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firstworks dining

People eating at Kennedy Plaza during last month’s FirstWorks Festival

The Atlantic Cities: The Power of the Movable Chair

In his classic 1980 study of the use of public spaces in New York City, William H. Whyte and his team of researchers used cameras to watch people and understand how they used the public places in the city. One of the takeaways from the film footage was that people like to sit in public places, and, far more fascinatingly, that if given the option they will almost always move chairs before they sit in them.


The New York Times: How the G.O.P. Became the Anti-Urban Party

A leading Republican columnist, trying to re-stoke her candidate’s faltering campaign before the first presidential debate, felt so desperate that she advised him to turn to cities.

“Wade into the crowd, wade into the fray, hold a hell of a rally in an American city – don’t they count anymore?” Peggy Noonan lamented in The Wall Street Journal. “A big, dense city with skyscrapers like canyons, crowds and placards, and yelling. All of our campaigning now is in bland suburbs and tired hustings.”

But the fact is that cities don’t count anymore – at least not in national Republican politics.

See also: Greater Greater Washington: Presidential debate again ignores urban issues


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News & Notes

Chicago Sun-Times: City wants to turn streets, alleys, plazas into outdoor fun spots

Designated Chicago streets, alleys, plazas and parking lanes may soon be painted blue with campy white footprints and filled with public seating, music, farmer’s markets and other seasonal activities.


GOOD: Young People Are Driving Less—And Not Just Because They’re Broke

I never got my driver’s license, which makes me an outlier in a nation of car lovers. But I have something in common with today’s teens. Recent studies show that American teenagers are far less likely to have their drivers’ licenses than their counterparts thirty years ago, and the trend continues to a lessening degree through the 20-something cohort. Today only 22 percent of drivers are under 30, down from a third in 1983.


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News & Notes

The Atlantic Cities: Why is a Patent Troll in Luxembourg Suing U.S. Public Transit Agencies?

Dowell Baker, a law firm specializing in patent litigation in Lafayette, Indiana, finds companies to target in a couple different ways. The firm’s client, ArrivalStar, holds 34 U.S. patents, all related to the idea of tracking a vehicle in motion and then alerting people, through some communications device, of when it may arrive or whether it’s running late. As you might imagine, many entities – airlines, school buses, freight-tracking services, package-delivery companies – do something quite similar to this. And Dowell Baker believes they’re all infringing on these patents.

The firm scours for potential infringers on the Internet. Sometimes, companies that have already been sued by ArrivalStar – and now license its patents – will tip off the firm to its competitors. And then there are the really easy targets: public transit agencies. They’re quite public about the cell phone apps and notifications that you can sign up for, as a rider, to keep tabs on buses and trains. And so Dowell Baker signs up for them, too.


Miller-McCune: Megacity Century: Far-Off Problems Come Home

In one lifetime – the period from 1950 to 2015, as projected by the United Nations – the population of Lagos went from 1 million to 25 million; Dhaka, from 400,000 to 22.8 million; and Kinshasa, from 200,000 to 10.5 million. These are among the places the authors of the new book The Real Population Bomb describe as “Category 5 Megacities.”

In a riff on Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 classic, Peter Liotta and James Fiskel argue that exponential urban growth is a danger to human survival. The problem is not overpopulation per se – after all, the world’s biggest city, population-wise, is Tokyo – but massive suffering and chaos in places where corruption, poverty, and mismanagement reign.


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Media Matters: STUDY: Media Missing The Mark On Gas Prices

A Media Matters analysis of print and television coverage of rising gasoline prices between January 1 and February 29 finds that news outlets often provided a shallow and shortsighted treatment of the issue. For instance, several outlets largely overlooked fuel economy standards – a key policy solution that mitigates U.S. vulnerability to price spikes – while promoting increased U.S. drilling and the Keystone XL pipeline, which would likely move gas prices by only a few cents, if at all. In addition, cable news outlets primarily hosted political figures rather than energy experts or economists to comment on gas prices. Fox News, which covered gas prices far more frequently than any other outlet, regularly blamed President Obama for the recent price increase, a claim in line with Republican strategy but not with the facts.

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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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The Occupation and Public Space

Occupy Providence

Occupy Providence in Burnside Park. Photo © Jonathan Beller from Facebook.

