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News & Notes

→ Streetsblog: Obama to Propose Four-Year Transpo Bill Funded By “Business Tax Reform”

obama-official-portrait-vertA fact sheet from the administration indicates the proposal would increase dedicated funding for transit more than funding for highways.

The proposal would represent a 38 percent spending increase over the current $109 billion, 2-year law, known as MAP-21, and is the most concrete long-term transportation bill proposed by the Obama administration, which has never put forward a funding stream until now.

See also: → Whitehouse.gov: FACT SHEET: President Obama Lays Out Vision for 21st Century Transportation Infrastructure


→ The New York Times: When Pedestrians Get Mixed Signals

But the indication to walk never came. I was contemplating a four-lane dash when a man appeared who told me I had to press the “Walk” button. I did, and at the next signal change for cars, my signal appeared as well.

At first, I applauded this municipal beneficence, which I encountered during a visit while researching my book. Los Angeles is looking after its pedestrians! In New York City, by contrast, the once-functioning “Walk” buttons were left to go dormant, then largely removed. But in my subsequent visits to Los Angeles, my feelings have shifted.

The reason the buttons were rendered obsolete in New York is that there was no need for them. There were always pedestrians waiting to cross. In Los Angeles, the working button came to seem a rare and feeble plea: May I please cross the street?

In Providence I’m all the time seeing people push the wrong walk button. People press the one closest to them, but that is not the button for the street they are hoping to cross.

But the article is really about the misguided crack-down on “jaywalking” in some cities.

If tough love will not make pedestrians safer, what will? The answer is: better walking infrastructure, slower car speeds and more pedestrians. But it’s easier to write off the problem as one of jaywalkers.

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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

→ Slate: The Crisis in American Walking

A few years ago, at a highway safety conference in Savannah, Ga., I drifted into a conference room where a sign told me a “Pedestrian Safety” panel was being held.

The speaker was Michael Ronkin, a French-born, Swiss-raised, Oregon-based transportation planner whose firm, as his website notes, “specializes in creating walkable and bikeable streets.” Ronkin began with a simple observation that has stayed with me since. Taking stock of the event – one of the few focused on walking, which gets scant attention at traffic safety conferences – he wondered about that inescapable word: pedestrian. If we were to find ourselves out hiking on a forest trail and spied someone approaching at a distance, he wanted to know, would we think to ourselves, “Here comes a pedestrian”?


→ Salon: Preserving history, or the 1 percent?

When [Jane] Jacobs’ neighborhood was protected in 1969, it was no tony enclave. In fact, the justification for the urban-renewal project was that Greenwich Village was allegedly a slum. But now that the Village is wealthy, suddenly there are three expansions of its protective boundaries in six years. The timing invites cynical conclusions, bluntly summed up by urbanist Alon Levy on his blog last year: “Let us remember what historic districts are, in practice: They are districts where wealthy people own property that they want to prop up the price of.”


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News & Notes

→ The Art and Science of Designing Good Cities for Walking [Streetsblog]

The article is a great read, but this photo is the best part to me:

Copenhagen sidewalk
Photo from Streetsblog

This Copenhagen sidewalk completely flips the script on the relationship between cars and pedestrians at intersections. Rather than there being a curb, the sidewalk ending, and pedestrians moved into the street via a crosswalk; the sidewalk continues across the road and it is the car that enters the pedestrians domain in order to move through the intersection. Why are we not making all minor side streets have this relation to the main?


→ Which part of Detroit really needs to be ‘right-sized’? [Grist]

Shrinking city? Really? What this tells me is that an even bigger problem for Detroit than the decline of the Rust Belt economy has been that the fringe of the region has been allowed, more than in most places, to expand, not shrink, and to suck the life and hope out of the inner city. So why aren’t the self-styled progressive responses to “the Detroit problem” addressing this critical aspect of the situation?

