Friday, February 10, 2017

Podcast: High Speed Rail Station Planning in France, Parts 1 & 2

In a two part discussion of French high-speed rail and cities, guest host and German Marshall Fund fellow Eric Eidlin interviews Stephan de Fay, executive director of Bordeaux Euratlantique, the public agency overseeing the redevelopment of Bordeaux’s main train station, and Etienne Tricaud, president and CEO of AREP, the French railway’s architecture office.

We thought you might find their thoughts on the subject illuminating so we pulled some specific quotes from Episode 1.  We'll be back with more in Episode 2 in a subsequent post.

A few quotes of significance from the first episode:

On the citizens mental map of France:
HSR has fundamentally changed the mental map of France. Time-space relationships are now completely different. The French now think of their country as a network of cities that are easily connected to one another. - Etienne Tricaud
On having experts in-house:
...we exist to take risks and to take decisions. At some point, we need to be able to evaluate things by ourselves. It is not our role to do architectural design, for example. But having people on staff who know how to design, and who therefore also know how to speak intelligently with people who design is very important. This in-house competency helps us to be more relevant, both in terms of the questions that we ask and ultimately the decisions that we make. - Stephan de Fay
On urban planning:
Fundamentally, architecture is space planning, it’s organization of the space. So early on, we need to think about the organization of the pedestrian spaces of the station, the organization of the surrounding district, as well as the layout of the local transportation systems that serve the station.- Etienne Tricaud
On value:
However, if the public sector leverages that value of the investment that it is making in transportation (HSR), additional public subsidy for urban development in station areas is not necessary. In our case, our expenditures are equal to our revenues. We invest one billion euros on the district around the station and we earn on billion euros through the sale of construction rights. - Stephan de Fay
The audio above was first posted at Streetsblog USA.

The audio above was first posted at Streetsblog USA.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Transit Trends Episode 10: Electric Vehicles and the Environment

Drive Oregon's vision for electric mobility includes more than just electric cars. We sat down with Jeff Allen, Executive Director of Drive Oregon, to discuss electric mobility innovation and the challenge of connecting with consumers.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Podcast: Innovation, Introverts, and Uber Wars

This week we’re joined by David Zipper, managing director at 1776 Ventures, a global startup hub based in Washington, DC. A veteran of the Bloomberg administration in New York City and the administrations of Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray in Washington, David discusses the deal DC struck with Living Social and the introduction of ride-hailing regulations during the city’s infamous Uber Wars. We also chat about transportation companies blossoming around the globe and what traits make for great innovators.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Podcast: Cities on a Hill with Francis Fitzgerald

This week we’re joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Francis Fitzgerald to talk about her 1986 book, Cities on a Hill. We discuss the different “visionary” communities described in the book, including Rajneeshpuram in Oregon, San Francisco’s Castro district, Sun City retirement communities, and Jerry Falwell’s moral majority in Lynchburg, Virginia. Francis also talks about living in New York City and restaurant culture in Vietnam. Fitzgerald’s latest book, The Evangelicals, is out April 4.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Podcast: Navigating Nairobi

This week’s guest is Stephane Eboko, chief revenue officer at Ma3route, a transportation information platform with over half a million users in Nairobi. Stephane tells about about the platform and how it helps people avoid traffic, interesting information from users reporting their experiences, and what travel on the private buses called Matatus is like in Kenya’s capital.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Podcast: Every Cocktail Napkin Has an Alternative Alignment

This installment of the Talking Headways podcast comes from this year’s NACTO Designing Cities Conference in Seattle. Moderated by David Bragdon, executive director of TransitCenter, this discussion examines the obstacles streets and transit agencies face when trying to move good projects forward, and the relationships that help make progress possible. The panel features LA DOT’s General Manager Seleta Reynolds, LACMTA’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Wiggins, Seattle DOT’s Director Scott Kubly, and Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Podcast: Colonias — Informal Housing in the U.S.

This week on Talking Headways our guest is Emily Perlmeter of the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas. Emily discusses the half million people living in informal settlements known as Colonias, on the U.S. side of the Mexican border. Join us for a look at how these settlements are formed, who lives there, and their strengths and hardships.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Podcast: A Bus Full of People Should Go Ahead of a Tesla

This week’s episode returns to the Shared Use Mobility Summit in Chicago for a great discussion of how the changing technology and information landscape could yield more equitable outcomes. Jackie Grimshaw of the Center for Neighborhood Technology moderated this panel featuring Anita Cozart of Policy Link, Rob Puentes of the Eno Center for Transportation, and Joshua Schank of LA Metro.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Notes on Elaine Chao

Today it was announced that former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao has been nominated to be the next Transportation Secretary.  Many are saying that it's the most normal pick Trump could make though that's not saying much.  But it's also not the promised swamp draining given that her husband happens to be Senator Mitch McConnell.  (An old NYT piece gives us some more general life background)

Her family owns an international shipping business that in the past has had some shady business practices such as flying under the flag of Liberia due to it's easier labor rules.  Ms Chao was also the deputy secretary of transportation under GHW Bush though not much has come up from that time period.  

