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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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News & Notes

Chicago Pedestrian Safety Campaign

Mannequin on Chicago’s Wacker Drive part of that city’s pedestrian safety campaign. Photo from CDOT’s Facebook page.

News & Notes→ Mannequins stand up for safety along Wacker Drive [The Chicago Tribune]

Mannequins representing dead pedestrians were placed along Wacker Drive downtown on Tuesday to focus public attention on fatal crashes in Chicago involving vehicles and people on foot, officials said.

“You’ll notice that some of it is sort of hard-hitting, some of it may even be a little bit shocking,” said CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein. “But we want to remind people that when you are frustrated behind the wheel, these are real people and real lives we are talking about here. Please take that into consideration when you are driving, when you are riding your bike and when you are walking to look out for those around you.”


→ What works in cities: Why placemaking requires passion even more than big budgets [YongeStreet]

Before Detroit’s Campus Martius Park opened in 2004, many of the historic buildings around it had emptied. Major department stores were vacant or torn down.

To turn it around, the mayor’s office established a task force that studied the best public spaces in the world and quizzed the locals on how they would use a new park. After a $20-million investment, the park started buzzing year-round with music, a bistro, and ice skating under colourful lights and a giant Christmas tree. The park has since attracted several new corporate headquarters, new condos and a whopping one million park visitors each year.


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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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