Cities

What goes around comes around?

To save themselves, the Big Three should become ‘transportmakers’

Irony of ironies, the one set of products that could save GM is the one that GM destroyed — the electric trolley systems of America. According to the well-known research of Bradford Snell, GM killed the electric trolley, because in 1922 they decided that the only way to increase car sales was to eliminate the competition — decent public transit. So they bought systems, pressured railroads and banks, bought public officials, did whatever they could to replace electric — I’ll repeat that, electric — transportation with oil-based transportation. Irony number one — if the U.S. had a set of decent …

iPhone rideshare app coming soon

It’s the 21st century, folks — text with your hitchhiker’s thumb. An iPhone application called Avego will soon be available to hook up drivers with those who need rides, helpfully suggesting a safe place to pull over and calculating the split cost between driver and rider. No word on how it’ll go over in Ontario, which recently effectively made ridesharing illegal.

November train

How investing in transit could save Obama’s butt

Nov. 4 was a good day for public transit. Ballot measures around the country performed well — the state of California even approving a first-in-the-nation plan to create a true high-speed, inter-city rail system. Increased Democratic majorities in the House and Senate will likely clear the way for infrastructure investment with a pronounced lean toward green, equitable transit. And President-elect Obama seems inclined to lead the Congress in that direction. (If nothing else, the replacement of a distinctly anti-transit administration will lead to a much-needed shakeup of the federal transportation bureaucracy, especially the Federal Transit Administration.) Recent dip aside, oil …

Beyond the bail

Why bail out the car companies when they bailed out on us?

I have a new Salon article, “Is Detroit worth saving?” It is built around this piece, but I have expanded on the sad story of the Big Three Medium Two walking away from the development of hybrid gas-electric vehicles in the 1990s. I’ve been asked why I think they gave up on hybrids. The answer, I believe, is a very cynical one. If they had successfully demonstrated hybrids were practical (heck, even desirable) cars, as Toyota later did, then they would no longer be able to lobby against fuel economy standards by claiming CAFE would drive Americans into smaller, foreign-made, …

Congestion pricing: Can tolling be fair?

Tolls reduce congestion, but they price people off the roadway

Brilliant. That’s the word that kept crossing my mind as I read this clearly written report [PDF] about the Puget Sound Regional Council’s study on using road tolls to fight congestion. The study found that a well-designed, comprehensive system of congestion-busting tolls could make a major dent in traffic backups in the Puget Sound. It would also speed up transit, shorten commute times, and reduce gasoline consumption. But much to its credit, the report also identifies one critical question that may dominate any public debate over congestion pricing: Can tolling be fair? To collect the data for the study, the …

Against a gas tax

Why taxes can’t get us where we need to go on transportation

As of Monday, the average price of gasoline in the U.S. was down to $2.22 a gallon, brushing up against $1.50 in some places. The price of oil was under $60/bbl. When gas and oil prices fall, there are always two reactions: first, great lamentations that alternative and renewable energy investments no longer make economic sense, and second, wishes (upon a star) that America had the political chutzpah to impose a new gas tax. Despite its appeal in some quarters, the gas tax is not a good idea. It costs enormous political capital and pays insufficient returns. If one had …

Placemaking in the Cabinet

Excellent news: “White House to Establish Office of Urban Policy.”

In search of an urban plan

How design must change in a warming, oil-scarce world

This week I was able to attend a conference on urban planning hosted by the Penn Institute for Urban Research and the Rockefeller Foundation. Fifty years ago, the same entities had put together another urban conference, at which gathered names like Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford, intellectuals who shaped the design world’s thinking about cities at a time when many urban places were facing crisis. Those thinkers faced a world in which the city no longer seemed necessary, and where planners were increasingly tearing downtowns limb from limb to make them safe for the coming car-tropolis. Now, of course, the …

Green space lessens socioeconomic health gap, says study

The health disparity between rich and poor folk is much smaller in areas with plenty of parks and green space, according to a large study published in British medical journal The Lancet. Says lead author Richard Mitchell, “This is the first time we have demonstrated that aspects of the physical environment can have an impact in such a good way.”

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