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Urban Planning

The Brian Lehrer Show

What Makes Your Downtown Great?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Vibrant downtowns don't just magically appear -- they're the result of deliberate, careful planning through the years. What makes your downtown so great, and how did it get that way?

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The Brian Lehrer Show

David Brooks; Marijuana Business Lessons; The New Whitney

Monday, April 20, 2015

New York Times columnist David Brooks; a preview of the new Whitney Museum; your great downtowns and a marijuana entrepreneur shares the lessons he's learned in the legal pot business.

The Brian Lehrer Show

Times Square as a Model for the World

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Low-cost projects, like the Times Square pedestrian plazas, could transform the way urban space is used in cities around the world.

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NYPR Archives & Preservation

She Woke Up Like: Jane Jacobs

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Activist, journalist, and author Jane Jacobs was well known for her opposition to Robert Moses and his plans to re-shape New York’s urban landscape. Jacobs was instrumental in the eventual cancellation of the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have passed directly through Washington Square Park and in 1968 she was arrested for inciting a crowd at a public hearing on the project.

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NYPR Archives & Preservation

Jane Jacobs Defends Urbanism in 1960s New York City Planning

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Jane Jacobs, in this 1962 appearance at a Books and Authors Luncheon, explains her current role as a community leader in the fight against what she views as the excesses and excrescences of the arrogant Modernist redesign of city neighborhoods.

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WNYC News

Affordable Housing Advocates Demand More from Mayor

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

WNYC

Should developers be forced to build affordable housing?

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Smart Cities, Fewer Cars

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cities with the smallest amount of cars tend to have more educated populations. The Atlantic's Derek Thompson on what the cities with the fewest cars tell us about driving and density.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Building Smart Cities

Monday, September 30, 2013

Urbanist and technology expert Anthony Townsend takes a broad historical look at the forces that have shaped the planning and design of cities from the 19th century to today. Today, cellular networks and cloud computing tie together tens of millions of people. In Smart Cities, Townsend examines how cities are using technology to improve urban life.

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Transportation Nation

City Council Limits Lease on Madison Square Garden, Makes Way for a New Penn Station

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

WNYC

The New York City Council took the first step in a long process to remake Penn Station, Wednesday. It voted overwhelmingly to limit the lease on Madison Square Garden, which sits atop nation's busiest transit hub. 

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Are Cities Good for You?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cities can deliver a better life and a better future world, argues Leo Hollis. In  Cities Are Good for You: The Genius of the Metropolis, he asks: Where do cities come from? Can we build a city from scratch? Does living in the city make you happier or fitter? Is the metropolis of the future female? What is the relationship between cities and creativity? And are slums really all that bad?

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Transportation Nation

D.C. Defends Proposal to Change Mandatory Parking Minimums

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

After six years of work, the first major rewrite of Washington, D.C.'s zoning code since 1958 is inching closer to approval. But it's facing fierce opposition from some residents who worry it will shrink parking.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Remaking Detroit

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Detroit-area native Mark Binelli talks about Detroit—it’s long downward spiral and its new role as a laboratory for the future of cities. In Detroit City Is the Place to Be, he goes beyond the usual portrait of crime, poverty, and ruin to show how Detroit is being re-invented as a post-industrial city becoming smaller, less segregated, greener, economically diverse, and better functioning.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

The Waning Labor Movement; Competitive Yoga; the Changing Arctic; Remaking Detroit

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

On today’s show: Jane McAlevey talks about her struggles as a union organizer and discusses ways the labor movement might be revived. Benjamin Lorr describes his experience with competitive yoga. Frances Beinecke, the President of the NRDC, and acclaimed photographer Paul Nicklen, discuss changes in the Arctic and his photographs a changing worlds at the earth’s poles. And we’ll look at efforts by urban planners, land speculators, and utopian environmentalists to remake Detroit.

Transportation Nation

Maryland County Approves Millions More for Troubled Transit Center

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Maryland's Montgomery County Council approved an additional $7 million to pay for construction work already completed at Silver Spring Transit Center, which is already two years behind schedule and about $80 million over budget.

The $7 million approved by county lawmakers has nothing to do with major design and construction problems detailed in a county report released two weeks ago.When it comes to who will pay to repair those problems, county officials say it will likely be determined in litigation with the project’s contractors.

“We will move expeditiously to make sure that we make the necessary repairs and that the taxpayers of Montgomery County will not have to pay for the flaws of the contractor,” says County Executive Ike Leggett, who has threatened to cancel the county’s contract with Foulger Pratt and other contractors and sue to recover any funds paid to fix the transit center’s construction issues, like inadequately thick concrete.

“Whatever we spend we will get back because we are going to pursue to the ultimate degree of the law and the legal process to make sure the county is reimbursed for anything we may have to put out in advance,” says Leggett.

