Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is Sprawl by Another Name Any Greener?

Suburban neighborhood developers want a piece of the "green" market. They're building sprawling neighborhoods far from city centers and declaring them "green and sustainable" by virtue of the fact that the National Association of Home Builders says they are.

For example, the 95-acre "The Lakes of Orange" outside of Cleveland, Ohio boasts that it is "Ohio's FIRST Green Certified Residential Community." That means that it satisfied the requirements set by the NAHB's Green Building Program. But if you live there, and happen to work in downtown Cleveland, it's a 19-mile drive each way. There's a bus stop a 15-minute walk from the neighborhood entrance, but since the bus doesn't use the interstate, it takes three times as long to get downtown. It's also a purely residential and recreational development, so you have to drive to buy groceries or meet a friend for lunch. Is this really green living?

As Angie Schmitt points out in her blog, mixed-use developments like "Saxony" outside of Indianapolis are an improvement over the bedroom community model. But sprawl is sprawl. And so long as public policy makes it cheaper to build on farmland than in-fill locations in urban centers, these new developments will funnel more cars onto our already choking highways.

Monday, April 2, 2012

How to Transform Transportation in a Hurry

I often think it would take generations for Atlanta to build a world-class transportation system, one that includes a comprehensive network of roads, bike lanes, bus, and rail. But then I see examples of places that are making great strides quickly.

One such example is Boston, which Bicycling Magazine named one of the "Worst Biking Cities" three times from 1999 to 2006 (New York Times 2009). The city hired a former Olympic cyclist as "bike czar" and by 2011 had installed 50 miles of bike lanes and made other bike-friendly changes. The League of American Bicyclists now gives Boston a "Silver" (third) level award and ranks Massachusetts as the ninth most "Bicycle Friendly State" in the country. Not bad considering not a single East Coast community earned a "Platinum" (first) or "Gold" (second) level award.

Another impressive example is Medallin, Columbia. Two decades ago, it was the poster child of drug-related violence and earned the notorious ranking of most dangerous city in the world. Today they have shed their violent image and are becoming known for their sustainable transportation system.
"Over the last decade, Medallin has worked hard to change its image. The local government is investing in education and social programs, and the city recognizes the importance of providing an integrated public transportation system as the backbone of these projects."
See a video of Medallin transportation transformation.

How have these cities done this? By committing to sustainable transportation from the top down. One of the striking things you will see in the video about Medallin is just how bought-in to the idea of alternative transportation every government official is. I would love to see that kind of commitment here.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Changing Travel Behavior: Punishment vs. Reward

Being in the business of finding ways to change travel behavior, I have dabbled in both reward and punishment. Charging for parking as a tool to get employees not to park in on-street spaces is a form of punishment, while giving out iPods to those who carpool a certain number of days each month is a reward. I have never thought that one might be more effective than the other until I read Eric Jaffe's piece, "Should We Pay People to Drive Off Peak," in Atlantic Cites Place Matters.

He writes about a group of researchers led by Taede Tillema of the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, who recently designed a study to compare the effects of congestion pricing (punishment) to a Dutch program called "Spitsmijden," or "peak avoidance" (reward).
"In an upcoming issue of the journal Transport Policy, Tillema and colleagues report that a reward system like "Spitsmijden" may indeed be more effective than punishments."
The researchers combined data from a previous study and a previous survey and found that paying people not to drive during peak times changed behavior 37% of the time, whereas boosting tolls during peak times changes behavior only 15% of the time. A nagging question, as the author points out, is if paying people not to drive during peak times works best, who will pay them?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ranking the Most Livable, Innovative Cities in America

Is your city among the smartest in terms of urban planning and policy making? Zipcar, Inc. this week released its "Future Metropolis Index," a ranking of highly populated cities in five categories: innovation, sustainability, vibrancy, and creativity-efficiency-livability-optimism (a combo category).

Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Boston top the "innovation" category. Tuscon, Portland, and San Francisco are most "sustainable." El Paso, NYC, and San Diego are most "livable."

Read the details

The ranking drew the attention of Urban Land Magazine.

