Thursday, June 9, 2016

Podcast: Cincinnati's Incomplete Subway

This week we're chatting with Jake Mecklenborg about his book Cincinnati's Incomplete Subway. It's a good one so check it out.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Guest Post: Court Access Lacking for Oakland Tenants Facing Eviction

This is a guest post by David Hall, a private practice lawyer who focuses on tenants rights in Oakland, California. 

So, the new presiding judge for Alameda county, decided, in his infinite wisdom, that Unlawful Detainer actions (evictions) should be centralized to the Hayward courthouse, despite the fact that Oakland is the largest city in the county with the highest population of renters (and thus defendants in eviction actions).

The Oakland courthouses are also within easy walking distance from BART.  Instead, the eviction trials are being held in Hayward, one of the farthest south cities in the county.

I decided to take BART and then walk to the courthouse today to see what my clients might experience. It is a 1.5 mile walk from the BART station. The route is confusing. It also involves a steep overpass over railroad tracks. I arrived at the courthouse drenched in sweat after a brisk half hour walk.

An elderly or mobility-impaired client probably wouldn't have made it. I am sickened by the sacrifice of the rights of tenants (particularly those in poverty) on the altar of judicial economy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Transit Trends Episode #4

In this episode of Transit Trends, we sit down with Iain Macbeth of Transport For London and discuss how the information from a connected car can improve transportation systems worldwide.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Strava Biking and Walking Data for Planning?

There's been a few articles in the last few days about cities and planners using Strava data to help figure out what routes are popular among runners and cyclists.  I was worried about this approach given the types of people who are able to use apps versus others.  They tried to assuage our worries...
There were two obvious limitations to the idea of Strava Metro. The userbase is a small sample of all cyclists, and the app’s emphasis on competition tends to make them more likely to be Lycra-clad enthusiasts rather than everyday commuters and meanderers.

The company initially had the same worry. However, when authorities started buying the data and comparing it against their own information, they found Strava tended to capture a solid 5-10% of all bike movements. Moreover, they discovered that, especially in cities, those with the app tended to ride the same routes as everyone else.
I still worry that 5-10% number because there are a lot of routes in low income areas that might not get marked up. I actually chatted with Christy Kwan of the Alliance for Biking and Walking about this in a recent podcast.  If you check that out, we start talking about data overall at 19:45.  But  I cut out the 2 minutes of audio specifically talking about new measurement below in which she talked more about ways to measure walking and biking using technology.

I think what she says about the equity issue is important.  But it also brings to mind the discussion about the push and pull of privacy and creating good data that can be used for planning purposes.  You might not want companies to follow you around, but you do want better infrastructure spending.  It's a question I'm sure that will be discussed for years to come. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Podcast: The Indian Transportation Context

This week I’m chatting with Akshay Mani, a sustainable transportation planner who has worked for Cambridge Systematics in the United States and the World Resources Institute’s EMBARQ program in India. Akshay joined us from Chennai to talk about transportation and the growth of Indian cities.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Jane Jacobs' 100th Birthday Party

It's been a while since I read Death and Life so I don't have any fantastic quotes for anyone.  But I do have a list of articles that were posted for what would have been Jane Jacobs' 100th birthday.

Google Doodle Celebrates Jane Jacobs - Dezeen

Thank God for Jane Jacobs the Highway Slayer - StreetsblogNYC

What Would Jane Jacobs Do About Zoning? WestNorth

Bulldoze Jane Jacobs - Slate

Jane Jacobs Believed Cities Should be Fun - Vox

What Would Jane Jacobs Do About Uber, Bloor Bike Lanes? Toronto Star

Jane Up North - Curbed

How Jane Jacobs Changed the Way We Look at Cities - Guardian Cities

Who Plans?: Jane Jacobs’ Hayekian critique of urban planning - Strong Towns

The Jane Jacobs Century - CityLab

Defending Vibrant City Life: Jane Jacobs at 100 - Time Magazine

Filling in the Blanks of Jane Jacobs.  (Robert Caro's Missing Chapter) - Next City

How Living on Jane Jacobs' Favorite Block Changed My Life - Fast Company

There are more of course, but this is a pretty good sample of tributes, and a little pushback, to who many call St. Jane.

Transit Trends Episode 3: Transportation and Technology

This week on Transit Trends we're joined by Ted Serbinski of Tech Stars to talk about technology and transportation.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Podcast: Trinidad, Transit Dates, and Dive Bars

This week we're joined by Ed Parillon to talk about his native Trinidad and some development projects in the bay area.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Great Self Driving Car Conspiracy

A recent piece by Rebecca Solnit makes a thought provoking general thesis.  Vehicles we don't have to drive already exist in the form of transit and we should ditch autos altogether.  She goes on to blame technology companies for lots of things including putting more cars on the road.

Alissa Walker states it's wrong headed to blame technology.  We can discuss this angle another time but I want to focus on something Walker says about Solnit's disdain for the tech shuttle buses:
First there’s the conspiracy that Google and Uber are trying to put more cars on the road.
Solnit - "Apple, Tesla, Uber, Google and various auto manufacturers’ pursuit of driverless cars is an attempt to preserve and maybe extend private automobile usage. The rise of new ways of hailing taxis and the problematic companies Lyft and Uber has given a younger generation more ways to stay in private one-party-per-vehicle transit and added fleets of new vehicles to already congested cities."

