On Monday, my seven year old Chloe and I are scheduled to leave the Amtrak station in Staples, MN, on our way to Chicago where I will be speaking at the National Conference of State Legislators Annual Summit. Our train is scheduled to leave at 4 AM, which had me a little worried about waking Chloe in the middle of the night, driving her a half hour, making her wait on the platform and then getting her on the train. I paid extra for a sleeping car and then, because I'm a father of daughters, made a dinner reservation at the American Girl store.

Well, I received an email today from Amtrak informing me, due to heat on the tracks, the train would probably be running between two and five hours late. This seems a little more than bizarre to me, especially since the entire trip is just ten hours. I've only ridden Amtrak in the Northeast, which was quite nice. Kind of hard to justify supporting the train when facing the possibility of sitting on a platform at 4 AM with a tired and hungry girl (not to mention missing our dinner reservation). Not cool.

Regardless of my travails, enjoy the week's news.

  • Last week I was in Florida and was able to record a podcast with my good friend, Edward Erfurt. He wrote about it on his blog, the Restless Urbanist, and included a fun picture of us doing the show from his dining room.

  • And speaking of nice pictures of my good friends, check out this photo and article of Mike Lydon. Congratulations, Mike. So happy whenever your efforts are recognized.

Shade trees along a street are one of the easiest improvements that can be made – they are inexpensive, have immediate benefit, and only get better with time. And yet, it’s amazing just how often we neglect this simple, critical feature.

  • Another one of our good friends, Gary Kavanagh, used our piece on the fallacy of traffic projections to make some strong points on traffic in Santa Monica on the LA Streetsblog. Gary is a good writer, bright mind and good artist. If he decides to jump full time into urbanism (as we hope he does), we'll make sure and let people know here.

As I have come to read more deeply into the history, the policy, trends, energy use and psychology involved in automobile traffic and congestion dilemmas, I’ve developed a skepticism toward any one claiming to have it all figured out, whether that be a certified expert, an upset citizen group trumping up numbers, or a developer trying to downplay their impact. Santa Monica as a city and it’s staff are much further ahead in grasping what the future really has in store than most places. Many of the design mistakes of the past that produced things like the Water Gardens and Yahoo Center have been chucked as unacceptable, and a no growth in car trips goal is assumed in the LUCE even as new developments are built along the Expo Line. I’m confident this goal is accomplishable.

  • And then there is our own Nate Hood, whose great writing seems to be everywhere these days. This week he shows up in the Minneapolis Star Tribune calling on the city of Minneapolis to man up (my phrase, not his) and embrace the fact that it is a city. In all seriousness, he is on to something with this line of thought that is critical to the future of cities. We have to find a way for our cities to become pro growth economic engines.

Development is always good in so much as it isn’t in your backyard, or so goes the argument. To combat this, the traffic card is often pulled from the deck. This is an extension of the density argument and its surprising it isn’t considered a dead idea by now. Traffic, in fact,  is a sign of a strong economy (e.g.: getting around Cleveland is easy). That isn’t to say traffic shouldn’t be mitigated nor alternatives provided, but we shouldn’t use it as a method of rejecting projects for the sake of rejecting projects.

  • I had a great email exchange with some people in Vancouver that are interested in having me out to give a lecture (or more) in the near future. I would absolutely love to make that happen, especially if it meant I could interact with the people that put together this report on the Vancouver Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts. My favorite quote comes on page 60:
Although past trends from actual counts show a decrease in automobile volumes, the model does predict an increase of just over 4% in vehicle-based travel as a result of land use growth. Even though past trends have shown a decrease in auto travel to and from downtown, the model predicts a slight increase. This is likely a reflection of the model not accounting for vehicle ownership which is low in the downtown area compared to other parts of the region. Overall, the total number of trips to and from downtown increases by almost 5,400 trips; an almost 10% increase.
  • I strongly recommend that you listen to this interview with the Florida economic gardening team. A good overview of the program and the enormous success they are having in Florida with a tiny, tiny budget.
  • Last week I had the extreme pleasure of spending much of a day with Steve Mouzon. Besides being brilliant, the guy is just plain nice and, especially when it comes to me, overly generous with his time. Among many other things, we talked about our blogging efforts and each reaffirmed the value that regular, dedicated writing has. I won't take credit, but since I left him he has been on a tear. Check out this entire thread on Walk Appeal, which begins with this piece. Amazing work, Steve.

The best streets on earth have building walls on either side that are as tall as the space between the building faces. Technically speaking, they have a street enclosure of 1:1 or greater. A street with good enclosure feels like an outdoor room, and people prefer outdoor rooms to streets with little enclosure that just bleed out into the landscape.

  • File this in the Suburban Experiment - Stupidity folder: School district notifies parents that all kids within a mile of the school will have to walk or get a ride; no bus service will be provided. A great theory until you actually get a look at where the school is located. That's it, the purple building in the middle surrounded by STROADS. Happy walking, kids. 

  • This week, Atlanta voters rejected a proposal to pay more taxes to support regional transportation. While I've been told by a number of people that "it is more complicated than it seems" (isn't it always), this certainly seems like another in a long line of decisions to not throw good money after bad. Whatever the underlying reason, I suspect that voters may want their own road taken care of, they also inherently understand that it likely won't get done regardless of how much money there is. The truly humorous thing about this article was the lead where the failed initiative was called "a bulwark against regional decline". The generals that recommended putting that bulwark in place is most certainly fighting the last war.

Kasim Reed, who fought years for the referendum as a legislator and as Atlanta mayor, rallied supporters gathered at a hotel in downtown Atlanta. "The voters have decided," Reed said. "But tomorrow I'm going to wake up and work just as hard to change their minds."

  • People like this used to be common in cities and towns throughout the country. They must be again.

And Mr. Walker, 44, a former outsider-art dealer and a third-generation lawyer from a prominent local family, has emerged as a commercial developer with an unusual civic conscience. In less than a decade, he has bought more than a dozen disused historic buildings, renovated them and enticed people to live in them.

  • This article on a war game simulation is related to our work here in an ancillary way that I don't have the energy to explain right now, but read it anyway. It explains the fragility of complex systems in a different way. Fascinating.

In a telephone interview, General Van Riper recalled that his idea of a swarming attack grew from Marine Corps studies of the natural world, where insects and animals — from tiny ant colonies to wolf packs — move in groups to overwhelm larger prey.

“It is not a matter of size or of individual capability, but whether you have the numbers and come from multiple directions in a short period of time,” he said.

  • And finally, you'll all be happy to know that the Redneck Fishing Tournament will continue as planned. U-S-A. U-S-A.  U-S-A....

  

 

Enjoy your weekend. It sounds as if I'll have plenty of time to blog at the train station Monday morning, so check back then for more.