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Suburbs Are Out, Cities Are In — Now What?

American public policy massively subsidizes a way of life that appeals to a shrinking number of Americans. Photo: @fineplanner/Twitter

Today’s Times devotes two pieces to the “suburbs are out, cities are in” phenomenon that has taken root in much of the country over the past few decades — the great inversion, urbanologist Alan Ehrenhalt has dubbed this reversal of the suburbanization wave that swept through the U.S. in the last century. Though both pieces will pretty much be old hat to Streetsblog readers, they’re interesting nonetheless, both as signposts and for what they leave out.

Suburbs Try to Prevent Exodus as Young Adults Move to Cities and Stay,” by Times Westchester beat reporter Joseph Berger, has some startling figures on the dwindling population of young adults in iconic Northeast suburbs. Between 2000 and 2011, Berger reports, Rye had a 63 percent drop in 25- to 34-year-olds, and 16 percent fewer 35- to 44-year-olds. Outside Washington, DC, the number of 25- to 34-year-olds fell 34 percent in Chevy Chase, 19 percent in Bethesda, and 27 percent in Potomac. The same pattern holds in suburbs ringing Chicago and Boston.

Although Berger noted last month, in his trenchant article about the toll squeeze facing the new Tappan Zee Bridge, that “young Americans are not as enamored of the automobile as their parents’ generation, and are less likely to have drivers’ licenses or own a car,” his piece today largely skirts the car issue. What ails the suburbs, he suggests, are expensive housing, insufficient diversity, a lack of well-paying jobs, and not enough urban “pizzazz.” All true, as is the observation by one of his sources, Christopher Niedt at Hofstra’s National Center for Suburban Studies, that “younger adults are becoming more drawn to denser, more compact urban environments that offer a number of amenities within walking distance of where they live.” Yet the article makes no mention of the high cost to own and operate an auto (or two) in car-dependent suburbs, the boredom of driving in a landscape of strip malls, the time lost to traffic jams.

Berger cites efforts under way in Long Beach — my home town, in Nassau County — to attract young people by “refreshing its downtown near the train station” and adding “apartments, job-rich office buildings, restaurants and attractions” like the replacement boardwalk built after Hurricane Sandy. And indeed, Long Beach’s rectangular street grid, small lot sizes, and main street shopping give it a creditable Walk Score of 64, which doubtless helps residents live affordably with 25 percent fewer cars per household than the county average (1.41 vs. 1.90, according to my calculations based on the Selected Housing Characteristics dataset in the 2012 American Community Survey).

Nevertheless, when it comes to the contest for young people’s allegiance between revived central cities and their suburbs, there are deeper forces at play than even livable streets and freedom from the auto monkey. Here’s how a recent article in Tech Crunch about the Bay Area’s housing crisis put it:

San Francisco’s younger workers derive their job security not from any single employer but instead from a large network of weak ties that lasts from one company to the next. The density of cities favors this job-hopping behavior more than the relative isolation of suburbia.

In short, as lifetime employment at the suburban office park disappears, urban connectivity isn’t just an amenity, it’s a necessity.

Read more…

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Oakland Proposes Parking-Protected Bike Lanes on Telegraph Avenue

Bikes and buses jockey for position along Telegraph Avenue in Temescal. Planners say protected bike lanes are “likely” options on most of Telegraph in Oakland — except for this stretch. Photo: David Jaeger / Jonah Chiarenza, www.community-design.com

The City of Oakland has released preliminary design options [PDF] for a redesign of Telegraph Avenue, which include parking-protected bike lanes, improvements to speed up AC Transit lines, and pedestrian safety upgrades. Planners will hold open house meetings to collect input on the design options starting next week.

“We’re very excited they’ve released a lot of different options,” said Dave Campbell, advocacy director for Bike East Bay. “It’s a very robust set of choices and allows people to make an informed decision on the best ones.”

This is the first time Telegraph is being revisited for a redesign since it was taken out of the East Bay Bus Rapid Transit route that begins construction this fall. The proposal to extend BRT on Telegraph to Berkeley was dropped after merchants fought to preserve car parking.

The Telegraph Avenue Complete Streets Implementation Plan looks at the stretch from 57th Street to 20th Street, a few blocks short of Telegraph’s end at Broadway in downtown Oakland, where the Latham Square pilot plaza was prematurely removed. Under some of the proposals, much of Telegraph could get parking-protected bike lanes (a.k.a. “cycle tracks”) by re-purposing traffic lanes and preserving parking lanes.

Oakland’s project website notes that “despite the lack of bike facilities, Telegraph Avenue is one of the most heavily traveled routes for cyclists, with over 1,200 daily cyclists.”

