Thursday, December 23, 2010

My New Year's Resolution: Become a One-Car Family

Ever since I spent a month without my car as part of Zipcar's Low-Car Diet promotion, I have been seriously contemplating getting rid of my car altogether. Well, my New Year's resolution for 2011 is that I am going car free, sort of. I am selling my car, and we (my wife and child) will become a one-car family. This is both exhilarating and scary at the same time.

Exhilarating because of the possibilities:

  • walking more

  • getting more exercise

  • spontaneous interaction

  • biking more

  • seeing something interesting on MARTA

  • listening to more music (I do not have a car stereo)

  • helping the environment

  • showing my daughter a different way of living
During the Low-Car Diet, I did not drive my car to work and did not miss it, but the second the promotion ended, I drove everyday. Not so much because it was easier, but because it was there. It's kind of like when Oreo cookies are in the house. I eat them. When they are not, I do not eat them and I am better off.

As for scary, it has been more than a decade since I was car free, and that was when I lived in NYC. I have this nagging feeling that I am going to miss something important if I don't have my car. What if I have an early morning or late night meeting? What if I have to fly out of town with luggage? What if I need to get home early? What if a friend wants to meet for dinner? What if, What if? These what ifs can be debilitating.

Giving the car up reminds me of the time I gave up something else I thought I could not live without: Cable TV. On the one, hand I was excited about all the free time I would have to read more books, accomplish more chores, and start new hobbies. On the other hand, I was scared out of my mind to live without ESPN and CNN. Would I never watch basketball again? Well, that was four years ago, and I still do not have Cable TV, and I truly do not miss it. Sure there are times when I wish I could watch a basketball game from the comfort of my own home, but I have found ways to watch that are equally if not more fulfilling such as at a friend's place or in a local bar.

The bottom line is that there are way more possibilities than there are what ifs, so I am going for it. Wish me luck, and I will keep you posted on how it goes.

Here are a few articles about living car free:

Car Free America, NY Times

Going Car Free

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday Transportation Video Fun

Some fun transportation videos for the holidays.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Worthy Folks Walk Off with Golden Shoe Awards

The 11th Annual Golden Shoe Awards were held last night at Dahlberg Alumni Hall at Georgia State University, and I want to thank PEDS as well as all of the winners. Maria Saporta, an iconic local journalist, emceed the event along with PEDS President Sally Flocks. Together, they bestowed the highest Pedestrian honor to seven organization/individuals:
Read more about the event here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Art of Sprawl

The next time you fly into Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, look down on the suburban landscape. The rows after rows of homogenized housing clear cut out of the landscape are mesmerizing. I have often wished I had a camera handy so I could take a picture. Well, artist Christoph Gielen has done just that.
He took his camera 6,000 to 10,000 feet above the suburban landscape to capture images of how suburbanites live. Gielen wants his images to not only intrigue, but to make people think about where and how they live.

Check it out in "America's suburban sprawl elevated to ariel art" by Mathew Knight of CNN.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Atlanta Streetcar wins funding

The effort launched by Lanier Parking Solutions to return the electric streetcar to Atlanta is a go. U.S. Congressman John Lewis announced this week that the U.S. DOT has agreed to grant the City of Atlanta $47 million to help build a streetcar line connecting the convention district, downtown hotels, and major tourist spots. It’s the culmination of seven years of work that began with Lanier’s founding of Atlanta Streetcar, Inc. in 2003.

This is the first step toward Lanier's vision of a complete streetcar system linking downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead. The streetcar will spur economic growth and development just as it has for years in leading cities around the world.

In October 2004, a feasibility study funded by Atlanta Streetcar, Inc. found streetcars would encourage the use of mass transit by "completing the trip," linking areas not served by MARTA rail. Atlanta Streetcar Inc., in coordination with Mayor Shirley Franklin, made the streetcar the centerpiece of the Peachtree Corridor Task Force, which moved the streetcar from concept to design. That evolved into the Peachtree Corridor Partnership, which sought funding for the project.

