We actually got our first real snap of cold weather this winter in Minnesota as the wind shifted and started coming in from the north. Weeks ago I had stopped enforcing the "hat and gloves" rule with my kids as they trampled out the door in the morning, adopting instead the more laissez faire "hood and pockets" parenting approach. Still no snow, however, and so with the weather shift we're now stuck in the worst of all situations: cold with no snow. The reciprocal -- snow with no cold -- is my personal winter favorite, but I've come to accept snow with cold as a fair compromise. I'm sure when I head to Texas next month it will snow a foot like the last time I was there in February. Oh well, if nothing else my Samoyeds are now two happy dogs and the forecast says back into the 30's this weekend. What a strange winter.

Enjoy the week's news.

  • The most rewarding thing that can happen for me is to have someone read our work and then apply it to their own local situation. Enter Tim Evans at Future New Jersey who took the work on the difference between roads and streets and applied it to his local Route 1. And by "applied", he not only analyzed the route and diagnosed the siuation, but he offered a solid recommendation on how to fix the problem and create value in the corridor. I want to publicly thank Tim Evans for a fantastic job. This is great work. New Jersey needs to listen to him.

This distinction is an important aspect of the discussion about whether and how to institute a bus rapid transit (BRT) system along the Route 1 corridor in Mercer and southern Middlesex counties.  The municipalities that straddle Route 1 in central New Jersey have essentially been treating it as their Main Street, lining it with the land uses that formerly defined the traditional downtown: the innumerable strip malls offer local shopping and a multitude of low-rise office complexes act as employment centers.  The fact that none of these destinations connect to each other via a pedestrian-friendly local street network has resulted in exactly the mismatch that Marohn laments: Residents use Route 1 for local trips, and the resulting traffic interferes with the trucks and other regional through traffic that is trying to use Route 1 as the shortest route from the New Jersey Turnpike in New Brunswick to I-95 or the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

  • We've been scheduling a lot of Curbside Chats, particularly corresponding with trips I'm making to Florida, Texas and California in the coming months. If you're interested in seeing where we've been or where we are scheduled to go, we've put together this map. I'm also thinking of adding places that have made inquiries, so if you are interested in holding a Curbside Chat in your community, make sure and let us know. We can connect you with others near you and make it happen.

View Curbside Chats in a larger map

  • Our blog of the week: A Rebalanced Life. On the home page they quote Confucius. "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." And in addition to discussing how to reset one's life in a minimalist framework, the site links to Strong Towns in their blogroll. Thanks so much for the link -- we're really honored that you'd find value for your life in our message.
  • Thanks also to Tim McKuin at the blog MoveArkansas for saying we hit the nail on the head this past Wednesday with our piece Adding Insult to Injury. This is another great example of taking our work and applying it to a local project. Very nicely done, Tim.

First of all, replacing big wide roads and traffic lights with smaller roads and traffic circles to keep traffic moving often doesn't reduce capacity much, if at all. Secondly, our car-centric policies of the last half century have led to people making more trips by car than they used to. (surprise!) If we make University and Asher more people-centric and promote dense, safe, walkable development there, then a lot of people will choose to live there instead of out in the boonies. They'll be able to take care of more of their daily needs very close-by instead of having to drive back and forth all over creation. They'll still be able to drive anywhere they want, but they won't need to drive as much as they do now.

  • Nathaniel Hood was our first ever donor and, starting with that distinction, I have had the good fortune to get to know him a little. For a while I lobbied to try and find him a job (he recently moved back to Minnesota from working out of the country -- bad timing is the only reason he did not immediately get a job) but now I'm scrambling to try and make a place for him here before he gets locked up somewhere else. Nate intuitively gets what we're talking about at Strong Towns, sees the world in this same way and, to top it all off, is a great writer. Here's another example of that last trait as he talks about the financial craziness of Cape Coral, FL.

I was reading through alocal Cape Coral blog, and ran into a promotional flyer that appears to sum up the community and their aspirations [speaking of which, Cape Coral even makes this suburban-disaster slide show look tolerable]. It is a flyer for a “Family Fun Walk” to celebrate the “Grand Opening” of a road! I can’t imagine anything less fun than walking with children next to a 6+ lane road. I wonder how many people turned up to the event? I did find this chunk of information though: “The total cost for the right-of-way acquisition, design and construction of both the roadway and bridges came to $42 million.” [Source].

  • Just to go deeper into Nate's piece, that last source he refers to is an article on the "fun walk". While calling a 6-lane highway a "boulevard" is a bizarre use of the English language, ponder as you read this how pathetically little value is being created for such an incredible sum of money. This STROAD is being built at a stunning $3,500 per foot. Someone please tell me it's a typo. The Champ Elysees would not cost $3,500 per foot, and look at the platform for creating value that is. Utterly amazing how crazy we are!

As part of the city of Cape Coral’s Five-Year Roadway Improvement Program, Del Prado Boulevard was widened from four to six lanes, resurfaced and realigned at the S.R. 78/Pine Island intersection. Motorists and pedestrians along this 2.3-mile stretch of Del Prado Boulevard also now benefit from two wider bridges, three new off-site bridges, street lighting, new traffic signals, curb, storm drainage, landscaping and 10-foot-wide multi-use paths. The total cost for the right-of-way acquisition, design and construction of both the roadway and bridges came to $42 million.