Council President Nancy Navarro echoed Leggett’s vow to go to court, if necessary, to protect taxpayers but left open the possibility the county is also responsible for the mess at the transit center.

“I have not said at any moment that the county could not have some responsibility in this. It is possible,” says Navarro, who says the transit center could open to the public while any litigation proceeds. 

No lawsuits have been filed yet.

Contractor Foulger Pratt has said the county’s design plan was flawed from the start. Company executive Bryant Foulger has said any safety issues concerning concrete and reinforcing steel bars are the county’s responsibility.

 

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Transportation Nation

How a D.C. Suburb Avoided the Capital's Traffic Nightmare

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Arlington's Wilson Boulevard and North Lynn Street at night. (Photo CC by Flickr user Mrs. Gernstone)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) While the District of Columbia grapples with proposed changes to its parking and zoning policies, last updated in 1958, nearby Arlington County, Virginia seems to have triumphed in its effort to minimize traffic congestion. Commuters are shifting from cars to transit and bikes.

What's more, traffic volume has decreased on several major arterial roads in the county over the last two decades despite significant job and population growth, according to data compiled by researchers at Mobility Lab, a project of Arlington County Commuter Services.

Multifaceted effort to curb car-dependence

Researchers and transportation officials credit three initiatives for making the county less car-dependent: offering multiple alternatives to the automobile in the form of rail, bus, bicycling, and walking; following smart land use policies that encourage densely built, mixed-use development; and relentlessly marketing those transportation alternatives through programs that include five ‘commuter stores’ throughout the county where transit tickets, bus maps, and other information are available.

“Those three combined have brought down the percentage of people driving alone and increased the amount of transit and carpooling,” said Howard Jennings, Mobility Lab’s director of research and development.

Jennings’ research team estimates alternatives to driving alone take nearly 45,000 car trips off the county’s roads every weekday. Among those shifting modes from the automobile, 69 percent use transit, 14 percent carpool, 10 percent walk, four percent telework and three percent bike.

“Reducing traffic on key routes does make it easier for those who really need to drive. Not everybody can take an alternative,” Jennings said.

Arlington’s success in reducing car dependency is more remarkable considering it has happened as the region’s population and employment base has grown.

Since 1996 Arlington has added more than 6 million square feet of office space, a million square feet of retail, nearly 11,000 housing units and 1,100 hotel rooms in the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor. Yet traffic counts have dropped major roads: on Lee Highway (-10%), Washington Boulevard (-14%), Clarendon Boulevard (-6%), Wilson Boulevard (-25%), and Glebe Road (-6%), according to county figures. Traffic counts have increased on Arlington Boulevard (11%) and George Mason Drive (14%).

“Arlington zoning hasn’t changed a great deal over the last 15 years or so. It’s been much more of a result of the services and the programs and the transportation options than it has been the zoning,” said Jennings.

Arlington serving as a regional model

Across the Potomac, the D.C. Office of Planning is considering the controversial proposal of eliminating mandatory parking space minimums in new development in transit-rich corridors and in downtown Washington to reduce traffic congestion. In Arlington, transportation officials say parking minimums have not been a focus.

“When developers come to Arlington we are finding they are building the right amount of parking,” said Chris Hamilton, the bureau chief at Arlington County Commuter Services. “Developers know they need a certain amount of parking for their tenants, but they don’t want to build too much because that’s a waste.”

Hamilton says parking is available at relatively cheap rates in the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor because demand for spots has been held down by a shift to transit.

“In Arlington there are these great options. People can get here by bus, by rail, by Capital Bikeshare, and walking, and most people do that. That’s why Arlington is doing so well,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton credited a partnership with the county’s 700 employers for keeping their workers, 80 percent of whom live outside the county, from driving to work by themselves.

“Arlington Transportation Partners gives every one of those employers assistance in setting up commute benefit programs, parking programs, carpool programs, and bike incentives. Sixty-five percent of those 700 employers provide a transit benefit. That’s the highest in the region,” Hamilton said.

“There’s been a compact with the citizens since the 1960s and when Metro came to Arlington that when all the high-density development would occur in the rail corridors, we would protect the single family neighborhoods that hugged the rail corridors,” he added.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Grid City: The Measure of Manhattan

Monday, March 25, 2013

Marguerite Holloway tells the story of an unrecognized, 19th-century genius who plotted Manhattan’s famous city grid, John Randel Jr., an eccentric and flamboyant surveyor who created surveying devices, designed an early elevated subway, and laid out a controversial alternative route for the Erie Canal—winning him admirers and enemies. In The Measure of Manhattan, Holloway explores the science and symbolism of surveying, and tells how Randall went about “gridding” what was then an undeveloped, hilly island.

