Cities

Nearly 1,500 more cars in Beijing daily

BEIJING — Nearly 1,500 cars a day have been added to Beijing’s streets since the start of the year, state media said on Tuesday, indicating …

All aboard the SUPERTRAIN

The stimulus bill provides serious money for high-speed rail

There are those who have expressed dismay at reports the high-speed rail provision of the stimulus bill was destined to build supertrains to carry gamblers back and forth between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Thankfully, they were woefully misinformed. Matt Yglesias cleared things up when he uncovered a legal analysis of the actual language from the bill: The Stimulus Plan includes two provisions modeled after the [High Speed Rail] Act that finance high-speed rail development. First, the Stimulus Plan provides a $2 billion grant for high-speed rail projects that will remain available until September 30, 2011. The grant will be distributed among applicant states, interstate compacts, public agencies having responsibility for providing high-speed rail service and Amtrak for capital projects associated with inter-city passenger rail services reasonably expected to reach speeds of at least 110 miles per hour. The Secretary of Transportation will have discretion to award grants based on an extensive set of criteria, including the legal, financial and technical capacity of the applicant to carry out the project; compatibility with relevant national plans; and anticipated economic, environmental and transportation effects. Sorry, Vegas. No earmark for you. Looks like Reid's statement that a Los Angeles-Vegas route "could get a big chunk of the money" was more wishful thinking than act of Congress. This statement is no doubt causing further heartburn in Sen. Reid's office now that it's been embraced by the right as a supposed example of the pork that lards the stimulus package. In fact, according to the Sierra Club, Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood has set up a new entity called TIGER (an acronym that just oozes efficiency, no?) to prioritize stimulus projects based on merit, rather than whim. Really. Yglesias also uncovered this fantastic map of officially designated HSR rail corridors, some of which would presumably get first dibs on the money. Note the absence of a little green line between L.A. and Vegas:

Plum good

Clustered housing and green space combine to good effect

Located just outside Austin, Plum Creek in Kyle, Tex. is this region's first traditional neighborhood development -- a community of 8,700 residential units, several hundred acres of green space, over 600 acres of commercial, employment, and mixed-use property, a 70-acre town center, and a commuter rail station, all built on the principles of "new urbanism." View full stats and project history at Terrain.org, which has an absorbing file of such "UnSprawl Case Studies" (and other great literary and visual content on place, both natural and built) viewable in the dropdown in the top right corner. Plum Creek may not look like paradise to everyone, but it's an example of the way new developments can keep up with the times and the needs of a changing social and energy landscape.

Sweet nothings

Obama says the right things about transportation infrastructure: We'll see what happens when the transportation bill comes up later this year.

Whose plaza is it anyway?

Improving on the ambiguity of privately owned public spaces

This article is part of a collaboration with Planetizen, the web's leading resource for the urban planning, design, and development community. Cities are filled with spaces intended for the public -- but many of them are clearly owned and operated by the private sector. Though cities bend rules to get these spaces built, the public benefit is often outweighed by the cost. The challenge now is to make them better. The difference between what is public and what is private is usually pretty clear. A city park is available to everyone. Your neighbor's living room is not. But the line dividing public and private can blur, and when it does, spaces get ambiguous, and questions arise. Who can use them? What are they for? Who's in charge?

Local warming

Looking at climate change from a regional perspective

"Climate change poses a tremendous threat to the Puget Sound and Georgia Basin area." Clear. Concise. Depressing. The quote comes from Patty Glick, senior global warming specialist at the National Wildlife Federation, but it was echoed in the words of all the speakers at the three climate-change panels held Wednesday at the Puget Sound Georgia Basin Ecosystem Conference in Seattle. Scientists of varying disciplines from all over the region shared their research and forecasts for the future. But one big question for the day arose: How do we take all of this climate change science -- which is primarily based on predictions that are global in scale -- and translate that into local management decisions?

Service first

Using stimulus funds to make mass transit free

Irwin Kellner, chief economist for MarketWatch, suggests a better use for the billions contained in the economic stimulus legislation: Right now federal money for states and local governments is aimed at big capital projects such as buying new trains or busses. But what is the point of buying new transit equipment if the local systems are mothballing their fleet because of service cuts?Better to use these funds to help eliminate fares and maintain or increase service. It also avoids the government giving people tax cuts with one hand while taking them away with the other.

Radiant Cities: Waterworld

A floating city takes shape in NYC

Take a good look at your plot of dry land now, folks, because according to the latest projection, the oceans could rise up to 21 feet in some places. Already, island nations being sipped up by the sea are investing in water-hugging houses (or land suitable for relocation), and flood-prone places like the Netherlands have been working on their aqua-adjusting floating homes for years. Now a group of New Yorkers is at work on another water-top habitat that will embrace the rising waters. The Waterpod Project. Rendering by James Halverson of Lux Visual Effects Enter the Waterpod, a "floating, sculptural eco-habitat designed for the rising tides" that will set sail from New York City in May. The pod is to be a "triple-domed island," 80 by 25 feet, made from recycled and found materials: wood, fabric, plastic, metal, and whatever its creators can salvage from elsewhere in the sea, all plopped atop and next to an industrial barge. Apparently, out on the maritime edges of Brooklyn and Queens in the Rockaways, about 300 boats are in various states of neglect and sunkenness, wasting perfectly good usable materials and leaching all manner of nasty chemicals into the water. The Waterpod does double duty, ameliorating that situation and launching, literally, a new model of housing.

Don't encourage the curmudgeon

Seattle Times editor wants to stick it to bicyclists

My wife snipped an editorial out of the Seattle Times for my perusal a couple of weeks ago. James Vesely, the opinion page editor, thinks that Seattle bicyclists should be taxed and licensed. My wife, a bleeding-heart liberal who never saw a tax she didn't like, was incensed that the Times editorial page editor would waste print space on such a petty issue.

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