Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Smarter Suburbs

According to a recent Daily Journal of Commerce article, in Oregon some Legislative leaders are talking about a Congestion Relief package to tie the state over from now through 2009, when they expect to be able to offer a more comprehensive transportation solutions package. It's good to see that some folks are thinking big-picture, but "congestion relief" doesn't sound like the sort of terminology that describes Smart Growth, TOD, bicycle lanes and better transit.

There's an interesting article in the February 2007 issue of _Urban Land_, called "Looking Back to Plan the Future." OK, it's actually not that interesting of an article, except for the come-on quote at the beginning:

"Casting aside the failed experiment of suburbia in the United States, planners are looking back to age-old principles for guidance in planning a future with modern challenges."

It was written by a planner from.... Dallas, Texas.

And it got me to thinking: A lot of what needs to be happening in the next, say, 20 years is a re-building of our suburban areas. We do need smarter suburbs. We need to make it easier for people to walk or ride their bikes for local trips in their neighborhood, as well as to get to the local transit stop. Even if we can't get street connectivity in most places in the suburbs for *cars*, we should be thinking more about retrofitting suburbs to provide through-connectivity for pedestrians and bicyclists. Even if this means using a little bit of eminent domain here or there, it would be worthwhile if the end product were a really good suburban grid of bicycle/pedestrian paths that connected every street in every neighborhood with every neighborhood center and important destination, just like you would get in, say, Portland's eastside with its regular street grid. Except that the grid would mainly apply to bike/ped, and cars would be stuck with the 1950s-style suburban street system that already exists.

The difference would be that there would, in theory, be fewer cars and more bicycles & pedestrians on the suburban bike/ped network.

The image at the top of this post depicts a path built between two houses allowing students to walk or bicycle to a local school from their cul-de-sac.

Update, 2:30pm March 28th:

Over at Portland Transport, another commenter asked:

"some people like living on isolated, car friendly, suburban, dead-end streets.

"Actually, I am going to guess most people like that kind of living. Why change it?"

This is a very good question, and I'm glad that you asked. Even though the quote calls suburbia in general a "failure," I think there are a lot of people who rather like it.

My great-aunt, for example. Lives on a cul-de-sac out in Hillsboro.

But you know what? At the end of the cul-de-sac is the entrance to a bike/ped path. This path connects with other paths. They lead all throughout her subdivision, and connect her with other, important destinations like... the community swimming pool, and other cul-de-sacs. Oh, and her niece, who lives on another cul-de-sac that would be about 8 blocks away driving, but is only about 300 feet on the path.

What I'm talking about is to expand this type of path system, which is often found within many suburban developments, such that the paths connect up with one another to form an actual, use-able ped/bike path "grid" that not only connects within each neighborhood, but connects to other important destinations such as the neighborhood commercial center and transit stop.

Would this decrease how much people liked living on their quiet, dead-end streets?


Would it make them any less quiet or dead-endy?

No, unless you happen to be riding a bicycle (pretty quiet, all things considered) or walking (also a rather quiet activity).

But, could you then ride your bike or walk from your quiet, dead-end street to the local transit stop, video store (ooh, how 20th century), grocery store or pub?


Without needing to drive your car.

Your nice car can then sit in its nice garage and save its nice $3.50/gallon gas for a more important trip.

Does this represent a fundamental change to "that kind of living"? I don't think so. Just a minor enhancement, maybe the addition of something that should have been there all along, that's all.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Congestion Pricing in Portland, OR

Recently, there was a post on PortlandTransport on why Congestion Pricing isn't more widely implemented. This was based on a blog post written by Michael Manville (of UCLA) on the same topic. What follows are the thoughts that I had after reading Professor Manville's article, basically related to how Congestion Pricing might work in the Portland region.

I think that the issue of Congestion Pricing has thus far been implemented in two very different ways, which should perhaps be considered differently:

1) Cordon-style district congestion pricing, ala London and Stockholm
2) Peak period variable tolling of specific lanes on a freeway -- so-called High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes.

The first could potentially be implemented in Portland for an area encompassing the 1990s-era Fareless Square district (before this district was expanded across the river to include Lloyd Center). This district generally has the most surface street daytime traffic congestion in the city. The revenue could be used to help improve transit service for the district, by paying for some capital costs for new streetcars/LRVs, as well as the additional operational costs associated with these vehicles. More bicycle facilities could also be constructed leading into and within the district. Presumably, this would encourage many folks to stop driving and start taking transit or riding their bicycles to enter the district.

The second idea could be implemented on Portland's freeway system, and indeed, this does make some sense when taken in tandem with the idea of removing I-5 from the east bank of the Willamette. I-405, I-26 through the tunnels, I-84 through Sullivan's Gulch and I-5 through NoPo and the Terwilliger Curves could all have congestion pricing applied to them. This charge could help pay for the capital costs associated with the removal of I-5, and perhaps then with the capping of the freeways and the building of parks, bike lanes and neighborhood centers on top of them. Call it a citywide freeway mitigation program.

What the program needs, apparently, is a strong advocate to make it happen.

Commissioner Sam Adams... are you listening?