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Transportation Nation

Lawyer Who Sued to Remove Bike Lane Is De Blasio Backer

Thursday, March 21, 2013

 

The lawyer appealing a lawsuit to remove the Prospect Park West bike lane has held a fundraiser and donated the maximum allowable amount to Bill de Blasio's campaign for New York City mayor -- but a de Blasio campaign spokesman says the candidate for Mayor, if elected, won't remove the lane.

James Walden's name shows up on a list of fundraisers released by the de Blasio campaign "to demonstrate Bill de Blasio's personal commitment to transparency."

Screen shot of Bill de Blasio's website, listing Jim Walden as host or co-host of a fundraising event.

Brooklyn resident Jim Walden, the attorney for Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes, held a January 10 fundraiser for de Blasio. New York City campaign finance rules state the limit for a contribution to a mayoral campaign is $4,950, and Jim Walden has given the maximum allowable contribution to Bill de Blasio's campaign.

Neither the de Blasio campaign nor Walden would comment on the reasons for his support, though Dan Levitan, a de Blasio spokesman, says "Walden has been a long time supporter of Bill's," dating back to de Blasio's days as a city council member.  Levitan says the Public Advocate,  if elected Mayor, won't remove that bike lane.

Walden has also given $1,000 to mayoral candidate William Thompson.

Former Giuliani Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro, Walden's law partner, has also given $2000 to De Blasio and $3000 to Thompson.

De Blasio spokesman Dan Levitan said the campaign doesn't comment on individual donors, and pointed out the candidate has already issued a statement expressing support for bike lanes.

"The need for safer streets for bikers, walkers, and drivers is one I feel in my core,” de Blasio said in his statement last month. “For that reason, I fully support bike lanes and I want to see them continue to expand around the city. They are clearly making many NYC streets safer. But I think we need to take an approach different from the Mayor’s. While more and more communities and riders want bike lanes, the City still hasn’t come around to proactively engaging those who are concerned by them.

But more to the point: Levitan said de Blasio "has no plans to revisit the Prospect Park west bike lane.”

So under a de Blasio mayoralty, a de Blasio-appointed DOT commissioner won't rethink, rework, re-pave the bike lane?

"No."

Jim Walden did not return several phone calls.

The lawsuit against the Prospect Park West bike lane -- dismissed by a Kings County Supreme Court Justice in August 2011 -- is currently under appeal.

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Transportation Nation

Maryland's Future Transit Hub "Severely Compromised" by Construction Errors

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Silver Spring Transit Center (photo by ThisIsBossi via flickr)

(Matt Bush -- Washington, D.C., WAMU) An independent report on the yet-to-be-opened Silver Spring Transit Center shows the transit hub is plagued by flaws that will render it unfit to open unless fixed.

The transit hub, which will connect commuters to rail, Metro, buses, bikes and cabs, was scheduled to have opened two years ago, but has been dogged by construction errors and cost overruns. After seeing cracks in the concrete last year, Montgomery County commissioned a report on the SSTC from structural engineering firm KCE.

And now that report concludes the problems with the center go far beyond cracked concrete.

In a statement, county executive Isiah Leggett says the center as currently constructed is "severely compromised." According to his statement:  "The facility contains significant and serious design and construction defects, including excessive cracking, missing post-tensioning cables, inadequate reinforcing steel, and concrete of insufficient strength and thickness.  These deficiencies not only compromise the structural integrity of the facility but could also begin to impact the Transit Center’s durability far earlier than expected, thus shortening its useful life.  At worst, if no changes are made, some of the facility’s elements may not withstand the loads they are intended to support – thereby putting the many users of the center at potential risk."

Read the full report here.

Earlier this year contractor Foulger-Pratt said the county has needlessly delayed the opening of the center as it awaited this report.

At this time, there is no timetable as to when the center will open.

Follow Matt Bush on Twitter.

 

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Transportation Nation

Infrastructure report card says $3.6 trillion needed by 2020

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Former Pa. Governor Ed Rendell (Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in backdrop)

Former Pa. Governor Ed Rendell (Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in backdrop)

The nation’s infrastructure received a D+, a slight improvement from the D issued in 2009, in an infrastructure report card released by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), a group whose members stand to benefit from increased spending on the construction of roads, bridges, levees and dams.

The report grades infrastructure in sixteen sectors and prescribes a funding level necessary to bring each up to a B grade.  That will require spending $454 billion annually over the next eight years, according to the group’s figures. However, the society estimates only $253 billion annually is currently earmarked for infrastructure repair and improvements, leaving a yearly funding gap of $200 billion.

At a news conference at the Earth Conservation Corps Pump House in southeast Washington – with a view of the structurally obsolete Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge spanning the Anacostia River – advocates of infrastructure spending sought to convey their message in easy to understand terms, acknowledging that ordinary citizens often do not see the costs associated with outdated infrastructure.