Zipcar commissioned the study by KRC Research. The study contends that cities that rank high on "optimism" will fare better economically.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Federal Funding of Public Transit Takes Potential Turn for the Worse

The debate in Washington over federal funding for surface transportation programs is heating up, so I thought I would update you with regard to where everyone stands.

The House Republican proposal to fund surface transportation programs for five years was approved three weeks ago by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The full House is expected to consider the American and Energy Infrastructure Jobs Act later this month.

Sponsors describe the measure as “the largest transportation reform bill since the Interstate Highway System was created in 1956.” The bill aims to eliminate earmarks and to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund, sponsors say.

Read the Republican's position on the bill.

However, this proposal threatens funding for the nation’s transit systems, according to the American Public Transportation Association. A headline from an APTA release reads, “House Plan Puts Public Transit Projects in Jeopardy – Nearly 50 Percent of Revenue Currently Dedicated to Public Transit To Be Diverted.”

The "American Conservative Center for Public Transportation" joined the APTA in a joint statement today lamenting the potential undoing of 30 years of bipartisan support for public transit.

Finally, this past week the president released his own budget, which is "loaded with transportation funding." Actually, the president's proposal would improve the current 80-20 ratio of highway to transit funding to 75-25, with the Livable Communities program receiving $27 billion over six years.

Read about the President's transportation budget here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Peer-to-Peer Car Sharing the Next Big Thing

When I decided to experiment with going car-less over a year ago, I was afraid to get rid of my car completely by selling it, so I decided to rent it to a friend for six months with the caveat that I could use it in case of an emergency. Little did I know I was at the forefront of a movement.
Peer-to-Peer car sharing is different from traditional car sharing like Zipcar in that it allows people to rent out their own vehicles to others at rates set by the car owners themselves. An article in Time this week explores the present state of peer-to-peer car sharing in particular the impact on the auto industry and traditional car sharing.
Author's note: Lanier Parking Solutions is a partner with Zipcar in the Atlanta market.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Managing Mixed-Use Parking Facilities Calls for TDM

I came to Lanier Parking 10 years ago to help take the company and the industry Beyond Parking by getting clients to see parking as one component of a much larger transportation system. A recent trade magazine story that I am quoted in clearly illustrates how we have done this. Case in point is Atlantic Station, the 138-acre mixed-use facility where Lanier has managed parking and transportation since it opened in 2005. Success has required far more than managing the massive, 7,200-space underground parking deck. Our Transportation Demand Management (TDM) programs have included alternative transportation, data collection, and structured pricing.

Read the NPA magazine story.

The story questions whether a TDM approach to parking management is good for the parking company's bottom line. I can testify that TDM is a key differentiating factor that helps Lanier get and keep clients.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Parking Lots: Possibilities Beneath the Surface

It is often said that the lowest and worst land use is surface parking. So why does the US have so much of it, and could it be used for something other than just parking? These are some of the questions that Michael Kimmelman asks in a New York Times article Paved, but Still Alive.
"There are said to be at least 105 million and maybe as many as 2 billion parking spaces in the United States. A third of them in parking lots, those asphalt deserts that we claim to hate but that proliferate for our convenience."
He goes on to explain that, at the very least, we should take these spaces more seriously, architecturally, and use them as public spaces. Kimmelman writes about Parking Day, a global event started around 2005 that invites anybody and everybody to transform metered spaces. For me it brings to mind Cyclovia, a world wide effort to turn streets into part-time passive parks part of the time.

In a competition to adaptively reuse shopping malls, Kimmelman cites one planning firm's approach to parking lots:
"Interboro noticed that the parking lot was quietly being used as a depot and stop by bus lines. A hot dog truck had set up shop there. Patrons at a drive-through McDonald’s ate in their parked cars. Truckers slept there overnight. The Fishkill flea market took over on weekends, and a graphic design firm and a couple of banks and a post-office processing center converted vacant mall stores into offices. In short, said Daniel D’Oca, one of Interboro’s partners, 'what looked dead wasn’t, but you would have missed it if you just passed by it with a predisposed idea about sprawl.'"