Eventually, at some point, the current situation with Occupy Providence at Burnside Park is going to change. In this post I’m not trying to talk about what the movement is trying to accomplish, or to take a side, or to pass judgement, this is about what that next step could be and how the park can/might play a roll in the future.

As has been widely reported, the City has begun taking action to set up for removing the protesters from the park, Occupy Providence has a copy of the eviction notice from Commissioner Pare here. The notice basically tells protesters they are in violation of a number of city ordinances, most notably, remaining in the park after it closes at 9pm. The notice gives the protesters 72 hours to comply, which would result in them needing to be out by Sunday evening.

Occupy Providence is calling for people to join them on Sunday in the park in an action they are refering to as “Solidarity Sunday” to resist eviction. As the AP reports, Comissioner Pare has stated that the police will not forcibly evict protesters on Sunday evening if they remain in violation of the eviction notice.

Commissioner Steven Pare tells WPRO-AM the city won’t “physically remove them” from Burnside Park and instead will seek to force them out “peacefully and civilly” through the court system.

He said that could take several weeks.

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News & Notes

In wake of Ohio River bridge closure, NBC Nightly News examines the sorry state of U.S. bridges [Transportation for America]

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Over the weekend, NBC Nightly News ran a sharp piece on our country’s structurally deficient bridges, focusing on the data in the T4 America bridge report.

At least one person somewhere in the U.S. is driving over a structurally deficient bridge, according to T4 America director James Corless in a report on the woeful condition of our nation’s bridges on NBC Nightly News Sunday evening.

Brought into the national spotlight because of the recent closure of a highly-trafficked interstate bridge over the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky and the President’s scheduled appearance at a Cincinnati-area bridge this Thursday, more national media outlets (and Americans and their leaders in Congress, one would hope) are paying attention to the real-life impacts of underinvestment in infrastructure.


Debunking the Cul-de-Sac [The Atlantic Cities]

This is where it’s most apparent – from an airplane window – that American ideas about how to live and build communities have changed dramatically over time. For decades, families fled the dense urban grid for newer types of neighborhoods that felt safer, more private, even pastoral. Through their research, Garrick and colleague Wesley Marshall are now making the argument that we got it all wrong: We’ve really been designing communities that make us drive more, make us less safe, keep us disconnected from one another, and that may even make us less healthy.


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News & Notes

SB 375 Draws Ire of Tea Party [California Planning & Development Report]

While the Tea Party movement has been trying to “take back America” on the national stage since the election of Barack Obama, Tea Party activists have also turned their attention to taking back California – and, specifically, Senate Bill 375, the 2008 law that seeks to combat climate change by promoting density in the state’s metro regions.

Environmentalists and many fans of cities hail SB 375 as an important step towards both curbing global warming and creating more pleasant cities. But Tea Party activists nationwide have fought against local and regional planning efforts, often invoking the United Nations’ “Agenda 21″ sustainable development effort as the enemy. In California, Tea Party representatives have increasingly turned up at regional and statewide planning sessions – including a recent SB 375 “One Bay Area” workshop in Concord, where they disrupted the meeting by challenging its premise.


America’s Gambling Craze: Playing with Fire [CitiWire]

What if all America were like Las Vegas, with gambling as near as the closest convenience store? Or if states offered blackjack, poker and other casino-style games on-line, as accessible as your personal computer?

“There is a legalized gambling avalanche in progress in America,” [Sam] Skolnik concludes.

And at a high price, he adds: newly legalized gambling opportunities invariably create new gamblers. A small but significant percentage get hooked. Gambling addiction leads to unemployment, bankruptcies, divorces, illnesses – and in some of the severest cases, suicide. Addicted gamblers, estimates Baylor University scholar Earl Gronois, cost the United States as much as $50 billion a year.


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News & Notes

Riled about rail: Why all the anger over high speed trains? [CNN]

Much of the opposition to rail projects appears to stem not from economic arguments, but from fundamental cultural values on what “American” transportation should be.

A perusal of online commentaries about passenger rail stories reveals a curious linkage by writers between passenger rail and “European socialism.”

Never mind that the majority of European passenger rail operates on a commercial basis.