Maybe they are, but the only ones I hear and read are about “right-sizing” the inner city — demolishing vacant (and even some occupied) housing, letting vast areas revert to nature or farming, and so forth. Let sprawl, the cause of the problem, be someone else’s issue to address. But, in fact, the areas that are sprawling are where the “right-sizing” most needs to occur.


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Observations from my walk home

It is now 24-hours post blizzard, here are the things I encountered/was thinking about on my walk home.

First the good:

The DID Yellow Jackets did a great job per usual clearing snow and ensuring the sidewalks are clear into the crosswalk (the photo above is actually from last night). Along Snow Street, where the parking lots cleared their snow onto the sidewalk (sigh) the Yellow Jackets hacked away at the mountain of snow on the sidewalk to clear a small area where pedestrians could get out of the street (I hope they assess a fee onto the parking lot owners for that).

The bad:

When there are 4 foot snow banks aside an 8 inch wide trench that serves as the sidewalk, it is not helpful for you to park your car in the crosswalk infront of the 8 inch trench to make a phone call. Hang up and move. In fact, it is never helpful to park your car in a crosswalk to make a phone call.

If you are the city, clearing a foot wide path on the Atwells bridge that is then mostly covered by subsequent plowing operations is not good if the law requires a 3 foot wide path for everyone else.

I’m going to assume that a cop turned on his lights and sirens to pull out of the alley behind the old Blue Cross Blue Shield building to cross the three travel lanes on Sabin Street to deliver a coffee to another officer at the Dunkin Donuts Center because he needed to make that delivery quick so he could get back to writing tickets for unshoveled sidewalks. As of this writing, I also still assume that I am getting a pony for Christmas.

When people park their cars, they get out of their cars and become pedestrians. If you own a parking lot, your customers are part-time pedestrians, you need to clear the snow from the sidewalks too, not dump all the snow from your parking lot on them.

I’m wondering where in the Rhode Island Driver’s Manual [.pdf] it says that when there is snow on the ground, you should drive like a complete asshole. Seriously, why was there complete gridlock at Emmett Square and at Atwells and both Service Roads among other areas. Guess what people, when there is snow on the ground, you still have to stop at red lights and you still cannot block the box in intersections. And if you are in the middle of the box and I’m trying to weave in amonsgt you and the other drivers so I can get across the street, when I have the light, HANG UP YOUR CELL PHONE AND DON’T RUN ME OVER. The no cell phones while driving law applies when you are sitting in traffic (that you are responsible for creating and perpetuating), sorry.

If you own a building in which the retail space is vacant, you still are responsible for clearing the snow on the sidewalks. If you own a restaurant that is closed this week, you still have to ensure the sidewalks are cleared. If you own a restaurant on Federal Hill, and you only clear the sidewalk from your front door to the street, so people who arrrive by car and park by valet can get in, and leave the rest of your frontage piled with snow, you are a douche.

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News & Notes

→ Public access to S.F. bay tied to private projects [SFGate]

“The public-private seam is a delicate one,” APA chief executive officer Paul Farmer mused before the award ceremony here last Wednesday. “There are tricky things involved – how do you negotiate access with a developer? How do you make public access feel truly public? When it’s done well, that’s something to recognize.”

→ Americans not hitting their walking stride [Yahoo! News]

Adults in western Australia average 9,695 steps a day. The Swiss followed with 9,650, while the Japanese clocked in with 7,168 steps. But Americans straggled far behind with just 5,117 steps.

He attributes the more active lifestyle of adults in other countries to their greater access to mass transit

The drive-not-walk mentality has dismal consequences. In the United States, 34 percent of adults are obese. During the past decade Australia, Japan and Switzerland have reported obesity rates of 16 percent, 3 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Now I want to get a pedometer so I can see how I compare.

→ Plan to reduce sprawl will boost health, environment [The Washington Post]

Oil dependency, climate change and health-care costs are but three of a growing list of ills, rapidly becoming crises, that give us reason to look again at how we build our communities and what policy can do about it.

The article’s authors are Andres Duany, known in Providence for hosting a Downcity charrette several years back, and his co-author of the book Suburban Nation, Jeff Speck.

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