War on cars continues: bike lane takes 0.2% of parking!

L Street Protected Bike Lane Ribbon Cutting

Per Downtown DC BID, “In 2006 the Washington Parking Association (WPA) estimated that there were 199 parking garage locations in the Downtown and Golden Triangle BID areas providing 45,721 spaces.” That does not include the 17,000 street parking spaces that even AAA acknowledges still exist. Therefore, the 150 parking spaces removed to build the “controversial” L Street bike lane pictured above = 0.2% of downtown parking supply. In other words, 417 out of every 418 downtown parking spaces remain even after AAA whines that “The bike lanes have taken up all the parking spaces.” [posted to TheWashCycle]

Also, calendar note: the JITI Urban Transportation Seminar on February 6 will feature speakers from Tokyo Metro and Tokyu Corporation. Tokyu is notable for being one of the more profitable commuter rail + real estate + retail conglomerates in metro Tokyo.

Peak Car presentation

Taking to the street

I gave a brief Pecha Kucha presentation last night at CNU-DC‘s bimonthly 20×20 series. My topic was “Peak Car: nothing to fear here,” in a weak attempt to fit into the month’s Halloween theme. Peak Car doesn’t mean Apocalypse Now — cars will continue to be an important way for millions of people to get around — but it means that a whole series of assumptions around having to always increase pavement supply need to end, and a new set of assumptions around sharing urban spaces among many modes (and methods of interaction) needs to begin.

PK presentations don’t lend themselves to extensive quotes or footnotes, so here are three bonus items:
1. Mark Halper’s article at SmartPlanet provided background on the cost of alternative automotive fuels. Takeaway: $4+ “gas” is here to stay, regardless of whether it’s actually gasoline or something else. Joel Garreau made this point in Edge City (p. 126) back in 1991, and despite all the technological advances since then, it still holds true.
2. Christine MacDonald wrote in CityPaper about Joe Mamo, who holds a near-monopoly on DC’s gasoline supply — but not because the gas business is lucrative (it’s in a long term decline, as even oil industry CEOs admit), but because they’re an opportunistic real estate play: “The market is changing. A lot of properties are being used for best and highest use, as the properties become more expensive. So the chances are less and less gas stations in the future.”
3. The takeaway: car access to a location will slowly mean less and less in the future. Non-car access to a location will increase in importance. There are great tools out there, like Mapnificent, which can help us visualize these relative differences.

Stay tuned for a February follow-up about how America can love its streets once again.

An etymology of “parking”


Ever wonder how “parking” came to mean two very diametrically opposed things — dead pavement and living green space? Historian Kirk Savage offers an explanation in his book Monument Wars:

In the nineteenth century, to park meant to plant a tree or spread a patch of turf or flowers–to create a little patch of parkland. In Washington, the Parking Commission was a group of respected horticulturalists who supervised street-tree planting. On the city’s wide streets, parking places typically referred to strips of grass, flowers, or trees plated alongside the pavement, or in the larger squares or circles. These strips of parking* not only cooled the streets but made them more manageable by reducing their great width and the amount of paving they required. By the turn of the century, such parking areas were sometimes used to hold horse-drawn carriages on special occasions; these were temporary intrusions that did not threaten the parkland itself. When automobiles started to overrun cities in the early twentieth century, parking areas were given over to car storage and the word began to refer to the cars themselves rather than the trees and grass they were replacing. The new meaning of the word intertwined with the old in strange ways. In 1924, for example, the park in front of Centre Market, “one of the few spots of green along Pennsylvania Avenue,” was converted into a “parking space” for cars over the opposition of the city’s “superintendent of trees and parkings,” who lamented that “the oil and gasoline from the parked automobiles will quickly kill whatever trees are left standing.” In early 1927, the District commissioners, acting on citizen complaints, appointed a committee to try to stop “the practice of parking automobiles on the grass-sown parkings between sidewalks and curbs.” At the same time, however, city officials were also beginning to cut down street trees throughout downtown Washington and widen pavements to make room for automobile traffic and parking (in the new sense). Literally and metaphorically, the new parking conquered the old.

skewed National Mall

Another fun fact from the book: the axis of the National Mall was tilted about 1.5° south so that the Capitol and Washington Monument appear to line up. Since the Monument was built off-axis, it doesn’t line up anything in the L’Enfant Plan, and that’s still subtly visible in some views. Now that I know this, I can’t un-see its crookedness on any map of the city.

* In Chicago, the local dialect persists in calling areas like the planting zone between sidewalk and street “the parkway.”