I want to hail all of those responsible for bringing the streetcar back to Atlanta after a 61 year hiatus. The resurgence has just begun!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Week 3 of my life without a car (and with less MARTA)

I am entering the third week of my low car diet and feeling pretty good about it, even with the dramatic service changes that MARTA (Atlanta's public transit system) made last week. If you have not heard, due to financial constraints on September 25 MARTA discontinued nearly 40% of its bus service, reduced frequencies for the rail service and shut down ride stores, bathrooms, and other amenities. The bus I sometimes used (it came once every hour) from Grant Park to the King Memorial Station was eliminated. Now, no matter what, I have to walk the 3/4 miles to and from the MARTA station each day. I am not sure if I have lost any weight, but I definitely feel better.
Actually, I have settled into a nice routine regarding my commute each day. I walk to the King Memorial station on the East/West line and ride the train two stops to Five Points before transfering to the North/South line for a single stop. It takes about 25 minutes from start to finish. Although it would only take me 5-10 minutes to drive, I figure my commute is still less than the average Atlantan who commutes 30+ minutes each way.
During the day, I use MARTA as often as possible, and when MARTA does not work for me, I have Zipcar. I know this is a Zipcar promotion, and Lanier is a Zipcar partner, but I can not say enough good things about their service. They totally rock! Once you have actually reserved a car and used it a couple times, it is amazingly convenient. The only complaint I have is that there are not enough cars. The last time I reserved a Zipcar, I had to get on MARTA and ride to the nearest available vehicle. I have spoken to Sonny DelGrosso the Zipcar Markeitng Manager, and he assured me more cars are on the way.
Only 13 more days in my diet, and I have to say I am not craving my car. Of course, I have not committed to getting rid of it yet. But that isn't really the point of Zipcar. It's about leaving your car at home more often. Or if you and your significant other have two cars, maybe you can get rid of one.
I will keep you posted as the wrap up date nears.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Week 1 of my life without a car

The first week of my Zipcar® Low Car Diet has come to an end, and so far, it has been quite a rewarding challenge. I have logged numerous miles via transit (bus and rail), pedestrian and carpool. MARTA has been the true champion as its Route 16 has twice come in handy: when I needed to get home from Emory University, and when I went from home to the Carter Center.
My feet have also carried me a long way. I have walked to bus stops, MARTA stations, home and even dinner. I must have logged more than 10 miles on foot alone.

Finally, I have to give props to all my colleagues and friends who have given me rides to meetings and appointments around town. I do my best to minimize these requests and certainly make every effort not to inconvenience anyone. One surprise of the week is that I have not needed a Zipcar. I guess I will continue to bank the credits for another week.

More about the Low Car Diet promotion in this AJC story.

Follow the progress of all Low Car Diet participants.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Giving up the auto fix

Well, today is the first day of my new diet, the "Low Car Diet," sponsored by Zipcar, the carsharing service. I pledged to give up my vehicle for 30 days and find other ways to meet my transportation needs.

I have been a Zipcar member (formerly Flexcar) since Lanier brought it to Atlanta four years ago. Until now, however, my personal car has been my primary mode of transportation, especially during the week. It seems when you have a car, you drive it, even if other options are available. It is like having a big piece of chocolate cake placed in front of you after every meal. You just eat it.

Well, no more. Starting today, I am giving up the automobile fix. At least for a month. I will keep you posted on how I do.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Most Dangerous Pedestrian Cities in the World

What are the most dangerous cities in the world to walk in?

GOOD Magazine has come out with an excellent info graphic illustrating the world cities with the most pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 residents. Three American cities made the list: Detroit, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. Detroit and Atlanta had 10 per 100,000, and Los Angeles had 7.

