Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

A New Chapter

Posted: April 15, 2016 in California, Canada, Jobs, Planning, Transportation

Well. I am beginning a new chapter in my quest to do more than just get by. My time in Canada has come to an end, and I have returned to California. I am currently jobless, but I did get a decent severance package which will hopefully not be substantially needed while I job hunt for urban planning opportunities up and down the coast. One success I have had so far, beyond driving 2500+ miles from Fort McMurray, Alberta, to Fresno, California, is this:

I successfully, IN ONE TIME WITH NO REPEAT TRIPS TO THE DMV, imported and registered a Canadian vehicle in the most complicated state in these here United States! No plates yet, because I ordered one of the coastal specialty platesDN03-WHALE-DC (because beach bum, yo), and those will need to be sent from Sacramento instead of issued at the DMV. Still, I am registered and good to go!

Beyond that, this will be the new chapter in my life, and I hope to document plenty of success at more than just getting by. I hope you enjoy the story.

Apologies to the Beach Boys and their legions of fans (of which I count myself in), for the title of this post, but it kind of works. A theme in Urban Planning that has been around for a while and seems to be picking up momentum is how to implement Transit Oriented Development (TOD) principles, increased density, and a reduced reliance on automobiles into the existing urban fabric of our North American cities (yep, looking at you too, Canada and Mexico). North America as a whole developed out of a pioneering, exploration mindset. The wild wild west of the United States. The interior of Mexico. The oil sands and other natural resources in the northern regions of Canada. Horseback. Conestoga Wagons. Dog sleds. Small river boats.

Dioramas as State Museum Indian Travois, Trappers and Red River Cart Denver

These provided the early explorers their means of covering large distances. With the development of the automobile, this not only furthered the ability to explore, but facilitated the establishment of communities in these newly explored areas. And these communities obviously were developed to accommodate the element that allowed for their establishment…private transportation.

Granted, establishment of these far-flung communities also warranted the development of ways to move larger numbers of people from one place to another (remember, populations in these cities were relatively low compared to what we see today, and much more highly concentrated). The stagecoach was a relatively easy evolution of existing technology, but trains spun up as a more efficient way to move large amounts of people and goods from one place to another. As these cities developed, grew, and evolved, the population continued with the “exploration/wide open spaces” theme and began to create urban sprawl (overly simplified, but work with me), supported by the availability of personal means of transportation…including, ultimately, automobiles. This has now led to the establishment of massive networks of transportation infrastructure optimized for use by automobiles, and additional urban development established to support and exist within that framework. Hence, the Washington DC metroplex, Monterrey and Hermosillo Mexico, Edmonton and Ottawa, Canada, San Diego and Las Vegas. Even smaller communities like Laramie, Wyoming and Fargo, North Dakota are developed around their primary supporting transportation networks…which are primarily automotive in nature.

With the general direction and desire coming out of the urban planning field focusing on sustainability, energy efficiency, and a sense of community, the goals are to minimize the presence and need for automobiles in the urban space, and manage transportation needs via increased density (minimize need to move from place to place) and mass transit (increased density minimizes number of “points” on the transportation network and maximizes the potential user pool). Unfortunately, most “policy planners” tend to look at these ideas and solutions in a relative vacuum. Yes, you can design a plan to redevelop a city or community, remove roads, and establish transit infrastructure. But the time, effort, and yes, money that are required to do this can in no way be taken care of in the “short term.” There is too much momentum in the usage of the auto-oriented urban fabric to allow for a wholesale 180 degree turn away from it. There has to be a long-term plan that establishes the baby steps to begin incorporation and implementation of these solutions. This is why this article in Atlantic Cities is so promising: it does just this. Long Island, in trying to minimize auto usage has recognized and acknowledged that they cannot just get rid of the cars. As noted in the article, Long Island was founded and developed along the “park and ride” model, where residents of the suburban communities like Levittown would drive to the transit facility, park, and ride into NYC to work. Quoting Ann Golob, director of the Long Island Index (a data clearinghouse supporting policy development), “It’s unrealistic that we are going to move immediately to not needing a car. In time this may change … but we’re not there yet.” So they’re taking the baby steps. Consolidation of surface parking lots into a few parking structures. This frees up land in and around the transit hubs, allowing for TOD-oriented projects to rise up and further support the prominence of a walkable, higher density area. My hometown of San Diego has been working on this model for a few years as well…surface parking lots were sold to developers (granted, this was in the now-burst real estate boom of the early 2000s) to build residential and mixed-use developments in close proximity to the downtown LRT line. These, combined with the development of the San Diego Padres’ Petco Park Stadium and the San Diego Convention Center have really established a walkable “center of gravity” in downtown San Diego.

SD Convention Center

To support this, underground parking was developed with most of these new buildings, and a few multi-level parking structures were developed to allow for the automobile-oriented lifestyle to enmesh itself in the higher density walkability of downtown San Diego’s East Village and Gaslamp District neighborhoods.

There is still a long ways to go, and a lot of it has to start with the centers for learning in the urban planning field, but it is nice to see that progress is being made.