Increasing borrowing signals a drop in unemployment (USURTOT) is giving households the courage to take advantage of holiday discounts, buy cars and finance higher education. At the same time, dependence on credit means the job market has yet to improve enough to provide the incomes needed to sustain consumer purchases, which account for about 70 percent of the economy.

“Consumers are feeling more confident and making more big- ticket purchases,” said Richard DeKaser, deputy chief economist at Parthenon Group Inc. in Boston, who projected credit would climb by $11.6 billion, the highest estimate in the Bloomberg survey. “The debt pay downs of previous years are now allowing consumers to borrow a bit more freely.”

  • In Minnesota we have a system of local government aid that funds large portions of the budget of many cities (and has little or no funding for others). LGA, as it is known, has been reduced and has faced elimination many times during our budget shortfalls. We prepared a report on the subject back in 2010 and I was part of an online debate on it as well. Understanding that LGA was created to simplify our tax system and provide a stable funding source, this recent article should remind us that the road to Hades is paved with good intentions (and that top down systems are, as Tom Friedman is fond of saying, orderly and dumb).

Two legislative staff members had just presented a long, complex explanation of how Local Government Aid is distributed to cities across Minnesota. The Dec. 7 meeting was just the second ever for a study group created three years ago to improve the LGA system that many city officials would decry as unfair — if they understood it well enough to be certain.

After the lengthy presentation, Roseau Mayor Jeff Pelowski sat back in his chair with a new appreciation for his staff members.

"I felt uncomfortable asking my staff why we lost [LGA funds] when they replied, 'I don't know,' " Pelowski said. "Now I know they weren't pulling my leg."

  • Any article that will quote Lewis Mumford is worth reading, so thank you to my many friends that forwarded me this piece in the NY Times about parking lots. It is worth a read, especially for this quote:

As the critic Lewis Mumford wrote half a century ago, “The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle is the right to destroy the city.” Yet we continue to produce parking lots, in cities as well as in suburbs, in the same way we consume all those billions of plastic bottles of water and disposable diapers.

  • Hey Fresno residents fed up with this type of insanity. The trick is not to argue that it will make the pedestrian experience "less pleasant" -- engineers don't have a metric for pedestrians or their pleasantness -- or that it is ugly (have you ever gone to an art museum with an engineer?) but that it costs a lot while at the same time diminishes the tax base. How you going to have prosperity -- or budget for more STRAODS -- when you are spending your money on projects that decrease your property values? Use the math, Luke. Search your feelings. You know it to be true.
  • I love how the school travel planning news took my photo from the No Car Left Behind article and used it in their newsletter (page 11). Our stuff here is all for public use under a Creative Commons license. Please use it whenever you can to make this county one full of Strong Towns.
  • This controversy is about more than Eisenhower. It is about how we think of our places. Washington D.C. was built with a monumental design. I don't have a problem if some crazy city wants to embrace Frank Gehry's designs (as the U of MN did -- I have particular distaste for this building as my dorm room overlooked its early morning, very noisy construction), but does it have to be our only city with this type of grand design? It is akin to a cell phone going off in the middle of a New York Philharmonic performance, which is just plain irritating.

The present Eisenhower Memorial design, by postmodernist Frank Gehry, has virtually nothing to do with the Dwight David Eisenhower of history. Plans call for Ike to be memorialized in sculpture as a barefoot farmboy on the Great Plains: not the great wartime leader; not the soldier-diplomat; not the chief executive of the United States who presided over eight years of peace and prosperity. The Gehry conceit seems both obvious and entirely in tune with the postmodern deconstruction of history: There are no great men; there are no great virtues; there is no great striving; nor is there great accomplishment or great service to others. No one, visiting the Eisenhower Memorial as designed by Frank Gehry, would have the slightest reason to grasp the truth of the man himself

  • I really want to respect this man, but why every time we talk about how we can't afford our highway system, we only talk about ways to find new revenue? Will anyone ever state the obvious: We have too many miles of unproductive highway to maintain. Is that somehow an attack on our American machismo?

New sources of revenue are being considered because the gasoline tax is expected to provide a declining share of transportation funding as vehicles become more efficient in their use of fossil fuels or switch to alternatives like electricity.

Dayton said the task force study was inspired by his travels around the state and "experiencing the deterioration of Minnesota's highway system."

He noted that forecasts have shown state transportation funding falling behind by as much as $50 billion over the next 20 years.

"Minnesota has chosen by default and without really much public debate a path of declining transportation investments and therefore declining ... quality," Dayton said.

  • And finally, if there had been a YouTube back when I was a civil engineering undergrad (Class of 1995), I'm sure we would have shared this video with a mixture of laughter and confusion. The next time your city engineer starts talking about Level of Service or Average Daily Traffic (the engineer will most likely say LOS and ADT, just to be confusing), show them this video.


If you find this material interesting and would like to know more about how to apply this thinking to your community, join us at the Strong Towns Network, a social enterprise for those working to implement a Strong Towns approach.