The study source is the New York City Pedestrian Safety and Action Plan dated August 2010.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

You think you have it bad

When I was a kid and I did not finish my vegetables, my parents would always remind me of the poor children starving in other parts of the world. Well now, parents who have children who complain about how long it takes to drive somewhere can say, "You are lucky you are not a child stranded in the 60+ mile traffic jam in China."
It appears China's new love affair with the auto combined with truck traffic has resulted in a 10-day traffic jam that may span into September. The WSJ reports that businesses popped up along the route to take advantage of the captive audience, and law enforcement was out in force to quell the unrest.
We in the United States have never experienced such a thing, and I hope we never will, but we certainly have felt the negative impact of our own love affair with the car, and it has resulted in new thinking around the way we develop and move around. For example, we have embraced mixed use developments that support alternative forms of transportation. The Chinese have their own ideas, and you can read about them here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Economics of Paid Parking

Here at Lanier, it is no surprise that we support the concept of paid parking. However, that is not only because our business is built on managing paid parking operations. Placing a monetary value on the availability of parking is also good for the environment, congestion and urban planning.
A recent article by Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, makes the economic case for more paid parking.
"Is this a serious economic issue? In fact, it is a classic tale of how subsidies, use restrictions, and price controls can steer an economy in wrong directions. Car owners may not want to hear this, but we have way too much free parking."
Cowen points out that zoning laws often mandate ample parking at businesses, effectively subsidizing car trips that the free market would have discouraged.
"If developers were allowed to face directly the high land costs of providing so much parking, the number of spaces would be a result of a careful economic calculation rather than a matter of satisfying a legal requirement. Parking would be scarcer, and more likely to have a price — or a higher one than it does now — and people would be more careful about when and where they drove."
Donald Shoup, professor of urban planning at UCLA, explains that 99% of all vehicular trips in the United States end up in free parking. Professor Shoup has been arguing for paid parking for the better part of a decade and has written a book that I have previously discussed called "The High Cost of Free Parking."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

"First ring" suburbs no longer fit for walking

Excellent video about pedestrian safety and the built environment, in particular the "first-ring" suburbs. The focus is on Buford Highway in Atlanta, but this could be any suburban community in the United States.

These first ring suburbs were built 30 to 40 years ago to accommodate the first wave of urbanites escaping the trappings of the inner cities, and they relied exclusively on the automobile to get around. Once hot growth spots, many of these communities have found themselves aging and declining, threatened by the pull of newer, farther out suburbs and gentrified inner cities.

The population of these communities is now made up of the low-income families (largely elderly and immigrants), many of whom cannot afford automobiles. Over the years, transit has been laid on top of these commuter corridors making them less safe. Kudos to organizations like PEDS and many others who are working tirelessly to make them less dangerous.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

China adopting alternative transportation solutions to meet crushing demand

China is learning very quickly what it took the U.S. decades to realize. You can’t solve traffic problems only by building and widening roads. In a New York Times story this week, Chinese cities are using BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) systems with elevated stations and lanes dedicated to the buses. Interestingly, it was the U.S. based Institute for Transportation & Development Policy that suggested the idea to the southern Chinese city of Guanghhou.

"And they are not adopting necessarily the same model that the U.S. has adopted in trying to solve all their mobility needs through the construction of highways and increasing the capacity of their road network…” – said a transportation engineer.

Los Angeles runs a BRT system, and Seattle has a partial system. The Atlanta Regional Commission is planning a BRT system with dedicated lanes and light rail from the suburbs.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

When crosswalks aren't enough, do more, not less

In a July 4 post, Atlanta columnist Maria Saporta, who was previously trained in urban planning, wonders about crosswalks and what they say about a city's commitment to a true pedestrian environment. Maria shows examples from around the world and brings her point home in Atlanta, where transportation engineers seem to treat pedestrians as second class citizens to the automobile.

Marie notes efforts by PEDS, a local pedestrian advocacy group that I chair, to fight a move toward removing crosswalks that aren't signalized.
...streets like Ponce de Leon could end up not having any crosswalks for blocks — a move that would increase jaywalking and the likelihood of accidents between pedestrians and cars. Certainly, that’s not a positive direction for us.
PEDS addressed the issue in a recent e-newsletter:
After reading GDOT's justification for removing a crosswalk on Roswell Road, we reminded District 7 engineer Bryant Poole that federal guidelines recommend that where crosswalks alone are insufficient to create safe crossings, transportation agencies need to do more, not less. High-speed multi-lane roads like Roswell Road account for 65 percent of all pedestrian fatalities nationwide. Removing crosswalks does not solve the problem of getting pedestrians safely across the street.

