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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Transportation & Walkability -Part One



“The goal is no longer to reduce the traffic, but to reduce the need to sit in traffic”; Susan Handy mentions in her Twelve Ideas for Improving Mobility as a reminder to us while debating and designing for public transportation. However, this could be interpreted in different ways even though it sounds about right. For instance, “to reduce the need to sit in traffic” could actually create residential segregation and isolate a community from the others if we are not careful.
Walkability is one of the twelve ideas that she talks about which is very practical with many positive outcomes. I believe that walkability is a very vital aspect of our designs and implementations for the city, but using this principle excessively could also isolate a community from utilizing other parts of the city. If they have everything they need right around the corner conveniently, there is no need for them to mix with other communities and go to the city center and other areas unless for work or family visits. The Transit Oriented Development (TOD) that Robert Cervero talks about is also a very good idea to reduce the city traffic congestion and pollution while providing convenient access to services and needs of the community. But again, we are facing other issues like immediate congestion in the neighborhood, isolation and segregation. The fight over Kingsbridge Armory Mall proposal in Bronx could be a good example for this. With the development of this mall, residents of that neighborhood (and maybe even district) would probably make fewer trips to the city center (Manhattan), and also the property values of that neighborhood will increase. But if we take a closer look, this development will also increase the traffic in the area (mostly automobile but as well as pedestrian traffic) which could cause many other issues for the James J Peters Va Medical Center just a few blocks away especially that there are also two universities in the area. Well, we can probably call it a bitter-sweet situation and see who wins.

Kirk Johnson in his article in the New York Times on November 6th 2009, Grand Plans for Rail in Denver Hit a Wall of Fiscal Realities, writes about the transportation system in Denver and their plans but also talks about the higher demand of energy efficient cars in Denver compared to other cities. I remember when the Toyota Prius was released to the market many people in Colorado showed an immediate interest to the new energy efficient car and exchanged their old cars with a Prius. They loved it and still do, as it became very popular. But the ‘problem’ is as the demand for these energy efficient cars increases, tax support for public transportation decreases since they get tax incentives –a smart idea to promote energy efficiency awareness and encouragement but with other negative outcomes. Because as Kirk Johnson says, these drivers are still using the roads and parking spaces, causing traffic congestion.

Biking is another great idea that “works well for distances that are too far for walking and it can fill gaps where transit service is lacking” as Susan Handy says. But is it convenient enough to stop driving or using the public transportation and bike, without having enough bike racks and parking spaces? I think the city really needs to encourage college students to design-build public bicycle garages in the city. For example, there was a bicycle station proposal last year for Red Hook, Brooklyn providing various amenities and services to promote biking in the community. Why not do that for the whole city, like Copenhagen or Amsterdam?
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