Monday, July 30, 2012

Ray Bradbury: Author, Visionary, Pedestrian

Joseph Mugnaini — The Pedestrian

Last month the world lost one of its great authors, futurist and fellow Angeleno Ray Bradbury. Unique for many reasons, I just learned something about him that makes me love him even more: he never drove a car. (Though for the record his family owned one--his wife just did all the driving because, "In a really smart family, the woman does the driving. If a man is smart, he says to his wife, ‘You drive because I’m not a good driver.’")

Bradbury dreamed of a future where city-dwellers ditched their cars for high-speed monorails, but acknowledged that reality might look bleaker if we continue down our current path. He describes a much darker vision his 1951 story The Pedestrian, about a city where one brave man dares to walk the sidewalks--and the consequences of engaging in such devious behavior.

You can read more on Bradbury's thoughts on transportation here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Following the money

We all know that it creating great pedestrian environments take money, but understanding transportation funding is a little trickier. Last week Tri-State Transportation came out with this great tool that helps you understand how much your state is spending on bicycle and pedestrian projects (not to mention bridges, transit, and other transportation infrastructure).

And if the recent federal transportation debacle has you confused (not just depressed), here's a nice summary of the MAP-21 legislation.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Car Wars

One thing advocates of "alternative" transportation modes are constantly accused of is hating cars. This piece from NPR's Cities Project takes a closer look at the so-called "car wars" that planners are waging. One quote from a DC resident summed up for me the predominant--but uninformed--view on the situation:

"[Cars are] the predominant form of transportation in America. In fact, it's something that we can't live without...When you get a refrigerator delivered ... they don't bring it on a bicycle. ... They bring it in an automobile. It's easy to vilify the automobile, but it's not productive."

Setting aside for a moment the fact that many people do in fact live without cars, let's look at the second part of that statement. While he doesn't use the term, what the speaker is talking about is goods movement. And he's right: transporting goods around the city (and country) quickly and smoothly is essential to our economy, and a lot of that goods movement isn't going to happen on a bike.

But moving merchandise is an entirely different type of trip than, say, going to the hardware store, a nuance that often gets lost when we talk about the "war" on cars. You'd be hard-pressed to find a planner who really believes that cars have no place whatsoever in our society--heck, I heard this story while driving home from work in my car. But there are lots of trips where driving really doesn't--or at least shouldn't--make sense, and these are the trips we'd like to shift to other modes.

As I like to say, no one buys a Ferrari to drive to the grocery store. We should focus on using cars for the trips where they really make sense (and ensuring that drivers pay the full cost of driving, but that's another post), and ensuring that the pedestrian environment is safe enough for people to walk when they want to. As Washington DC Planning Director Harriet Tregoning says in the piece, cars are nice but, "It's also great to get out of them every once in a while."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Upcoming Events in San Diego

Lunchtime Panel Discussion
The Public Realm: The Re-emerging City Building Framework

Date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 12:00-1:00 P.M.
Location:  NewSchool of Architecture and Design, 1249 "F" Street, San Diego, CA  92101
Lunch Included: $5.00 in advance, $7.00 at door
RSVP: by email or call 619.544.9255

The public realm is once again being understood as a critical element in making cities work for the health and well-being of their citizens. Public health professionals have joined with design professionals in recognizing that quality urban design, and a well designed public realm, are key to the health and wellness of the community. Local author Richard Louv has given the lack of connection to nature and the public realm a name: "Nature Deficit Disorder.”At the same time we are renewing our understanding of the importance of nature in the public realm, we are experiencing the lack of resources for improving and maintaining public spaces. This panel discussion will address where San Diego is, where we might go, and lessons learned from other places.

Community Walk
Ocean Beach
Meet: Foot of Ocean Beach Pier (end of Niagara St)
Date: Saturday, July 21, 2012; 9:00am
Come learn the fascinating and varied history of this beach community, including the Wonderland Amusement Park, the old fishing bridge across the Mission Bay Channel, and Albert Spaulding’s Japanese Gardens at Sunset Cliffs.  A three-mile walk with some hills. (this is a repeat of a walk done in 2010)

Community Walk
Downtown Gaslamp
Meet: 5th and B St in front of the Wells Fargo Building fountain
Date: Saturday, August 15, 2012; 9:00am
Come explore the rich history, architecture, and people of the Gaslamp historic district and surrounding area. A three-mile walk on flat terrain.

Summer walks are open to everyone; reservations not required. Contact Dave Schumacher, with questions; Free for WalkSanDiego members, suggested $5.00 Non-Member donation

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Whose sidewalks are they, anyway? Part 2

I've written before about Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Reina Ehrenfeucht's important work on sidewalks and their crucial role in creating and sustaining a vibrant city--along with city officials' ongoing attempts to thwart that role. Last week in LA we were treated to yet another example of a city trying to limit the use of sidewalks to specific, sanctioned activities.

For the non-locals, downtown LA is in the midst of a renaissance that includes an extremely successful nighttime Art Walk on Thursdays. Last week Occupy protesters organized a "chalk walk" during the Art Walk festivities, writing their slogans on the local sidewalks and--in the process--impeding the flow of pedestrians. When they refused to move, police got involved, and (as the pattern goes here in LA) things got out of control.

It would be easy to make this about the sometimes-unruly Occupy movement and their politics, but the real issue has nothing to do with the specifics of this incident. Instead, it highlights a fundamental disagreement over the purpose of sidewalks. As quoted in the LA Weekly, the LAPD argues,

"One thing that's getting lost is...we had people writing on the sidewalks and, because so many were doing it, they were blocking the sidewalk and forcing pedestrians to walk in the roadway."

The unspoken implication is that the sidewalk serves one purpose only: moving pedestrians (while of course keeping them out of the way of all-important flow of vehicle traffic).

But sidewalks do so much more than that. They're a place for social interaction, expression, discovery, art and beauty. They're the place where the shopkeeper and the millionaire executive can nod to one another as equals. For some people, they're even home.

Until Los Angeles acknowledges--and even embraces--the many reasons sidewalks exist, we're never going to have a world-class walking city.