Bike East Bay is “super delighted to see proposed cycle tracks for a good segment of the street, and think there are some good options as well through the section with the freeway underpass,” said Campbell.

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Suppressing the Housing Supply in Cities Isn’t Progressive

The housing affordability crisis in cities like San Francisco is a big progressive cause. But not everyone agrees about what’s causing the problem, and that makes it harder to address.

High housing prices in San Francisco are partly a result of constraints on new construction. Photo: Wikipedia

With so may constraints on housing construction, rents in cities like San Francisco have been skyrocketing. Photo: Wikipedia

Alex Block at Network blog City Block has a good roundup of recent articles exploring the pheonomenon. The authors — Kim-Mai Cutler at Tech Crunch, Ryan Avent at the Economist, and the blog Let’s Go L.A. — agree that the root of the problem is insufficient supply. Essentially, land use and zoning constraints that limit development of new housing are driving up prices for everyone:

Cutler’s article lists a whole host of other potential actions, but concludes that any path forward must work towards adding more housing units to the region’s overall supply. Unfortunately, even this broad conclusion isn’t shared by everyone. In section #5 of Cutler’s article, she notes “parts of the progressive community do not believe in supply and demand.”

Ryan Avent notes that this denial of the market dynamics, no matter the motive, is not only misguided but also counter-productive: “However altruistic they perceive their mission to be, the result is similar to what you’d get if fat cat industrialists lobbied the government to drive their competition out of business.”

Without agreement on the nature of the problem, it’s hard to even talk about potential policy solutions. And there are a whole host of potential policy solutions once we get over that hump. Unfortunately, discussion about supply constraints in cities (via exclusionary zoning, high construction costs, neighborhood opposition to development, etc) means the conversation naturally focuses on the constraint. Advocating for loosening the constraints can easily be mistaken for (or misconstrued as) mere supply-side economics, a kind of trickle-down urbanism.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Voice of San Diego relays news about compromises to a local bus rapid transit project. And Flat Iron Bike introduces a new paper that looks at how to make “managed lanes” on highways more equitable by incorporating transit.

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Today’s Headlines

  • SFMTA: Without Meters, Parking Enforcement Will Focus Elsewhere on Sundays (KTVU)
  • SFBC: Tell City Leaders You Want Cars Off the Marina Bike/Ped Path
  • Driver Hit by L-Taraval Train on 15th Ave, Backing Up Line (SFist)
  • Bayview Woman Arrested for Driving Into Security Guard Pleads Not Guilty (SF Examiner)
  • Typos in SF’s Imprinted Street Names “Humanize the City” (SFGate)
  • SFPD, Sup. Breed Promise Parking Crackdown for 4/20 (SFGate)
  • BART Fined $210,000 for Death of Two Workers on Tracks (SF Appeal, KQED)
  • Over 60 Merchants Sign on to Support Silicon Valley’s ”Bike to Shop” Day (Peninsula Transpo)
  • Mixed-Use Caltrain-Oriented Development in San Mateo Moving Ahead (SF Examiner)
  • Palo Alto, Menlo Park Object to MTC’s Elimination of Loan for Dumbarton Rail (Mercury News)
  • State Appeals Court Denies CAHSRA’s Petition, Clearing Way for Trial Over Lawsuits (Fresno Bee)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Fifth Street Bike Lane Plans on Hold for Central Subway Construction

Plans for bike lanes on Fifth Street, which would connect Market Street to the Fourth and King Caltrain Station, are on hold at least until the Central Subway is completed in 2019.

Fifth Street near Mission Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Originally, the 2009 SF Bike Plan called for conventional bike lanes on Fifth, painted between parked cars and moving cars. But during subway construction, Muni buses on the 30-Stockton and 45-Union have been detoured on to Fifth, meaning buses would have to jostle in and out of the bike lanes to make stops, a less-than-ideal situation. Instead, the SFMTA plans to revisit the plans “to determine what innovative approaches are feasible on Fifth Street,” said Ben Jose, spokesperson for the agency’s Livable Streets division.

Fifth is badly in need of protected bike lanes. Currently, people biking on the street must mix it up with motor vehicles, with only sharrows painted on the broken asphalt. Fifth is a key connector for commuters headed to and from Caltrain and other destinations in SoMa. Neighboring Fourth and Sixth Streets carry even heavier, faster freeway-bound motor traffic (Fourth is a five-lane, one-way street).

In the SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy, planners ranked Fifth Street as having the ninth-highest demand for bicycle safety upgrades among streets within the existing official bicycle network. The SFMTA said that ranking was based on bike counts, focus groups, and bicycle crash data.

