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News & Notes

→ Salon: It’s time to love the bus

Making people like the bus when not liking the bus is practically an American pastime essentially means making the bus act and feel more like a train. Trains show up roughly when they’re supposed to. Buses take forever, then arrive two at a time. Trains boast better design, speed, shelters, schedules and easier-to-follow routes. When people say they don’t like the bus but they do like the train, what they really mean is they like those perks the train offers. But there’s no reason bus systems can’t simply incorporate most of them.


→ The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Mayor Sam Adams: Portland’s streetcar makes vital change

Atlanta has just broken ground on a streetcar line. As the mayor of Portland, a city in the midst of a streetcar revival, I remember that feeling.

You’re probably wondering what comes next. You can look forward to a noticeable change in your city. Investing local, state and federal dollars to leverage private funds has reinvigorated our city, created jobs and given Portlanders a healthy, more sustainable transportation choice.


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News & Notes

500 days of summer park bench

Photo (cc) jaywei80

→ The Atlantic Cities: In Defense of Loitering

Not long after American inner cities started to empty of street life in the 1960s and 70s, government officials went for the benches. Benches encourage people to sit still. And sitting still is a quasi-crime in urban America commonly known as “loitering.” You may recognize its related anti-social behaviors: standing still, milling about and strolling a little too slowly.

It’s hard to remember how we got here, to criminalizing a leisurely pursuit that’s embraced on most European streets. But the cycle went something like this: Residents moved out of cities and stopped using their public spaces and streets. The only people still walking them were deemed riffraff: the homeless, jobless and, officials feared, gang members and prostitutes.


→ San Francisco Chronicle: Privately owned public spaces: Guidance needed

The Roof Terrace at One Kearny shows why we’re lucky that San Francisco requires downtown developers to provide space in their projects that is accessible to the public at large.

It also is a case study in why the generation-old guidelines must be improved.

Privately managed “public” spaces are one of the things being discussed for 195 land development. The spaces would offset the large footprints of lab buildings, and provide open space that the City would not have to pay to maintain. However, there are obviously lots of questions of accessiblity to answer.


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House Transportation Bill still needs killing

Traffic

Photo (cc) Joe Shlabotnik

The House of Representatives has passed their antiquated transportation bill out of Committee and it is now being considered by the full House. Among other things, the Bill would eliminate guaranteed funding for Public Transit through the gas tax, forcing transit agencies to compete with other programs for funding through the general fund.

Recent news coverage on the Transportation Bill:


Contact your members of Congress:


RIPTA has released the following statement:

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News & Notes

→ The Transport Politic: Time to Fight – With a House like this, what advances can American transportation policy make?

Actions by members of the U.S. House over the past week suggest that Republican opposition to the funding of alternative transportation has developed into an all-out ideological battle. Though their efforts are unlikely to advance much past the doors of their chamber, the policy recklessness they have displayed speaks truly poorly of the future of the nation’s mobility systems.


→ The New York Times: How About Gardening or Golfing at the Mall?

Malls, over the last 50 years, have gone from the community center in some cities to a relic of the way people once wanted to shop. While malls have faced problems in the past, the Internet is now pulling even more sales away from them. And as retailers crawl out of the worst recession since the advent of malls, many are realizing they are overbuilt and are closing locations at a fast clip


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Contact your Rep. about transit funding

Solitary RIPTA bus in Kennedy Plaza

The House Ways and Means Committee is set to vote, tomorrow, on a Bill which would eliminate dedicated funding for Public Transportation. Transportation for America has the story:

A key House Committee is threatening to kill three decades of successful investments in mass transit – originally started under President Ronald Reagan - by ending the guarantee for dedicated funding for public transportation, leaving millions of riders already faced with service cuts and fare increases out in the cold.

In a stunning development late last night, House leadership and the Ways and Means committee made a shocking attack on transit that would have huge impacts for the millions of people who depend on public transportation each day.

They proposed putting every public transportation system in immediate peril by eliminating guaranteed funding for the Mass Transit Account and forcing transit to go begging before Congress for general funds each year – all while highway spending continues to be guaranteed with protected funds for half a decade at a time.

Get involved
Can you take just a moment and tell your representative that this short-sighted idea is intolerable for their voters?

Read more at Transportation for America.

See also: Ways and Means Proposal Would Derail How America Gets To Work And Put Public Transportation On Life Support from Smart Growth America and today’s News & Notes.

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News & Notes

→ Slate: Train in Vain

Mass transit has, according to its fans, a staggering array of benefits. It reduces pollution, improves quality of life, and anchors vibrant walkable communities. It boosts public health and makes people happier. But relatively few transit-boosters understand that existing federal guidelines for assessing which new projects to fund not only exclude those considerations, they make it extremely difficult for newly built transit to meet those objectives. A new proposed rule from the Department of Transportation, now entering its 60-day comment period to let people raise objections, should change all that for the better.


