A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

Tag: public transportation

Plus Trains Killed Keira Knightley In That Movie

by evanmcmurry

Ordinarily, I think comments sections are the lowest hanging fruit around. But I do like the commenter—on the New York Post‘s ghastly article about the man pushed into the subway yesterday—who thinks the “libtard” response will be to “ban Subways [sic].” Because if it’s one thing the left hates, it’s high speed public transportation.

Parking Lots, Coffee and Taco Bell: When Big Business Opposed Less Regulation

by drewnilsen

Despite the gutting and eventual pulldown of my native California’s Minimum Parking Requirement reform bill, the fact that this issue has become a legitimate part of the policy discussion is encouraging. Minimum Parking Requirements (MPRs) are a long-standing zoning requirement for new development and businesses that exist in cities and suburbs. While the genesis of them aren’t insidious — sure, people do need to park, sometimes — they often suffer from sloppy or outmoded calculations, or they inadvertently deter users of the development from walking or using public transit. Or, MPRs end up creating unnecessary expanses of hot, ugly asphalt that adds to environmentally-damaging impervious cover and sprawl, makes it harder for non-drivers to access, and adds unnecessary costs that get passed on to the consumer, whether they use the parking lot or not.

Reducing or eliminating MPRs in urban areas near transit nodes wouldn’t prohibit developers from building as much parking as they want, it would just relax the regulations they generally face. Many MPRs in America still mandate one car per bedroom, even in residences that are attractive because they are in walkable, transit-friendly areas. In cities and suburbs, parking lot sizes are determined by a metric of 85% of peak capacity — meaning that the vast majority of the time, a parking lot will be mostly empty. Or there are situations like this “green” library in Austin with a huge, underutilized parking lot that ignores its location in a residential neighborhood with ample free street parking during the daytime.

Old habits die hard, and many developers will continue to build more parking spaces than are necessary. But relaxing MPRs, especially in urban areas where other transportation options exist, is a good way to free up more progressive developers to create more efficient, urban places.

In the meantime, it would be nice to see neighboring businesses voluntarily enter into mutually-beneficial parking-sharing arrangements like this, whereby a coffee shop (peak hour: morning) uses a Taco Bell parking lot, and the home of the Doritos Loco Taco (peak hour: whenever teenagers are awake and stoned, e.g. not morning) can use the coffeehouse lot the rest of the day (and late night. Fourth Meal, bro!). Cities could spur such arrangements by offering to waive MPRs when contiguous parking options are available.

Trains to Nowhere

by drewnilsen

Washington, DC’s Metro often receives praise as the nicest subway in America. Having just moved to DC after a short stint living in and traveling around Europe – I’d lick the floor of Lisbon’s subway, and a Brussels tram I rode smelled of rich, new cowhide – I can a little snotty about this assessment. Yes, Metro is carpeted and has coolly Modernist stations that don’t drip sewage onto copious amounts of rats, and local riders self-police each other’s behavior (“STAND RIGHT, WALK LEFT, YOU STUPID TOURIST!”).

Yet, Metro shuts down before midnight on weeknights and switches to painfully long intervals at an absurdly early hour (what this blog’s Founder coined “the Matlock schedule”).

But the biggest problem with Metro is coverage, owing to its genesis in an era when cities were out of vogue, and it doesn’t know if it’s an urban rail system or a commuter line.  Metro – and most other American public transit networks (other than New York City’s) – was predicated on a goal of shuttling commuters into and out of downtown, but not necessary to and from neighborhoods where people might live, work, and play.

Greater Greater Washington has a nifty animation of the evolution of Metro, from 1976 to the present.  It should be fun for any Washingtonian to see how the routes have expanded and morphed over the years, particularly in light of last month’s Rush Plus tweaks to the system.

Admittedly, it’s difficult for any system with only five lines to serve most neighborhoods. However, New York City’s MTA, Chicago’s El and Boston’s T all seem to benefit from the existence of complementary suburban commuter lines, which allow the urban rail to focus on the city itself.  Despite the existence of commuter rail in Maryland, Virginia lacks such a system, forcing Metro into a schizophrenia that adequately serves nobody.

Unfortunately, altering train infrastructure is prohibitively expensive and time consuming. If we could start from scratch, though, I suspect the DC Metro map would look much different, and that Chicago’s El lines wouldn’t all require going into the Loop to go from Andersonville to Roscoe Village.

As cities from Los Angeles to Austin to Atlanta create and expand rail and other public transportation in their metropolitan areas, they’d be wise to consider that American cities are no longer what they were in the 1960s and 1970s – people now commute from one suburb to another, not to downtown, and people choose to live and hang out off H Street, not flee to Woodbridge when the figurative foreman’s whistle blows (or happy hour ends).