“The real goal is that Americans would have this conversation about infrastructure at their kitchen table,” said ASCE president Greg DiLoreto. “They’d sit down and they’d say, you know what? I was driving home last night, hit a pothole, and I ruined the front end of our car. What can be done about that?”

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the co-founder of the bipartisan group Building America’s Future, said more Americans are beginning to realize that infrastructure is not free and does not last forever.  Still, there is a large difference between what a group of civil engineers believes should be spent and what Congress and state and local governments are willing to spend.

“Members of both parties feel this way, predominately Republicans, that we can’t spend money on anything.  That’s wrong,” Rendell says. “We’ve got to get away from this idea that investing in infrastructure is wasteful spending.  There are some projects that are bad and we should ask for stricter accountability and transparency, but we’ve got to invest in growth.”

The sector with the highest grade (B-) is solid waste. Inland waterways and levees both received the lowest grade, D-.  Grades were poor to mediocre in transportation sectors: aviation (D), bridges (C+), rail (C+), roads (D), and transit (D).

“First we have to repair the quality of the roads,” Rendell said. “But then we have to expand.  We have to do additional ramps.  We have to widen lanes. A good hunk of the money should be spent on mass transit.  There’s got to be a balance.”

The report card breaks down infrastructure state by state. In Washington, D.C., for example, 99 percent of roads are rated poor or mediocre.  The report card says driving on roads in need of repair costs District of Columbia motorists $311 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $833 per motorist.

Virginia’s infrastructure graded at D+ and Maryland received a C+.

Winning the public’s support to raise revenues for infrastructure spending will depend on convincing the public they have to pay more, whether its taxes or user fees, according to Emil Frankel, a visiting scholar at the D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center and former Assistant Secretary of Transportation under the George W. Bush Administration.

"The challenge is being able to make the case about specific facilities that people know and understand, and what the implications would be if they have to close that facility,” said Frankel, who said the ASCE’s figures are sound, even if they are unrealistic in terms of what governments are willing to spend.

“We’re not going to raise that money.  People acknowledge we have to invest more but there’s disagreement about how much we need to invest. Whatever funds are available we have to make better choices, prioritize and target,” Frankel said.

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Transportation Nation

Freakonomics Radio: Parking Is Hell

Friday, March 15, 2013


Our friends at Freakonomics Radio take on the perennial puzzle of automotive life: where to put your car when it's not moving. The average car spends about 95 percent of its life stationary. Give a listen.

(You can subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

 

From the Freakonomics blog:

The episode begins with Stephen Dubner talking to parking guru Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA and author of the landmark book The High Cost of Free Parking. In a famous Times op-ed, Shoup argued that as much as one-third of urban congestion is caused by people cruising for curb parking. But, as Shoup tells Dubner, there ain’t no such thing as a free parking spot:

SHOUP: Everybody likes free parking, including me, probably you. But just because the driver doesn’t pay for it doesn’t mean that the cost goes away. If you don’t pay for parking your car, somebody else has to pay for it. And that somebody is everybody. We pay for free parking in the prices of the goods we buy at places where the parking is free. And we pay for parking as residents when we get free parking with our housing. We pay for it as taxpayers. Increasingly, I think we’re paying for it in terms of the environmental harm that it causes.

Shoup’s recommendations have inspired a series of reforms across the country, most notably an ongoing experiment in San Francisco called SFPark. The project essentially establishes a dynamic market for street parking by measuring average occupancy on each block and then setting prices according to demand.

While the experiment is exciting for transportation scholars, it has attracted some criticism. Furthermore, one of Shoup’s former students has uncovered a snag that could undermine the project – or any attempt to manage parking more efficiently. Michael Manville, a city planning professor at Cornell, and co-author Jonathan Williams found that in Los Angeles, “at any given time almost 40 percent of vehicles parked at meters are both not paying and not breaking any laws” (paper here, and a Shoup op-ed here). How can that be? Very often, those cars display a handicapped placard that allows for free, unlimited parking. So you’ll hear about “placard abuse” and what’s being done to stop it.

There aren’t yet enough data from SFPark to know whether the experiment helps with congestion, pollution, and accident risk, but Shoup is hopeful:

SHOUP: If it works, it will make San Francisco an even better place to live and do business and visit. It will just be yet another feather in the cap of San Francisco. And if it doesn’t work, they can blame it all on a professor from Los Angeles.

You’ll also hear from MIT professor Eran Ben-Joseph, whose book ReThinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking offers solutions to improve the prototypical parking lot. He gives us a sense of how many surface parking spaces there are in the U.S. (close to 800 million) and points out that in some cities, parking lots cover a full third of the land area downtown.

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