The big story this week was congestion: the Texas Transportation Institute released its annual Urban Mobility Study to the typical fanfare. See, e.g., stories here, here, here, here, here, and here. The headlines, as always, are gloomy: congestion's on the rise just about everywhere, and is wasting our time, gas, and money. The word from the researchers isn't particularly hopeful either. Sure, there are things that can be done to slow the increase in congestion. But they can be expensive -- and, worse, there's no guarantee that they'll actually work. I dipped into the numbers a bit. And to the extent that the TTI estimates are actually accurate (which, as we've written about before, and as this LA Times story mentions, is a big question), it seems to me that there could be a silver lining in all of the wailing. You see, depending on how you look at things, congestion may not be as big a deal as the headlines make it out to be.
Living closer to where you work will do more to fight climate change than buying a Prius and living in the ‘burbs. We’ll never beat climate change until we change the way we structure our communities. That is the conclusion of a new report out from the Urban Land Institute: The report, "Growing Cooler: Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change," analyzed scores of academic studies and concluded that compact development — mixing housing and businesses in denser patterns, with walkable neighborhoods — could do as much to lower emissions as many of the climate policies now promoted by state …
There are two kinds of public demonstrations. Those that attract people to the cause and demonstrate new possibilities, and those that just piss people off and make enemies out of potential friends. Here's a beautiful example of the former. "Parking" can either mean leaving an expensive hunk of climate-changing steel to cool on greasy asphalt, or it can mean sitting on the grass with friends, drinking wine in the fresh, clean air. These guys have an elegant way of getting people to think about which definition of "park" should get more city space. If you are in SF, NYC, LA, DC, Seattle, Portland, Chicago, St. Paul, Boston, Austin, Salt Lake City, Tampa, Miami, then check it out. Some pictures below the fold, courtesy of Transportation Alternatives.
How to reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions? Building compact, mixed-use neighborhoods would be just as effective as much-touted policies like boosting fuel economy, cleaning up power plants, and building green, says a new analysis from the Urban Land Institute. The U.S. population is expected to grow 23 percent by 2030; under the sprawl-encouraging status quo, driving is expected to increase 59 percent in the same time period. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says the ULI: some two-thirds of homes and other buildings expected to be needed by 2050 have yet to be built, and they don’t have to …
One of the curiosities of language is that our usage can sometimes inadvertently reveal our underlying beliefs. Consider how condos are often described as if they are conscious actors who perform actions, such as "packing people together." One example comes from the Seattle P-I: "Now, condominiums are building upward, packing people into to what used to be inexpensive property." According to this way of writing, it's the condos, not the owners, that have what we philosophy majors call "agency." This is just weird. Admittedly, I don't get out a lot, but I've never seen condos roaming the streets, rounding up suburban residents, and stuffing the poor saps into boxes. I've always been under the impression that developers build condos in urban neighborhoods because there are lots of people who want to live in them. Single family homes, by the way, aren't given the same treatment in our usage.
Tomorrow is World Carfree Day. You know what to do.
Recognizing that solar electricity is a good investment in the long run but a bit spendy up front, utility Pacific Gas and Electric has agreed to pay for solar power on some 65 houses built by Habitat for Humanity in northern and central California next year. PG&E will donate about $1.2 million for panels and installation; low-income residents will see radically reduced electric bills. “For us it’s not so much an environmental thing — it’s a cost issue,” says Mark Crozet of Habitat. “It’s a piece of their income that these families don’t have to spend on electricity. It’s a …
A "speculative 15,000 square foot mansion in Manalapan, Fla., will be the first home of its size to be certified green by the U.S. Green Building Council and the Florida Green Building Council." Is that a good idea for USGBC? That's my question to you. Obviously people are going to build big homes -- and it is better if they have green features. But should USGBC single out such "eco-mansions" for positive recognition? On the big side, the mansion has: ... eight bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, two elevators, two laundry rooms, two wine cellars (one for red, one white), a movie theater and guesthouse. On the green side, the mansion has a: ... state-of-the-art air purification system and eco-friendly light fixtures that will reduce energy consumption by 90 percent. Making this mansion green, probably tacked on additional costs of between 7 and 10 percent ... For instance, instead of using a rare Brazilian cherry for the home's hardwood floors, he's using reclaimed teak -- thus sparing 7.5 acres of Brazilian rain forest ... The house will also have a massive solar panel system (price tag: $120,000), a water system that uses "gray water" from the showers and sinks to irrigate the lawn and gardens, as well as a series of pools, reflecting ponds and water gardens to cool down the 1.5 acre property by 2 to 3 degrees.
I recently bicycled from Seattle to Bellevue, Washington, across Lake Washington on the I-90 floating bridge. This trip is not complicated. Once you're on the wide, well-shielded bike lane, you'd think that getting to Bellevue would be assured. You'd be wrong. First, you have to get across Mercer Island. On the island, the bike route leaves the freeway and vanishes into a labyrinth of branching paths. They're beautiful bikeways, no doubt: wide, separated from traffic, well-graded, gracefully curved for smooth cornering -- a pleasure to ride. But they're almost entirely unmarked. Where there are signs at all, they only say "Bike Route." (All of them are bike routes. Duh!) Imagine traveling in a city without street signs -- or with ones that only say "Car Route." Next time you see a sign like the one above that says "Bike Route," remember, it's a symptom of Car-head. (Photo by orangejack via Flickr.)
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