Instead of removing unsignalized crosswalks, we encourage GDOT to add rectangular rapid flash beacons. Following installation of these low-cost devices in St. Petersburg, Florida, driver compliance with crosswalk laws increased to 88 percent.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Should transit agencies sell naming rights to stations?

Should transit agencies be able to sell the naming rights to transit stations? This is a question being asked all over the U.S. as transit agencies struggle for money during these tough economic times. PhiladelphiaNew York, and Miami have agreed to rename their stations, and Detroit and Pittsburgh are considering it.

At first glance it seems like a no brainer. We sell the rights to sports facilities, so why not transit stations?

But nothing is as simple as it seems. Two very important issues that need to be addressed when considering selling the naming rights to transit stops:

  1. Is the name of a station supposed to indicate a geographic location to assist riders as opposed to a corporate logo?
  2. Isn't corporate influence in the public sector already at an all-time high, and does this not continue to blur the lines between public and private sector?

What do you think?

Friday, June 11, 2010

What is your state doing about texting while driving?

Ever since July 2009 when the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute confirmed what we already knew, that cell phone use (talking and texting) while driving is dangerous (4 times and 23 times more dangerous than not, respectively), the country has been grappling with what policies should be put in place to minimize this risk.

The federal government convened a Distracted Driving Summit, and through executive order made it illegal for truck drivers and federal employees to text and drive. States have followed suite with their own cell phone and texting laws, and the question is when will a nationwide ban occur.

Georgia recently took one step closer when Gov. Sony Perdue signed an anti-texting while driving bill. The new  law, effective July 1, prohibits drivers of all ages from texting while driving. Young drivers with provisional licenses are banned entirely from using cell phones behind the wheel. Violators can receive a penalty of up to $150 and one point on their driving record.

Find out what your state is doing here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lanier CEO on Why EVERYONE Should Support Commute Alternatives

Michael Robison, Chairman and CEO of Lanier Parking Solutions, spoke to a group of real estate executives about the business of parking, and what was truly amazing about the discussion was how little Michael spoke about parking. He spent most of this time talking about our efforts to promote alternative transportation solutions such as Zipcar and Streetcar.
This goes to the core of Lanier's belief that we are a transportation management firm, not just a parking management firm, and that parking is one component of a much larger transportation system that impacts our clients' properties. When these systems are managed together, the whole system works more effectively, efficiently, and profitably. It is this belief from the top down that separates Lanier Parking Solutions from the competition.
To view the video, click here, then click "Speaker Series" and then scroll down to Michael.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

More Than Talking Heads: Congress for the New Urbanism Promotes Healthy Cities and People

The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), which I helped to plan this year, is in Atlanta next week, May 19-22. It's the 18th year of the event bringing the nation's most prestigious proponents and creators of livable, sustainable communities to the city for two days of networking, collaboration, education, tours and special programs. Anyone who would like to discuss development practices and public policies, learn from recent innovative work and advance new initiatives to transform communities, is welcome.

See an excellent video: SPRAWLANTA.

CNU is an urban design and development movement dedicated to developing community oriented principles of traditional town and city planning in contrast with the prevailing system of formless sprawl. New urbanist developments are walkable, provide a diverse range of housing options, encourage a rich mix of uses, and provide welcoming public spaces (read the CNU charter). If you are developer, architect, landscape architect, town planner, urban designer, engineer, environmental consultant, transit/transportation planner, bike and ped advocate, housing specialist, real estate broker, regulator, government official, or interested member of the public, you should check it out.

This year's conference is titled New Urbanism: Rx for Health Places and has been organized with assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of the strategies that the CNU promotes to make communities more livable, energy efficient and better positioned for economic success are the same ones health officials promote to make places healthier. Studies have shown that there are numerous health, social, environmental and economic benefits that come from a more connected way of living that flourishes in towns where people can walk, bike, and interact with their neighbors.