Sharing is “war”

The “war on cars” is about as real as the “war on Christmas” or the currently-underway “class warfare“:

How about “war” as a proper metaphor? I’d go so far as to suggest that war is precisely the correct metaphor because, you know, having to pay for parking your car is just like having shrapnel rip through your leg when a bomb explodes. Because having to wait to make a right turn because a bicyclist is in front of you is just like that movie about the land mine in Kosovo where the guy is stuck on the land mine and can’t move forever or else he’ll die. It makes perfect sense because getting a speeding ticket for blowing through a red light is exactly like 623,000 people dying in the Battle of the Somme.

Bill Lindeke via twin city sidewalks.

Transit shorts: Sustainable DC, CaBi, Beltway as urban edge, more!

Weekday walk trip % Originally uploaded by Payton Chung

Hi there! Seven (!) transportation-ish shorts; they might be a few days late, but I kind of have breaking news for #1, since these figures haven’t yet made the paper:

1. The new Sustainable DC Vision includes (unlike some other plans I’ve seen) some really great performance goals for the next 20 years, including:
– 75% of trips starting within city will be on foot, bike, or transit
– Zero waste
– 50% cut in greenhouse gas emissions (3/4 of which come from buildings)
– 100% swimmable, fishable waterways
– Tripling the number of small businesses
– 25% of food supply from within 100 miles (which implies farmland conservation in the suburbs)
– 50% less obesity (already lowest rate in USA)
– 50% less unemployment
– 10X greater exports of goods & services

Several notable strategies are called out, including “citywide performance parking districts” (their term for market-rate parking meters). There’s also an interesting emphasis in the text on how local food, zero waste, etc. will keep more funds within DC.

I was walking behind Mayor Gray across the new Anacostia Riverwalk wetlands bridge that connects Hill East to the Capitol Riverfront; check back to see if those photos make it into the paper.

2. More on performance parking: ‘Even though he works for a personal rapid transport company [ULTRa], [Steve] Raney said, “If you’re doing to do one thing, do the paid parking. Don’t go and build a personal rapid transit system.” [Bill Fulton, CP-DR]

3. BicycleBug recently undertook a CaBiChallenge, similar to the Tour de [Denver] B-Cycle. Apparently, he couldn’t check into some stations due to being dock-blocked. Two ways around that:
– use two credit cards. Arrive at a full station with bike, use CC#2 to check out a bike, return bike paid for with CC#1 into newly empty dock.
– or, to just verify a station visit, you could just ride your own bike around and print off an unlock code from each station. (I guess that wouldn’t work if the printer’s down, though.)

4. The graph here comes from the MWCOG’s 2011 TPB Geographically-Focused Household Travel Survey initial report. (Logan Circle’s outlier-in-a-good-way results merited some press, e.g., in the Examiner.) If we define sprawl as “where nobody walks” and “where everybody drives alone,” it’s pretty clear that sprawl begins right outside the 257 square miles circumscribed by the 10-mile-ring Beltway. (Incidentally, the city of Chicago would fill 92% of the Beltway.)

There are exceptions that stem from good planning, though: Largo, with access to the Blue Line, had 63% more transit commuting trips than more-distant Reston, but better-planned Reston has 67% more walk trips — and 31% more total weekday walk/transit trips.

Another surprising fact hidden in the presentation: mobile-only households ranged from 12% around Largo to an astonishing 57% around Logan Circle (the very picture of a neighborhood of techy transients). I see that they’ll be doing my neighborhood later this year — hope I get selected!

5. More on escaping the Beltway: it turns out that just outside the Beltway is Cherry Hill Park, a bona fide campground (the sort of land use you don’t see in an urban area) — which you can take a city bus to! (Via Em Hall’s Metro Ventures, via a segment on WAMU Metro Connection)

6. I love public stairs. Chalk it up to too many years stalking broad, flat Chicago streets.

7. Last week, Streetsblog mentioned a curious list compiled by Patrick Kennedy from Walkable DFW that contrasted U.S. cities with many and few highway lane miles. It was just a simple illustration — the many-lane-miles cities aren’t what come to mind as thriving, lively cities, unlike the few-lane-miles cities — and there are a lot of factors that enter into the equation. (I noticed that the lists are dominated by certain states, like Texas, Florida, and California, which might be over- or under-investing in highways.)

Still, though, it reminded me of this cute paper (again, not really an analytical work) by Patrick Condon, contrasting how the urban health of Vancouver to St. Louis really has nothing to do with the presence — or absence — of highways.