And Matthew Yglesias at Vox says that while it's a reasonable choice given her experience, it is hyper partisan because of who her huband happens to be.

Henry Grabar at Slate has a few positive notes...
As far as transportation goes, Chao has had a fairly open mind. She acknowledged decades ago that the major era of highway construction was over and should give way to one focused on solving traffic congestion. In George H.W. Bush’s Department of Transportation, she helped fund an early iteration of GPS in Los Angeles. And as secretary of labor under George W. Bush, she praised the potential of public transit. “Coordinated transportation is one of the most important, and perhaps least appreciated, components of a transition from a life of unemployment and dependency for Americans to one of employment and productivity,” she said at a luncheon in 2004.
She's also been a fellow at a number of  conservative think tanks.  Places like The Heritage Foundation and the Hudson Institute.  She also has ties to big banks, was on the board at News Corp (Wall Street Journal) and organizations like the United Way where she was CEO and the director of the Peace Corps. 

The Peace Corps stint was the most interesting to me because of the specific focus of her time in the Baltic States.  Given the Brexit vote and now Trump's election and nationalist sentiments in greater Europe, it seems we are getting closer to a weakening of Europe and its ability to defend against Russia, which coincidentally has its eye on the Baltic states. 
She established the first Peace Corps program in the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union.
According to CityLab, she's always wanted to be the Secretary of Transportation. 
According to a 2001 Newsday article, Chao had mixed feelings about taking the cabinet post for the Department of Labor—which Chao later called “the most partisan of all the departments”—when President Bush initially asked her; she apparently had her “heart … set on leading the Department of Transportation.” Now she’ll get her shot.
When she was at the Heritage Foundation she focused on writing about things like pensions.  She's not a fan of largess in post retirement benefits and notes that unfunded obligations could be trouble for government agencies in the future.  I imagine transit unions aren't fans of this stance.

She is also against Buy America provisions which affect procurement of vehicles for High Speed Rail in California or regular buses and trains. 
The "Buy America" provision ("Dig a moat around America") in the stimulus package did more than squander America's credibility on international trade. It also created bureaucratic hoops that will slow down spending the stimulus funds on projects that are supposed to energize our economy.
In a letter from the Congressional Record in 2003 to Representative Paul Sarbanes, Washington Metro's Lawrence Drake complained that then Secretary Chao was blocking commuter benefits for federal employees at the Labor Department.  It seems the Labor Department under Chao wanted to use the increase from a $65 transit benefit to a $100 transit benefit as a bargaining chip in negotiations with workers.  DC's Eleanor Holmes Norton said at one point during a protest "Who ever heard of the notion that the union has to negotiate for things they are entitled to under the law?"

This was all I could find for the moment, but I'm sure we'll hear more in the coming days as more people have time to do deeper research.  Unfortunately the internet wasn't much of a thing during her first stint in the Transportation department.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Changing Mobility Structure and The Death of Parking


It was probably pretty common to argue about politics over Thanksgiving weekend with your families.  I got into a discussion about parking. And yes I told them this might be on the blog.  My parents live close to a town in California called Walnut Creek.  It's a compact walk-able center for shopping in the San Francisco Bay Area and very walk-able when you get out of the car. 

But you have to get there first.  The BART station was built too far away from downtown for it to be ultimately useful as a shaper of parking policy and the Macy's parking lot is soon going to be charging for the privilege of storing a vehicle while you shop.  I have no doubt that free parking will continue to exist, however this argument might not have even been taking place in 20-30 years.

The Death of a Parking Space

Currently there is a call to hold horses on parking development due to the coming revolution of autonomous vehicles.  Quotes from articles on news sites go like this...
“The flow of any retail follows the function of parking,” explained Weilminster at the Nov. 9 event at the Grand Hyatt in Buckhead. Self-driving cars are also expected to reduce the need for parking decks, which cost between $25,000 and $40,000 per parking space to build.
This from an article in the Atlanta Business Journal about how technology is going to change real estate development. But that is a future prediction. But what about now? In Houston, it's already real...slightly.
City officials are somewhat reluctant to attribute the loss to any one cause, but data show parking meters along Washington and nearby began pulling in less money per month right around the time paid-ride companies such as Uber and Lyft entered Houston in February 2014....
Meanwhile, sales tax collections in the district appear unaffected by the parking rules, based on city data.
According to the Houston Chronicle, parking lots that would usually support revelers are used less based on the data. Of course we don't know if its directly because of ride hailing services, but it would be a good hypothesis.