→ Next American City: An Open Letter to David Axelrod, Re: Urban Politics

Last week, David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Obama, announced that after the 2012 election season he’ll return to Chicago to run a political institute at the University of Chicago. But this isn’t just some political think tank. Axelrod’s ambition is:

to help encourage young people who are going to be the David Axelrods – and better – in the future so that we’ll have a new generation of people who will be active in politics and public life.

He goes on to say that there’s going to be an urban slant to the whole thing:

Mr. Axelrod, a former journalist, will serve as the institute’s inaugural director and said it would lean toward a focus on urban politics, in part because of the city around it.

Doubly interesting. What should David Axelrod do with this new institute with a leaning towards urban politics? Here are a few ideas:


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News & Notes

Texting while walking, via Transportation Nation.


→ Planetizen: The Smart Math of Mixed-Use Development

Most of us – city planners, elected officials, business owners, voters, and the like – understand that the city brings in more tax revenue when people shop and eat out more. However, we often overlook the scale of the property tax payoff for encouraging dense mixed-use development.

Many policy decisions seem to create incentives for businesses and property developers to expand just about anywhere, without regard for the types of buildings they are erecting. In this article, I argue that the best return on investment for the public coffers comes when smart and sustainable development occurs downtown.


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Congressman Langevin’s letter about SOPA

Congressman Jim Langevin released the following statement regarding SOPA this morning:

Langevin

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI)

Dear Friend,

Recently I expressed my strong opposition to the overreaching and much-debated proposals before Congress to combat Internet piracy and I wanted explain my deep concerns about why this issue is important for our economy and our values.

We must take seriously the impact of intellectual property theft, whether it involves plans for a fighter jet or the newest Hollywood blockbuster. It’s one reason that I have sounded the alarm about the importance of strengthening cybersecurity.

Unfortunately, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), designed to prevent user access to websites that offer bootlegged material, would damage efforts to increase transparency and security online by allowing US companies to actively seek to shut down other companies’ websites, without court order or government involvement, while placing difficult burdens on the infrastructure of the Internet. This approach is counter to our pursuit of openness online in places like Iran, North Korea, and China. Furthermore, nearly every major internet technology company is against this bill because it stifles the same open technological environment they used to develop the products we depend on every day.

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News & Notes

Two-way traffic

Photo (cc) Oran Viriyincy

→ National Post: Taking a u-turn on the one-way street

Two years ago, city crews went to St. Paul Street – the one-way spine of downtown St. Catharines, Ont. – took down the “no entry” signs, painted new lines and opened up the street to two-way traffic. According to planners, it would slow cars down, make the downtown more pedestrian friendly and spur retail development.

St. Catharines was only following the example of hundreds of cities in the United States and Canada that have been shutting down their one-way streets since the 1990s. In Ottawa last week, planners announced they are considering the two-way conversion of several streets in the shadow of Parliament Hill. Two-way roads would help to “‘normalize’ the streets, by slowing traffic, creating a greater choice of routes, improving wayfinding, creating a more inviting address for residential and commercial investment and improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists,” according to a plan drafted by consulting firm Urban Strategies Inc. [...]


→ The New York Times: Paved, but Still Alive

Absent hard numbers Mr. Ben-Joseph settles on a compromise of 500 million parking spaces in the country, occupying some 3,590 square miles, or an area larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. If the correct number is 2 billion, we’re talking about four times that: Connecticut and Vermont.

As the critic Lewis Mumford wrote half a century ago, “The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle is the right to destroy the city.” Yet we continue to produce parking lots, in cities as well as in suburbs, in the same way we consume all those billions of plastic bottles of water and disposable diapers.


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News & Notes

cornell-tech-campus

Proposed Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology campus on Roosevelt Island in New York.

→ Inside Higher Ed: The Lure of the City

Cornell, one of the only top private research universities in the country not located in an urban area, saw expansion into New York as a necessary component of its future ambitions and was willing to go to greater lengths, invest more money, and better conform to what the city wanted, officials said.

The competition helps cement the idea research universities have been pushing in recent years that they can serve as economic engines to local communities and the country as a whole, and could spawn a host of similar initiatives in other cities.

It also reinforces a growing notion that research universities are going to need access to the resources provided by urban areas to continue to serve as such engines. “We believe the city had the right idea at the right time,” Cornell President David Skorton said at the announcement. “The tech sector of universities is shifting from simply the pursuit of knowledge to service of business and industry.”


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