Auto age deathwatch (update)

As reported here before the Great Recession, the formerly inexorable decline in driving came to a sudden halt, and slipped into reverse, a few years ago. A few recent NY Times articles also pinpoint the date of this inflection point to the mid-2000s, when more teenagers began to forego drivers’ licenses:

“[O]ne of the most vexing problems facing the car industry: many young consumers today just do not care that much about cars… In 2008, 46.3 percent of potential drivers 19 years old and younger had drivers’ licenses, compared with 64.4 percent in 1998, according to the Federal Highway Administration, and drivers ages 21 to 30 drove 12 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 1995. Forty-six percent of drivers aged 18 to 24 said they would choose Internet access over owning a car, according to the research firm Gartner.” [Amy Chozick]

Todd & Victoria Buchholz mention a longer-term decline in driving, all the way back to the start of the Millennial generation: an op-ed on declining mobility “in the early 1980s, 80 percent of 18-year-olds proudly strutted out of the D.M.V. with newly minted licenses, according to a study by researchers at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. By 2008 — even before the Great Recession — that number had dropped to 65 percent.”

If anything, the Great Recession and related mass youth unemployment has accelerated this long-term trend: “55 percent of Millennials surveyed have actively made an effort to drive less, up 10 percentage points from 45 percent in 2010, highlighting the growing trend of consciously reducing road time.” (Zipcar via TreeHugger)

quick quotes

“The federal budget for nonsecurity discretionary outlays — categories like highways and rail, education, job training, research and development, the judiciary, NASA, environmental protection, energy, the I.R.S. and more — was cut from more than 5 percent of gross domestic product at the end of the 1970s to around half of that today. With the budget caps enacted in the August agreement, domestic discretionary spending would decline to less than 2 percent of G.D.P. by the end of the decade, according to the White House. Government would die by fiscal asphyxiation.” — Jeffrey Sachs

“For a BJ’s customer, you may think that is absolutely ridiculous. We never expected people to use mass transit to shop at a wholesale club.” — Patrick Smith, VP real estate of BJ’s Wholesale Club. [Not actually that unusual; Vancouver has a Costco with direct access to Skytrain.]

“It used to be that Republicans understood that transportation investment was necessary to spur economic growth and create jobs. Now, I guess they think if we give the rich enough tax breaks they will get off the golf course, get in a bulldozer, and start building roads.” — Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chair of the Senate Banking subcommittee with jurisdiction over public transportation

“Sometime during the past ten years or so food preparation officially surpassed filmmaking as the loftiest form of creative expression for the liberal arts demographic.  Furthermore, it’s essential that this food be prepared and served from some sort of vehicle (preferably a truck or a bicycle) instead of from an actual restaurant.  Part of the reason for this is of course that it’s cheaper that way, but it’s also because gentrification moves so quickly now that you need to be able to descend upon a new neighborhood within hours of reading a Tweet about it so you can provide all those young “pioneers” with the food products to which their refined palates have grown accustomed.   In any case, I have no doubt that if Darren Aronofsky were getting started today he’d never have made the movie “Pi;” instead, he’d be selling actual pies from a bakfiets.” — BSNYC weighing in on food trucks

A while ago, there was a pile-up on a Japanese highway of incredibly expensive sports cars. In the world’s second-largest car-making nation, this was a response typical of the social disapproval such showy vehicles receive: “It was a gathering of narcissists” — Mitsuyoshi Isejima of the Yamaguchi prefecture expressway traffic unit told Bloomberg.

Man behind the (sprawl) curtain

“Your city has been making decisions for you for a long time. Those decisions have led to this point: You’re standing in your driveway, keys in hand, wondering why you don’t seem to have a choice. You need socks or cereal. You want to see a movie with a friend. Each of those mundane tasks seems to require a journey of some distance. Why are these things so separated?” — Susan Piedmont-Palladino, “Intelligent Cities

Here’s the main problem I have with anti-government status-quo boosters: they’re somehow completely blind to how government created the existing situation, but then loudly whine about how government shouldn’t change anything! Not even removing its distortionary supports for the status quo!

That perspective completely ignores that the oil/sprawl status quo has suffered a sea change regardless of government’s (in)action. Consider:
– Miles driven plateaued in 2007 and is now declining, shrinking relative to all the factors that supposedly caused its growth (GDP, population, employment)
– Not only that, car ownership is actually declining in the USA
– Completions of the three iconic suburban building types (detached houses, malls, office parks) have fallen to post-1950 lows, or in some cases basically stopped*
– Along with that, migration to the suburbs has also passed an inflection point
– Rail freight transport is about two-thirds cheaper than trucking, per ton-mile
– If you’re going to cheerlead a fossil fuel, oil’s the wrong one: CNG is now 36% cheaper than gasoline per gallon equivalent

* Might be interesting to research this on the housing-starts front. Post adapted from a comment to GGW.

October shorts

It’s no longer shorts weather, but quick links endure!