Many critics of passenger rail emotionally identify it as an enabler of cultural values they fear.

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News & Notes

Projo 7 to 7 News Blog: Chafee takes first step toward casino study

The study would look, in part, at the impact on Rhode Island’s gambling revenue that from the potential of three privately run casinos in Massachusetts, a possible Wampanoag Indian casino in Southeastern Massachusetts, and the introduction of slots at the Bay State’s tracks.

The consultant would be asked to consider the impact, if any, on Rhode Island on a Shinnecock Indian casino at the eastern end of Long Island.

The study would also look at the potential impact on state revenue of allowing table games at both Twin River and Newport Grand — with and without competition from Massachusetts — and what might happen to state revenue if the Narragansetts were somehow able to buy Twin River.


The New York Times: ‘I Was A Teenage Cyclist,’ or How Anti-Bike-Lane Arguments Echo the Tea Party

If you’re itching to write an anti-bike-lane argument (and, if so, line up, because it’s a burgeoning literary genre), you could do no better than to follow the template laid out yesterday by The New Yorker’s John Cassidy in his blog post, “Battle of the Bike Lanes.”

Cassidy’s post – which has already been called “a seminal document of New York City’s bike lane backlash era” – helpfully includes all the requisite rhetorical tactics, thus providing an excellent blueprint. (You might even say “boilerplate.”) These include:

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News & Notes

The Future of the Strip: Downhill [CitiWire]

From 1960 to 2000 there was an almost 10-fold increase in U.S. retail space, from four to 38 square feet per person. For many years retail space was growing five to six times faster than retail sales. Most of this space came in the form of discount superstores on the suburban strip.

The recession proved that we have too much retail. Strip centers are now littered with vacant stores. By some estimates, there is currently over 1 billion square feet of vacant retail space, much of which has to be re-purposed or demolished.

V.P. Biden Announces $53 Billion Commitment to High-Speed Rail [America 2050]

Today, Vice President Joe Biden announced the Obama Administration’s plan to dedicate $53 billion over the next six years to help promote the construction of a national, high-speed, intercity passenger rail network. Biden, a long-time rail advocate and Amtrak rider, was joined by USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood on Tuesday morning at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station where he outlined the plan.

See also: The White House Stakes Its Political Capital on a Massive Intercity Rail Plan [The TransportPolitic]

Town centers are the new death panels [Grist]

Oh, those Teabaggers — always smacking you in the face with something unpleasant. This time it’s self-righteous outrage at the socialist erosion of our Freedom Sprawl. Because in the real America, you get in the car just to go to your kitchen.

CA Rep. Hunter: Roads Constitutionally Mandated, Transit Must Pay For Itself [DC.Streetsblog]

Streetsblog: I was just in an EPW Committee hearing and there was some talk about the fact that some small amount of money in the reauthorization historically gets used for things like bike trails. Some people think that’s waste; some people think biking is a mode of transportation. What do you think?

Duncan Hunter: I don’t think biking should fall under the federal purview of what the Transportation Committee is there for. If a state wants to do it, or local municipality, they can do whatever they want to. But no, because then you have us mandating bike paths, which you don’t want either.

SB: But you’re OK with mandating highways?

DH: Absolutely, yeah. Because that’s in the constitution. I don’t see riding a bike the same as driving a car or flying an airplane.

The Congressman refers to Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution where it says that Congress shall have the power to “establish Post Offices and post Roads.” Further, he interprets the Interstate highway system as a form of military spending, which is also in the Constitution.

The Congressman presumably thinks that the mail cannot and is not transported by any manner other than road, and that the military cannot and will not use any mode of transportation other than the interstate highway system.

How Cars Won the Early Battle for the Streets Streetsblog

Judging by the recent media backlash against a few bike lanes in New York City, you would think that roads have been the exclusive domain of cars since time immemorial.

Not so, as Peter D. Norton recounts in his book, “Fighting Traffic — The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City.” When cars first entered cities in a big way in the early 20th Century, a lot of people were not happy about it — like angry-mob not happy.