I also had former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz on the podcast recently and he lamented the focus on parking and told members of the audience who were revitalizing storefronts to just wait to build new parking.  Below is the shorter snippet on his relevant comments.

"I would not be investing in parking at all, for at least five years.  Let's just see how it plays out"

Others are noticing what Dave and planners are starting to say out loud.
"They’re saying, 'Don’t build parking lots, don’t build garages, you aren’t going to need them,'" said Councilman Skip Moore, citing city planners at national conferences across the country....
...significant pressures are aligning which should give pause to investors in automobile parking garages. Garages are typically financed on a 30-year payback, either by cities or private investors. But they could find themselves holding the un-payable back-end of a 30-year note, when folks stop driving within the next 15 years...
Even technology VCs are getting in on the action. Marc Andreesson said this to The Verge
There are mayors that would, for example, like to just declare their city core to [ban] human-driven cars. They want a grid of autonomous cars, golf carts, buses, trams, whatever, and it’s just a service, all electric, all autonomous.  Think about what they could do if they had that. They could take out all of the street parking. They could take out all of the parking lots. They could turn the entire downtown area into a park with these very lightweight electric vehicles.
He also talks about flying cars for high end users which makes me think that autonomous vehicles will be on the surface with the plebes and flying cars will be for the "landed gentry" as it were.  I'm starting to see the Jetsons come to life in my head right now.  Or maybe the Star Wars planet of Coruscant where the lower to the ground you live, the lower your social status. 

A Future of Autonomous Vehicles

I would very much like to ban driving from dense urban cores.  With adequate subway, bus, and delivery systems, there would be no need for small vehicles that only carry one or two people to be so hulking and wasteful.  And perhaps it will end up like Ghent, in Belgium.
“It was a rather radical plan to ban all cars from an area of about 35 hectares,” recalls Beke. “With every decision you take, there can be some opposition – but I never expected a bullet, of course.”
There were protests outside Ghent’s city hall: businesses were afraid they’d lose their customers, elderly residents were concerned about being cut off from their children. But Beke stood his ground, and although a few businesses that relied on car access had to move, today the city centre is thriving.
Or maybe we'll have a new paradigm with moving sidewalks or those tubes from the Futurama cartoon. Though that seems like a lot to maintain and we know how often elevators break down at subway stops.  But imagine if arterials were just moving walkways?

Imagine how many people could move without a metal frame surrounding them?  What could be done with all that parking we free up?  There is more than enough space in cities today to make room for everyone.  It doesn't even have to look like the densest places of our wildest dreams or nightmares. It could be cozy.  And supported by a good transportation system.

Three Ways of Autonomy

Another article that I read recently discussed the three ways of future autonomous cities.  In a report put together by McKinsey and Bloomberg, a typology of places was put forth to describe how cities will adopt autonomy.
Cities like Delhi, Mexico City, and Mumbai ("clean and shared" category) will focus on the EV part of the equation in an attempt to reduce pollution...

...Meanwhile, a second type of city characterized by sprawl (think L.A. or San Antonio) will still privilege personal, private car ownership, even if "autonomy and electrification allow passengers to use time in traffic for business or pleasure."...  

...But a third type—densely populated, high-income places like Chicago, Hong Kong, London, and Singapore—will move away from private car ownership toward shared AV mobility, the report says. People may travel more overall, because picking up an Uber AV will be relatively cheap and easy...
I think typologies are a great way to break down ideas but this is a bit too simplistic given what we discussed earlier about pedestrian central cities and the reduced parking possibilities.  I think we'll see a mixture of these things based on urban form and pedestrian policy.  And it's possible there will be pockets of pedestrian oasis free from big vehicles all together that aren't a part of central cities.  That is if we get policy right. 

I know that car companies don't see this human centered future. Yonah Freemark documented this idea of heaven and hell. They see the money that can be made selling a car, or a car service, or anything that will make for exchanging currency.  But who knows what the future brings.  I'm just watching for the trends.  We might want to start thinking of what we want the future to look like though before it looks at us.    

Back to Thanksgiving

So back to Thanksgiving and Walnut Creek.  This discussion about a need for parking wouldn't happen in 20 years. We won't have to worry about cars crashing over sidewalks and won't have to pay for parking.  And the goods we buy can be delivered to our door  Just another sunny day in California.  

That is....if we get the policy right.