There will be a number of impressive speakers at the conference, but one particular highlight will be David Byrne, front man for Talking Heads. David will speak about how cities reveal themselves differently when traveling on a bicycle as opposed to a car. In addition to David's musical talents, he has spent the past several years writing the Bicycle Diaries, a book chronicling his use of a bicycle as his main form of transportation.

I hope to see you at the congress.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Why You Become a Different Person When You Get Behind the Wheel

I just ran across an interview with Tom Vanderbilt who writes the blog "How We Drive" and wrote the book "Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)," and I had to share it.
In the interview, Vanderbilt talks about the psychology of driving and the many false impressions drivers use to operate their vehicles. I have always been fascinated with the behavior of driving and how when a person gets in that enclose bubble we call a car, they become a different person. Why does that happen?
Well, Vanderbilt has spent a great deal of time researching this phenomenon and many others. This interview is a very refreshing discussion of the psychology of driving which is often overlooked in our car culture. I immediately ran out and bought the book.

Here are a couple other interviews of Tom.

InfoDesign Interview
Amazon Interview

Here are a couple Reviews of his book.

Washington Post
New York Times
USA Today

Friday, April 23, 2010

Georgia Lawmakers Pass Needed Transportation Funding Bill

It is hard not to be cynical when writing about transportation/transit funding in Georgia, but I will do my darnedest not to interject cynicism into this update. Recently, there has been a glimmer of hope in the long fought battle to get the State to step up with some leadership and money. Just last night, at the eleventh hour, the Georgia State Legislature voted and approved a measure that would allow 12 designated regions around the state to tax themselves for transportation improvements.
As reported in the AJC:
The bill would divide the state into 12 regions. A “roundtable” of local elected officials in each region, working with an appointee of the governor, would draw up a list of projects for the region. The region could then submit the list to its voters for their approval in a referendum, along with a 1 percent sales tax to fund them. No county could opt out of a region’s tax, but a roundtable could decline to hold a referendum in the region.
If approved by a region, the money would not start funding for approximately three years. So what is a region to do if they need money sooner? Well, I'm not sure if there is a solution across the board, but MARTA was offered some relief when the legislature included language in the proposal that "lifts, for three years, a restriction on how the transit agency can use its revenues from sales taxes, freeing up several million dollars for operations."
Thank goodness for small miracles. So to recap, the legislature has spent years working to pass a piece of legislation that 1) allows us to tax ourselves for transportation projects and 2) allows us more flexibility to spend money we collected by taxing ourselves. Nice.

Friday, March 19, 2010

When Public Transit is Cut, Everyone Suffers

Transit agencies across the country are struggling to make ends meet and are being forced to cut service. Too often, their hardship is treated differently from departments of transportation. For example, I often hear that transit is a subsidy, while roads are an investment. Here in Atlanta, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Agency is in especially dire straits, and the state treats it like a red headed stepchild (MARTA is the only major transit agency in the world that does not get state funding).

In today's AJC, Jim Durrett, a MARTA board member, explains that when transit services are cut, transit riders aren't the only victims.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Seeing Is Believing

I often think about how the design of a street can eleicit a feeling from those who use it similar to the way a piece of art or architecture elicits a feeling. Unfortunately, most people using a street do not know why they are feeling a certain way. They just know they are.
A recent article that highlights Steve Price's work shows streets transformed from places that create a negative reation to places that create a positive one.
"The work, done mostly with Photoshop, rests on the premise that seeing a proposed development can be more useful to people than receiving lots of information about it. There are limits, says Price, to explaining a design proposal with things like dwelling-units per acre, setbacks, building heights, traffic volumes, and vehicle-miles traveled. They might be perfectly good arguments, he says. They’re just not how people come to understand and support civic changes."
What are your reactions to the changes?
See the article here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Parking Companies Not Paying Valet Attendants at Least Minimum Wage: Beware

In the hyper competitive valet industry, the question of whether to pay the employees a minimum wage plus tips, tip wage plus tips, or have the valets work for tips only is always a quandary. At Lanier, we have chosen to take the high legal ground by paying minimum wage plus tips. Of course, this has resulted in Lanier having to pass on many of valet opportunities. But, let the buyer beware. Two recent articles, one in the National Restaurant News and the other in Service First Newsletter, point out that not only is the valet company potentially liable for underpaying the valets, but so too is the entity that hired the valet company.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Parking Management key to successful transportation system