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News & Notes

Reclaiming the center [The Boston Globe]

Today, the principle behind revitalization efforts is to make downtowns not just shopping areas, but 24-hour neighborhoods with homes, offices, and entertainment venues where residents can shop, dine, and mix at movies and concerts. Such efforts helped transform downtown Providence, for example, into a thriving cultural center and business district with local artists, new restaurants, and popular retail stores.

Understanding the Republican Party’s Reluctance to Invest in Transit Infrastructure [The TransportPolitic]

Conservatives in Congress threaten to shut down funding for transit construction projects and investments in intercity rail. One doesn’t have to look far to see why these programs aren’t priorities for them.

If you’re so happy in your car, why are you so mad at the people walking? [The Grist]

Pedestrian advocates sometimes talk about an attitude called “windshield perspective.” That’s the point of view people develop when their ass is planted firmly in the driver’s seat—a point of view in which people on the other side of the glass are somehow always responsible for everything that happens to them.

Once you’re aware of the concept, windshield perspective turns out to be everywhere. Cops have it. Courts have it. Reporters have it. You can develop it yourself surprisingly quickly.

Rail study on track [The Barnstable Patriot]

Also on Jan. 24, the MPO approved a $300,000 study of restoring weekend rail service to the Cape from Boston and New York. Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority Administrator Tom Cahir said if it’s found feasible, the trains could run from Memorial Day to Labor Day in 2012.

When rail service between Cape Cod and New York last ran in 1996, it went via Providence. Of course since then, we have opened a train station at the Airport as well. Previous service was run by Amtrak and as of yet, we do not have an agreement with Amtrak for their trains to stop at T.F. Green. Perhaps RIDOT should be speaking with the CCRTA about that.

Shameless Plug: Please feel free to nominate us as Best Blog in the Phoenix’s Best of 2011. You could also ask your friends, your mom, and your cat to nominate us if you like.

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News & Notes

Tea Partiers See a Global Conspiracy in Local Planning Efforts [Next American City]

Some might say that the Tea Party’s platform contains some contradictions. It seems that they’re—like most people, really—willing to ignore those spending programs from which they benefit directly. The subsidization of suburbia is one of these beneficial spending programs, too. But the nature of this subsidy is so diffuse that it’s hard to point at directly—cheap petroleum, tax incentives for homeowners, DOT money that goes straight to highway funds, etc—so that it is now taken for granted, a mere part of the “American way of life” that only really existed for maybe two and a half decades following World War II.

The Motorist’s Identity Crisis [Planetizen]

When a Los Angeles bus rider asked presidential candidate George W. Bush about transit improvements in 2000, Bush responded, “My hope is that you will be able to find good enough work so you’ll be able to afford a car.” Bush was undoubtedly sincere. Like many Americans—probably most—he saw a bus (like a bicycle) as a nothing more than a pathetic substitute for a car.

Bike Lanes: A One-Way Path To Controversy [WBUR-Boston]

Then there’s Charlestown, which received its first set of bike lanes on Main Street this fall, only to have those lanes scrubbed from the street this week when the neighborhood council complained.

Maybe that is the solution to Atwells. Complain that people are getting hit by cars and have the city close the street. Wha? It wouldn’t work that way?

NYC Will Try Out Taxis to Provide Access-A-Ride Service [Streetsblog]

In a bid to cut costs and improve transit service for New Yorkers with disabilities, the MTA and the Taxi and Limousine Commission will pilot a program to have yellow cabs provide Access-A-Ride service. The program could benefit everyone who rides subways and buses too — if it proves effective at curbing the cost of Access-A-Ride, the federally-mandated service which has been eating up an increasingly large portion of the MTA’s budget and putting strain on other aspects of the transit system.

New York’s Access-A-Ride is similar to RIPTA’s RIde Program.

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News & Notes

The war on trains [History Eraser Button]

What the hell is going on? Opposition to trains is not some kind of Tea Party platform. You aren’t hearing anybody talk about it on Fox News or AM radio. There’s little if any populist rage against trains. Rail improvements have bipartisan support at the federal level. Trains make sense and have a proven record of helping boost local economies; they’re pork projects in the best sense of the word. [New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie, especially, serves a constituency in New Jersey that depends on trains to get around every day. Additionally, in my experience, state politicians are deeply reluctant to kill projects that divert federal funds to local construction companies. And even if trains aren’t your favorite thing, and even if you think they require too much taxpayer money, they’re certainly cheaper than highways.

