This is my last Friday News Digest of 2014. Starting next week, we will be running "best of" content in the AM along with some shorter, new stuff in the afternoons. If you have a favorite blog post, video or podcast from 2013, let us know in the comments section. I'm going to start my annual Christmas baking this weekend and so I'm very thankful for the mood weather (a foot of snow and now sub-zero cold) we are having here in Minnesota.

Keep safe, keep warm and enjoy this week's news.

  • I'm always overwhelmed whenever somebody takes our work and replicates it in their community. That is my dream for every city; that they will have someone like this person from a city called Kamloops. I have no clue where Kamloops even is, but it is now one of my favorite places in the country simply because someone there would put this analysis together. A fine job.

If the resurfacing was done this year, the cost would be $702,000. With revenue coming in for the street from the properties adjacent at $9076 per year it would take 77 years to pay for the project. If we take the governments number of 15 years until replacement, that makes the shortfall on the project $565,860. Looked at another way, the shortfall is $37,724 per year; or $1109.53 per household per year.

Looking at it yet another way, with the same current budget proportions, and with the idea that we would want every house to at least be able to maintain the road service in the front of their own house, each persons taxes would need to increase from an average of $1839 per house per year, by $1109.53 to a per year per house tax payment of $2948.53! That is a 55% increase in taxes immediately, just to pay for the road in front of the house.

  • The important difference between a road and a street is creeping out into the broader conversation. And any article that begins with a Cormac McCarthy quote is generally worth reading.
  • Last month I had a chance to meet fellow Minnesotan and fellow blogger (with Streets.MN) named Walker Angell. I've enjoyed his writing, which is very good, and his unique take on things. Like the time he precisely followed all biking laws for 30 days to demonstrate how nonsensical (and sometimes dangerous) they can be. After attending a Curbside Chat, he made a good argument for why biking is an essential part of a strong town.

When I get in my car it’s easy for me to go anywhere for lunch or shopping. When I get on my bike though, I’ll almost always stick to places close by—usually within a couple of miles but rarely more than four miles away.

Staying local, particularly if I can walk or ride a bicycle, decreases infrastructure expense and increases the value of local stores, their contribution to my city’s coffers, and my city’s ability to better maintain the infrastructure in our city without raising my taxes.

Minicozzi has since found the same spatial conditions in cities all over the United States. Even low-rise, mixed-use buildings of two or three stories—the kind you see on an old-style, small-town main street—bring in ten times the revenue per acre as that of an average big-box development. What’s stunning is that, thanks to the relationship between energy and distance, large-footprint sprawl development patterns can actually cost cities more to service than they give back in taxes. The result? Growth that produces deficits that simply cannot be overcome with new growth revenue.

  • I said a few weeks back that I would try to take a hill with bullets raining down on me if Mitch Silver asked me to. Well, Mitch has many other admirers, and for good reason. Congratulations to one of the planning profession's true stars.

On Monday, Mitchell also received word that he has been granted honorary membership in the British-based Royal Town Planning Institute, the largest professional institute for planners in Europe.

The decision was granted by RTPI’s Board of Trustees. There are currently only 69 honorary members out of RTPI’s membership of 23,000 professionals.

  • I realize that pensions are the flash point for municipalities in distress and the reason is obvious. If you don't fix the street, you have a bad street. If you don't fill that open police position, you have a diminished public safety response. These are chronic problems that put cities on a negative trajectory. But if you don't pay a pension, you have an immediate and acute crisis on your hands as serious as skipping a bond payment. This article -- Cities on the Brink -- deals largely with the acute and is worth reading, but understand that it is the chronic that is going to ultimately take us down.

U.S. cities, counties and states can learn volumes from what went wrong in places like Stockton and Detroit. Chief among the lessons is the need for municipal finance leaders — CFOs, controllers and comptrollers — to stand up and be counted. “It takes a CFO to say, ‘Wait a second. Let’s get an actuary to cost these things out and see where we’re going before we dive in,’” says Deis.

