I am a member of the CNU. I've been going to congresses over the last 4 years but have noticed that a lot of other members don't really get transit or that transit should be an integral part of NU. In a session last weekend about value capture strategies, Scott Polikov showed some diagrams of communities he helped code south of San Antonio and in Leander at the end of Capital Metro's commuter rail line. While they were nice and could probably promote more walking internal of the neighborhood, he showed boutique retail and limited transit access and circulation for both projects. G.B. Arrington, former transit and TOD planner at Tri-Met in Portland who heads Parsons Brinkerhoff's place making division, raised his hand and asked a very pointed question.
"Isn't this just walkable sprawl?"
And therein lies the problem. Much of what the new urbanism is known for is their walkable sprawl which includes the Kentlands and Seaside as the projects most representative of New Urbanism from an outsiders perspective. At the end of the day all of the jobs are somewhere else and without alternative connections to those jobs and a location on the far reaches of a region, the same VMT and overall degradation of the environment will continue.
New Urbanism in principle says the right things in the Charter, but right now we're mostly neglecting the transit and mobility. This includes the understanding of bikes. I heard that Liz Moule of Moule Polyzoides who designed the Del Mar TOD stated that its silly to have showers at every place of employment to support cycling. This angered some of my colleagues who want to make the trip between neighborhoods and work accessible by bike.
If we aren't able to build places by reducing VMT, then whats the point? Building good looking internally walkable places is nice but really at the end of the day there is a reason for building it if you have to drive to get anywhere outside of the community? Without metrics or final purpose, we don't know what we're doing. Some like Andres Duany say that its all about providing happiness. But in reality there are many people out there who are happy with their freeways and huge gas guzzling SUVs.
Jan Gehl, who was responsible for bike and pedestrian renaissances in Melbourne and Copenhagen has a simple metric that destroys any argument against his improvements. Pedestrian counts. In fact he rebuked some store owners who said that they were slowly fading due to reduced auto access. He was able to prove that they were getting much increased pedestrian activity in front of the store by before and after counts.
So if we are going to build transit and build communities that reduce the autocentricity that begets sprawl, then we need to measure the effects. Else we are no better than other ideologues that state their ideas are right, without proof to back it up. I believe that we need to measure New Urbanism to make sure its working, and by working I mean reducing VMT because if we can't do that, its just walkable sprawl.