Miles Not Gallons Could Be Key to Road Upkeep [Miller-McCune]

“Tying the funding of our transportation system to a tax levied on a commodity, the consumption of which we’re trying to discourage, is probably not the best way to go,” said [Jeff] Shane, a partner at the Hogan Lovells law firm in Washington and a former undersecretary for policy at the Department of Transportation.

Select Bus Service Debuts on Manhattan’s Busiest Bus Route [StreetsBlog]

Transit Mode Share Trends Looking Steady; Rail Appears to Encourage Non-Automobile Commutes [The TransportPolitic]

As Suburban Poverty Grows, U.S. Fails to Respond Adequately [Next American City]

Over the last ten years, more than two-thirds of poverty growth in the nation’s metro areas occurred in the suburbs, and there are now 1.6 million more poor people living in the suburbs than in center cities. Since 2000, there has been a general increase in the nation’s poverty rate, but it has been far worse in the suburbs than in the cities—a 37.4% increase versus 16.7%. Though the poverty rate remains higher in central cities, the number of poor suburbanites is growing quickly.

Transit providers have been hit hard, too, but the fact is that the suburbs are not ready for the spread of the poor to the suburbs. That’s because areas of lower density are difficult to serve by buses and trains without expenses going through the roof and low ridership. Many new construction projects are for big expansions of the rail network downtown, where efficiencies of scale ensure actual use of these lines. In big metropolitan areas, the lack of fast transit has increased travel to work times significantly, making life harder for those who live far from their jobs—a frequent issue for those who live in the suburbs. Because for these people there frequently is no choice but to rely on the car, this means that there is no option but to reduce the number of trips taken, which is apparently what is happening to many households. But that is equivalent to less mobility for the people who arguably need it the most!

The High Cost of Electric Cars [Next American City]

“Am I the only one who sees GoogleCars as an improved means to an unimproved, even catastrophic end? Ice caps are melting: have a robot car!” So wrote Alex Steffen of Worldchanging on Twitter earlier this week. To reply: Alex, you’re not the only one.

I sent a similar Tweet from the Better World by Design conference when the keynote featured a slide about “Sustainable Urbanism” that showed a single family detached McMansion with an electric car in the garage. Neither sustainable nor urban in my opinion. The next speaker, from Better Place then went on about the virtues of electric cars and smart grids.

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Rail Service Expansion Imperiled at State Level [The New York Times]

“Any notion that somehow rail is subsidized, and other modes of transportation aren’t, is simply not factual,” said Mr. Smith, the president Reconnecting America, a nonprofit transportation advocacy group, who noted that highways and airports were subsidized as well. “Honestly, transportation infrastructure should not be a partisan issue. When you talk about good transportation solutions, they cross party lines.”

The Rise of the Bus-Riding Celebrity? [GOOD]

A Massive Facelift for Eastern Germany [Spiegel Online]

During a trip to East Germany in 1990, photographer Stefan Koppelkamm discovered buildings that had survived both the war and the construction mania of the East German authorities. Ten years later, he returned to photograph the buildings again. The comparison threw up some unexpected contrasts.

Visit the Berlin Interactive Graphic and the Photo Gallery.

Vacant Fox Point industrial buildings put on the auction block [Providence Business News]

Former home of Bevo on South Main Street

Why All the Outrage Over Bike Boxes? [publicola]

Perhaps even more than “road diets,” which replace driving lanes with bike lanes and add a turn lane for cars, the bike boxes have brought out anti-bike, pro-car contingent, which argues that it’s unfair to make drivers wait for cyclists at red lights.

From the cyclist’s point of view, of course, this is an asinine argument. First, the primary point of bike boxes is to make cyclists more visible to drivers. When drivers hit cyclists—and yes, cyclists do frequently get hit in right-hook accidents by inattentive drivers—the inevitable refrain is, “I didn’t see her!” Bike boxes make drivers more likely to see us.

We suggested a Bike Box at the Point Street and South Water Street intersection where the Wickenden Street overpass used to be, when the street is rebuilt.

Rhode Island roads need $4.5 billion investment over next decade, report says [Providence Business News]

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