His message to other cities in trouble? “Do an honest inventory, admit mistakes were made and fix them now.”

  • Our entire #BlackFridayParking event turned out to generate far more impact than I had ever imagined. Thanks everyone. I've had that plan in my head for years but was prompted to try it this year because of a Freakonomics podcast on parking I recently had sent to me. This is definitely a must-listen.
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  • There are many of you that will incorrectly believe this is a fantastic idea (SEE UPDATE BELOW), just like many of you incorrectly believe that speed cameras are a great idea. When you want people to drive 35 mph and instead they drive 55 mph, it is not because everyone is deviant. It is because the stroad is improperly designed and is failing to communicate your intent to the driver. Let's not let engineers off the hook by putting this failure on deviant drivers or lax law enforcement. If everyone is going over the posted speed limit -- some by substantial amounts -- that shouldn't really be considered "speeding" in any sensible use of the word.

The speed limit on Kelly Drive near Fountain Green Drive is 35 m.p.h., but the average speed of motorists is nearly 55.

In an attempt to slow everybody down, the city has installed sensors in the roadway that determine the speed of vehicles approaching Fountain Green, about a half-mile north of the Girard Avenue Bridge.

If a vehicle passes the sensor going above the speed limit, the light at Fountain Green turns red.

"Speeding motorists on Kelly Drive have made that roadway unsafe," acting Streets Commissioner David J. Perri said Monday.

  • I really gather a lot of hope when Minnesota's major newspaper comes out with an editorial chastising the county for building a stroad and challenging them to do better. For contrast, I wish I could link to an editorial written around that time by another Minnesota paper, but I'm contractually bound not to ever link to that paper (by agreement with The Final Edit).

A dozen years ago, Hennepin County made a mistake that it shouldn’t now repeat. It rebuilt a major roadway without noticing that the neighborhood around it was in the throes of a transformation that required a different kind of road altogether.

As a result, Minneapolis’ North Loop was left with a “new” version of the same ugly Washington Avenue, designed mainly to accommodate the truck traffic of a bygone era rather than the needs of a booming residential population. Handcuffed by misguided state guidelines that forbade trees in historic settings, the $8.4 million project excluded landscaping as well as bike lanes, parking bays, broad sidewalks, bump-outs and other pedestrian amenities that would have matched the district’s changing character and hastened its retail and residential revival.

Now, to its credit, the county staff has approached the rebuilding of Washington Avenue’s other end — the segment running through the Mill District — with eyes wide open to the street’s evolving context. After more than a year of town meetings and workshops, plus an exhaustive traffic report, the staff has designed an attractive streetthat includes all of the aforementioned elements and reflects a downtown that’s slowly learning how to be a 24-hour city.

  • James Howard Kunstler is one of my favorite writers. I rarely get through something he has written without a new insight or idea. Here's one worth reading on Chris Martenson's site.

Instead of mixing with other people outside the family on a regular basis, Americans had TV and developed more meaningful relations with the characters on it than with the real people around them. Television was also the perfect medium for selling redundant “consumer” products: every house had to have its own lawnmower, washing machine, and pretty soon a separate TV for each family member.  The result of all that was the corrosion of civic life (a.k.a “community”) until just about every civic association except for school oversight (the fabled PTA) dwindled and faded. And the net effect of all that was the stupendous loneliness, monotony, atomization, superficiality, and boredom of suburbia’s social vacuum. It was especially hard on the supposed greatest beneficiaries, children, who, having outgrown the play space of the yard by age eight, could not easily navigate the matrix of freeways and highways outside the subdivision without the aid of the “family chauffeur,” (i.e. Mom).

  • I'm a huge baseball fan. Perhaps because of that, many of you emailed me when the Atlanta Braves announced they were relocating to the suburbs. Many city advocates were appalled by this move. I was heartened. I've been to Turner Field and the only thing worse than the site itself was the surroundings. The city of Atlanta is going to be far better off walking away from this deal than in doubling down on baseball economics (which favors teams, not cities).