1. Capital Bikeshare just turned one, and surprisingly has doubled its initial ridership projections and is currently running an operating surplus. [via GGW/WashCycle]

2. Economists like Ed Glaeser (and Ryan Avent, although I haven’t read his new treatise; reviewed by Rob Pitingolo in GGW and Lydia in CityPaper) often make the mistake of overly simplifying how housing markets work. Instead, numerous other important factors complicate matters, including:
– as Rob points out, housing is a bundle of goods whose utilities vary for different audiences
– housing construction can induce demand, particularly by adding amenities to a neighborhood
– housing construction can also remove amenities from a neighborhood, like a low-rise scale, thus changing other intangibles included in that bundle of goods
– construction costs don’t increase linearly; rather, costs jump at certain inflection points, like between low- and mid-rise
– housing and real estate in general are imperfect markets, since land is not a replicable commodity
– the substantial lag time for housing construction, even in less regulated markets, almost guarantees that supply will miss demand peaks

Pro-active planning remains the best and most time-honored way of pre-empting NIMBYs. Get the neighborhood to buy-in to neighborhood change early on, and then they won’t be surprised and upset when it happens.

3. Very interesting to see (via Dan Mihalopoulos/CNC) that Inspector General Joseph Ferguson has put a lot of sacred cows on the table for increasing revenue in Chicago — particularly several implicit subsidies to drivers. A downtown congestion charge, tolls on Lake Shore Drive, a commuter income tax, privatized parking enforcement, higher water/sewer fees, and higher garbage collection fees all would substantially impact suburbanites, single-family homeowners, and drivers.

4. How important are street enclosure ratios? As this gallery of reconstructed L.A. traffic sewers shows, they’re so important that almost nothing else matters if you get them right. (Photo-illustrations by David Yoon.) Back when I was reading comments on LEED-ND 1.0, a lot of complaints centered on the street enclosure requirement; I think that thinking about such urban design factors is just foreign to the architects & engineers who typically do LEED submittals. Yet it’s absolutely fundamental to defining urban rooms.

What if: gas taxes were always a percentage

Currently, the price of gas in the District of Columbia includes 18.4¢ in federal tax and 23.5¢ in local taxes. As many have noted, the rising per-gallon price of gas has reduced the purchasing power of excise taxes on gas, particularly as the rising price finally is inducing some price elasticity (i.e., more efficient cars and a switch to untaxed fuels like ethanol or electricity). Some have advocated that instead, the tax should be levied as a sales tax, or a percentage of the price.

Indexing gas taxes to the historic price of gas (as converting the tax to a percentage tax would do) makes the inflation-adjusted decline in gas taxes even more stark. It appears that retail prices were around 19¢/gallon in the 1930s, when 4-5¢ state gas taxes were in effect around here, plus the 1¢ federal tax; that implies that there was the equivalent of a 41% sales tax on gas during the nation’s deepest-ever economic depression. An equivalent tax on today’s typical DC gas price of $3.60 (of which $0.419 is tax) would result in a tax of $1.30/gallon and a “new” gas price of $4.48. To get back to such rates would require an 88¢ increase in the gas tax — not far off from Tom Friedman’s 2003 proposal for a $1/gallon, $110B-in-revenue “Patriot Tax.”

Of course, had gas taxes always been levied at these rates, prices would have been higher earlier, demand would thus be lower today, and the resulting prices would probably also be lower. Strange how that works.

[comment added to Matt Johnson’s post at GGW; the original post has the real and nominal gas tax rates in DC, Md., and Va. He also points out that cutting all of the “extraneous” pedestrian and bicycle programs from the USDOT budget would recover a tiny fraction of the money that could be raised by indexing the gas tax appropriately.]

Americans loving their cars a bit less

Earlier, I’ve pointed out that young Americans aren’t quite in love with driving. Now, via WashCycle, a link to a 2006 Pew study (predating the current recession and $4 gas) with longitudinal evidence of general cooling in America’s love affair with the car. In 1991, people who “like to drive a great deal” outnumbered those who “consider [driving] a chore” by 50%; by 2006, those numbers had flipped. That cooling wasn’t limited to the young, either: “This decline over the past 15 years in enjoyment of driving has occurred among men and women, young and old, as well as in all regions of the country.”

(Page 4 of that report sets out reasons why people enjoy or dislike driving. It might be a worthwhile exercise for marketers of other modes to identify targeted responses to those rationales.)


In a neat inversion of “time spent walking adds time to your life” (every minute spent walking adds three minutes to your life), time spent driving subtracts from your life. Twenty minutes of life lost per hour driven, in fact, just from the risk of dying in a car crash. This comes to us from a paper cheekily titled “Time Lost by Driving Fast,” by Donald A. Redelmeier and Ahmed M. Bayoumi.

That figure doesn’t even take into account the much higher risk of heart disease that drivers face. (h/t VTPI)