When I left the Perimeter Transportation Coalition (PTC) to come work for Lanier Parking Solutions, many people asked how someone who worked so hard to promote alternative transportation could work for a parking company. I would say that I am a big advocate of paid parking, because it encourages people to think about the cost of driving trips, and as a result they may change their travel behavior (i.e biking, walking, transit, and carpooling). Ninety-nine percent of all U.S. driving trips end in free parking spaces, but when the economic and environmental consequences are considered, these parking spots are not free at all. Smarter parking management, which is what Lanier has touted for the past decade, will benefit consumers and businesses in time and money saved. This has now been confirmed by a recent study by Insitute for Transportation and Development Policy (TTDP).
"U.S. Parking Policies: An Overview of Management Strategies," co written by Professor Rachel Weinberger, John Kaehny, and Matthew Rufo, illustrates how parking management in most U.S. cities creates additional traffic and air pollution and feeds auto dependence. As long as parking is considered independently of transportation policy, parking demand and traffic will continue to increase in the form of excess auto trips, on-street parking shortages, and a decline in the overall pedestrian’s environment. This is not only true from a macro level (region and city) but also from a micro level (mixed use development and retail establishment). Traditional parking policy prioritizes private automobile use, undermining the use of public transit, walking, and bicycling as travel modes, spurring significantly higher household travel costs for all.
A balanced transportation system, with the automobile and parking being one component, is the end game. The parking policy of the past 30 years has been a huge impediment to creating such a system. But as the ITDP study indicates, there seems to be change in the air. Download the full report.

Monday, February 8, 2010

How to get around Vancouver during the Winter Games

As a transportation planner, I watch the Olympics from the perspective of how well the transportation system works as opposed to how well the athletes do. The Vancouver Olympic Games will be especially interesting to watch, since VANOC (Vancouver Olympic Committee) and the City of Vancouver have stayed true to a multi-modal transportation system that provides limited emphasis on the automobile while investing heavily in alternative transportation modes.

Although there will be additional parking available (managed by Lanier/Impark, biking, walking, and shuttles will play a greater role than ever before. Here are some key players to look for in the coming days.

Canada Line: If you have just landed at Vancouver International Airport (YVR), this is the cheapest and quickest option. There is a station right at the Airport, and a train will whisk you away into downtown Vancouver in a mere 20 minutes. Detailed trip planning here.

Olympic Line: Connecting Granville Island, a key entertainment center for the 2010 Winter Games, and the Olympic/Paralympic Village Vancouver, the Olympic Line Streetcar service will extend Vancouver’s regional transit network before and during the Games. More streetcar info here.

Trolley Buses, Expo and Millennium Line SkyTrains: The bus and SkyTrain network is quite extensive within the city of Vancouver. The farther east you go, the dicier the service becomes, especially for trolley buses. For more information on bus re-routes, consult the bus re-routes guide for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Sea Bus: The Sea Bus passenger ferry runs from Waterfront Station in Downtown Vancouver and connects to the Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver. A must-visit for anyone visiting Vancouver, with the views simply breathtaking from the water. More info here.

Taxi: Always a good option during these types of events.

Walking: Yes, good old fashioned walking may be the best way to explore Vancouver (especially with the mild winter weather they've had of late). It is an extremely pedestrian friendly city and one of the most walkable. If you are staying within the downtown core, rain or shine, you should walk to and from events (Pavilions, Ziptrek zipline etc...). Not only are there specific pedestrian corridors for the Olympics (Robson Street, Hamilton, Granville Street), you'll also see some of the most beautiful people on the continent.

Automobile: If you plan on driving into Vancouver and during the Winter Olympics, consult the 2010 transportation plan: Street plan and mapsOpening and Closing ceremony transportation guide

Here is a great article about getting to and around the Olympics in Vancouver.

Let the Games begin.