If you’re trying to build a thriving, durable, and vibrant city, always choose urbanism over a vast, single-use, and mostly vacant ego structure.

  • I made my first Airbnb booking, this along a beach in San Diego where I'll be headed for a family vacation in 2014. Great price for a great looking place and it has all seemed to go well so far. We join our good friends at The Better Block in wondering how much better off our cities would be if homeowners had yesterday's flexibility combined with today's technology.

Friends who recently updated their backyard granny flat regularly post the space which gives them an added boost to their income of approximately $700 a month. Not too bad for a young couple with a new baby who are looking for every opportunity to save or earn money that they can, given that daycare alone can be close to a mortgage in cost. They entertain guests from as far away as New Zealand who visit our small neighborhood retailers, sit in our outdoor cafes, and turn around and tell their friends to visit and follow their footsteps. This little space single-handedly provides a boost to a single household income, enhances neighborhood business economics, and acts as a one room convention and visitors bureau.

This summer the similarly working-class city of Richmond, Calif., in a heavily industrial part of the San Francisco Bay Area, became the firstto identify homes worth far less than their owners owe, and offer to buy not the houses themselves, but the mortgages. The city intends to reduce the debt on those mortgages, saying that will prevent foreclosure, blight and falling property values. If the owners of the mortgages — mostly banks and investors — balk, the letters said, the city could use eminent domain to condemn and buy them.

One of the changes to the planning profession is organizational. In the old model, every city or county had a separate planning director, building official and chief engineer. Each ran their own group and represented an independent step in the development review process. In the modern world of continuous improvement and quality teams, more local governments are creating a single work group that integrates these disciplines into a team that works on development applications together. This also changes management responsibilities.

As planners, we don't have a PE (professional engineer) behind our name. We aren't trained in using the Uniform Building Code. When we put AICP behind our names, we are reminding our multi-disciplined teammates that we are planners -- and they are not! You may get some short-term satisfaction from this, but it will work against you becoming their boss someday. Don't to stereotype yourself. Keep your professional options open. Be more than a planner. Be a community builder.

  • My sharing this is probably enough commentary. We do have many baby boomer readers, as I've learned, and we are glad they are here. For them, take this as more of a wakeup to the brewing discontent than an intergenerational condemnation.
  • I'm a Catholic and have been overjoyed thus far with the direction and the emphasis of the institution under Pope Francis. I realize we all see the world through our own experiences, but when I read this quote, I immediately wanted to change "pope" to "mayor" and "Church" to "staff" and have this repeated 80,000+ times around this country.

"I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security," the Pope said in a major new statement.

"I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures," Francis added.

  • Finally, if you are having trouble finding a gift for that hard to buy for suburban relative whose rolls in each Christmas alone in their extended cab, oversized pickup only to waddle in the house and collapse in front of the TV, well....consider the Ruumber.

I'm back from weeks on the road and so I'm going to be spending more time than usual getting caught at the Strong Towns Network this week. You can join me, our friend Joe Minicozzi and many others there for more discussion on this approach and whatever you bring to the table.

It's that time of year as well, so if you want a present for that conscientious person in your life, check out my book, Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volume 1). It is a primer on the Strong Towns movement and an essential read for those wanting to get up to speed quickly.


on 2013-12-06 16:42 by Charles Marohn

I screwed up and put in the wrong link for that speed zone article. Now I can't find the right link, so I'll just describe what was going on.

The article was about a city that created a speed camera interface with their traffic signal. When cars exceeded the speed limit, it sent a signal to change the light to red. The article started off by noting that the speed limit was 35 but the AVERAGE speed was 55 (my emphasis). 

Note that engineers don't work with average speed but with something called the 85th percentile speed. This is essentially the speed that is only exceeded by 15% of drivers (the only ones that could possibly be labeled deviants). If you set a speed limit below the 85th percentile speed, you're ignoring the natural tendencies of the roadway and that will negatively impact safety.