city expressways

The current system of funding highway projects does not keep pace with funding requests for new projects and the country falls further and further behind in ability to maintain what we have built. It is time to look more seriously at the strategies we use in planning highway projects. There is a new understanding of changes needed. For instance, studies show that building inner city expressways creates what is called induced demand. In other words, people choose to take the expressway because they feel they can save a few minutes getting to their destination. When enough people choose this option a false congestion is created. The normal less expensive to build and maintain ground level street grid goes underutilized. What happens? Building to satisfy artificially induced congestion with inner city expressway construction is a money pit that is not filled until so much of a community is concrete that no one wants to live there. Want evidence? Look at Detroit that built its way out of congestion with so many inner city expressways cutting up that once beautiful city that half of the population left. Congestion is no longer a problem for Detroit. One bright spot in their search for hope is the move to use vacant land for Detroit Urban Agriculture.

Cities across the country are figuring out that roadways cannot improve the economy at off ramps of super expensive inner city expressways. We can no longer afford pretzel logic to somehow attempt to continue a failed strategy. We need productive investments for public dollars that will truley and sustainably improve local economies. The inner city expressways are by far the most expensive part of the interstate system we can’t afford. The proposals by MPO’s to continue to build these city eating monsters are meeting resistance. A growing number of communities are demolishing these elevated expressways and replacing them with ground level business boulevards. These much less expensive solutions begin to level the playing field creating local opportunity for smaller entrepreneurs instead of transportation subsidies for formula box busineses that bleed dollars our of local economies. Here is a list of articles that begin to tell the story of this gowing trend for the 21st century. We can’t keep doing what has not been working and we can’t trust organizations that keep promoting expensive solutions that just make things worse, that don’t deal with complexities and no longer make sense. loop it support articles against inner city i49

The neighbors in the inner city neighborhood of Allendale in Shreveport are facing the threat of one of these inner city expressways.They want an alternative that is being shared in the following handout.The MPO is promoting 4 options [any of which could cost $500 million] that will run over this neighborhood and a wetlands area along a bayou when a loop already exists.

Here is a story on KTBS in Shreveport, Public meetings on Potential I-49 Connector, by reporter Sara Machi that shares the views of the community and the supporters of the inner-city expressway. The supporters present mis-infromation that cannot be substaniated in an attempt to sway the public to get on board as they drive the community into the past. We deserve a better   than a glimpse of the futurein the rear view mirror.

New Orleans Considers Demolition of Elevated I-10 over Claiborne Avenue

New Orleans is holding a series of public meetings to discuss the future of a 2.2 mile elevated stretch of I-10 over Claiborne Avenue. This elevated expressway is credited with the demise of neighborhoods on both sides of I-10. A local group has proposed demolition and replacement with an at ground level boulevard as shown in this illustration published in a November 28, 2012 Times-Picayune article, New Oleans community meetings will consider future of Claiborne Avenue corridor, elevated expressway.


Here is an excerpt from the article followed by a report of local activists and planners that recommend demolition of the existing elevated expressway.

A group of local civic activists and planners released a report in July 2010 that called for removing the elevated expressway over Claiborne and turning the 2.2-mile stretch between Elysian Fields Avenue and the Pontchartrain Expressway near the Superdome into a surface-level boulevard. Three months later, New Orleans was awarded a $2 million federal grant to finance most of a study of ways to revitalize the corridor.