And then that the tech industry is somehow complicit in this plot by sabotaging public transit:
Solnit - "The privatized shuttle buses thundering up and down San Francisco streets (and sometimes getting stuck on the steep ones) have been another sign that big tech takes little interest in enhancing public transit."

Ohh that's interesting.  I saw the above phrases from Walker and my mind immediately jumped to the GM streetcar conspiracy theory.  I don't think Solnit is really hinting at a conspiracy, rather just corporate self interest, but it's a great jumping off point for discussion.

Those of you who have been reading for a long time know that I'm not a conspiracy theorist with the streetcar topic.  I believe that it was regulation and opportunism that took down the streetcars, and in a place like Denver, the franchises were paying for roads the car drivers damaging them weren't.  For many people though this explanation just isn't as interesting as a Roger Rabbit GM conspiracy theory that persists to this day.
Here's my question.  Is technology (the Uber, Google, Lyft, and Tesla hype train) that's so focused on auto-mobility and self driving cars the new incarnation of the auto industry in the 40s, 50s and 60s?

We can make several realistic comparisons...

1.  Like in the middle of the 20th century, autos are seen as the future of transportation.  It's futurama all over again but this time with even more self driving cars to travel the freeways built since Bel Geddes' dream sequence.  But then, just like now, we're talking mostly about the positives of these advancements and not the negatives such as subsidized auto oriented land use. 

2.  Cab companies now just like streetcar companies at the time are seen as the problem.  They have monopolies and special protections just like the franchise agreements in the form of medallions.  What brought down streetcars was over-regulation (such as 5 cent fares forever) and cheaper capital cost alternatives such as buses.  Here in SF, streetcars that didn't have tunnels were replaced with buses because 2 employees per streetcar were required by regulations and the tracks were in such disrepair that the cost for replacement looked bad from a purely financial point of view.

3.  As transit agencies began to fail, interests started buying up the remnants and consolidating, hoping to squeeze value out of the existing systems. Eventually many were taken over by government.  Consolidation took place just as it is now with GM now buying shares of Lyft and the remnants of SidecarAvis buying Zipcar, Daimler buying up car2go and other mobility companies, and Uber "poaching" robotics staff from Carnegie Mellon.  All to try and get a piece of the new paradigm pie. 

Now this is somewhat unrelated to the idea of Google, Apple, Facebook, and other buses traveling the mean streets of San Francisco to pick up tech employees which in turn "sabotages" local transit.  But I wanted to lay out what the sabotaging/disrupting or whatever you want to call it actually is focused on at the moment.  Cab companies.

Solnit claims that tech people wouldn't live in the city if the buses didn't exist but that's obviously a ridiculous claim and I can point to other studies that say people from those specific companies that run buses would just drive and still live in SF.  It also ignores the fact that public transit shouldn't be using taxpayer money to provide direct services for individual private companies.  The employment land uses in the valley make the "just upgrade Caltrain" argument silly.  I think we should do that, but that's not the catch all answer.  But that's another post.  

You could argue that after cab companies have been dispatched, that ride hailing and car sharing apps might come after transit.  They kind of already have by creating "stops" for their "carpool" services but perhaps this is just the start of how we'll start the cycle I mentioned in the cab disruption above over again. 

A possible example of how this might go is below....

1. Decision makers decide that self driving cars are the future of transportation.  Transit agencies are competing for customers with these for-profit companies staking claim on the travel market. 

2. Transit agencies are seen as the problem.  They have monopolies and special protections but also a government mandated mission of serving the poorest residents of a place.  Additionally, they are held to a certain standard of "profitability" giving them too many goals to reasonably serve.  Opponents will claim bus and train drivers are paid too much and expect service to places that don't have transit supportive densities and land uses because of the automobile based land use policies of the previous 50 years.

3. Consolidation will take place as transit agencies start to work with self driving car companies to serve routes that are high cost and low service.  Some smaller cities will eschew bus service all together in favor of self driving cars and the cycle will repeat.  Auto oriented land uses will continue as we continue the inertia started by the automobile age. 

Is this a realistic possible future?  Perhaps yes. Is there a conspiracy to kill of transit by not supporting it with private companies?  Are tech companies trying to kill transit?  I don't believe so.  Would it be nice if these companies were more supportive? Yes but capitalism isn't altruistic. 

I do think transit is hurting itself though by providing mediocre service and not being forward thinking in large parts of the country.  It also becomes harder to defend against capitalist moves when it is built and operated with politics and not data. Additionally there is a distinct disadvantage when competing in hostile land uses built exclusively for the opponent.  But this makes transit riders an easy target for companies that promise on demand point to point transportation even in areas where the geometry of transit has no peer.  50 people in a bus is still better than 4 people in a car in most CBDs.  Eventually we'll see this come to a head, I just don't think we know how it's going to hit.

We can do better and we need to do better with transit, but if anything takes it down, it will be us as politicians, planners, and consumers.  We decide what happens for better or worse, not a conspiracy of self driving cars.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Podcast: Transportation Ballot Measures

This week we’re chatting with Jason Jordan, director of the Center for Transportation Excellence (CFTE) and policy director at the American Planning Association. Jason tells us how CFTE got started and why ballot measures for transportation have been so successful.