Years down the line, other streets in this area of SoMa are poised to get protected bike lanes. The Central SoMa plan (formerly the Central Corridor Plan), expected to be adopted later this year, calls for protected bike lanes on Third and upper Fourth Streets, as well as one-way and two-way bikeway options on Folsom, Howard, and Brannan Streets. There’s no timeline set for those projects yet.

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Eyes on the Street: Polk Contra-Flow Bike Lane Nearly Ready to Ride

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Here’s a little change of pace from the bad news this week. The Polk Street contra-flow protected bike lane, connecting Market Street northbound to Grove Street and City Hall, appears almost ready to go. A Department of Public Works spokesperson said the agency is shooting for a tentative opening date of May 2 or 5 and plans to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Officials at the SFMTA and DPW seem proud of the project — and rightly so. Photos of the bikeway and median planted with native succulents were tweeted by DPW Director Mohammed Nuru and Tim Papandreou, the SFMTA’s director of strategic planning and policy. DPW surprisingly jumpstarted construction on the bike lane in late January after years of delay, promising completion by Bike to Work Day on May 8.

The project also comes with a couple of bonuses. DPW is installing bulb-outs at the wide intersection of Grove and Polk, and completed one at the northwest corner last week. The pedestrian island and “bike chute” on the north side of Market at Polk were also reconfigured for more practical maneuvering for southbound bike riders. See photos after the break.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Escobar’s Escalator

Did you go to the World Urban Forum in Medellín, Colombia, last week? Neither did your hosts Jeff Wood and I, but we sure found a lot to say about it anyway on this week’s Talking Headways podcast. Medellín’s remarkable urban transformation — undertaken in the midst of war — has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention lately for making the city’s transportation infrastructure more equitable.

But first, we talked to our very own Angie Schmitt about the Parking Madness tournament. Did she know Rochester was a winner from the moment she laid eyes on that stunning parking crater? You’ll have to listen to find out.

And finally we turn to Dallas, where local activists are pressuring officials to tear down a 1.4-mile stretch of I-345 to make room for 245 acres of new development downtown. If it happens, it would be a tremendous win for smart urban development over Eisenhower-era car-centrism.

The other big news this week is that Talking Headways podcast is now available on Stitcher! So if you’re not an iTunes person, you’ve got a way to subscribe. But if you are an iTunes person, by all means! Or you can follow the RSS feed. And as always, the comments section is wide open for all the witty remarks we should have made but didn’t think to.

Oh, and despite the fact that we said, “See you next week” at the end out of habit, Jeff will be traveling so we actually won’t be taping a podcast next week. So take that opportunity to catch up on any episodes you’ve missed, and we’ll see you in two weeks.

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More Walking and Biking, Better Health: New Evidence From American Cities

States with higher rates of walking and biking to work tend to have lower rates of diabetes. Click to enlarge. All graphics: Alliance for Biking and Walking

New data from the Alliance for Biking and Walking’s 2014 Benchmarking report bears out the notion that people tend to be healthier in cities where walking and biking are more prevalent.

The Alliance compiled active commuting rates in the 50 largest American cities as measured by the U.S. Census. Then it compared that data with health information from the CDC. On health outcomes like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure, a pretty clear correlation emerges.

Not all of it can be explained by active commuting, of course. But notice how, in the top chart, as statewide active transportation rates increase, diabetes rates decline.

About 9 percent of Americans have diabetes, but the incidence varies greatly between different places. Diabetes tracks closely enough with walk and bike commute rates that the Alliance and other researchers have concluded there’s a strong correlation.

Rates of elevated blood pressure display a similar pattern:

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Targeted Spending Helps Boost Kansas City’s Walkability

The Alliance for Biking and Walking released a big new report yesterday that measures the nation’s progress on active transportation.

Kansas City has been investing in safer streets, and it's moving up in walkability rankings. Photo: BikeWalkKC

Kansas City has been investing in safer streets, and it’s moving up in walkability rankings. Photo: BikeWalkKC

There’s a ton of data to nerd out on, but one thing that might be particularly interesting to local advocates is that the report shows biking and walking statistics for individual cities. It has details on safety, public spending, and income and gender demographics for active transportation in 50 large cities and 17 mid-sized cities across the U.S.

Rachel Kraus at BikeWalkKC dove into the data, and she found that a conscious effort to improve conditions in Kansas City seems to be paying off:

Moving Up in the Rankings
In 2012, Kansas City ranked 33rd out of the 52 most populous US cities for walking to work. In 2014, KC jumped to #30. Our closest neighbors include Omaha at #26, Chicago at #8 and Wichita at #50. Nationally the top five walking cities are Boston, Washington D.C., New York City, San Francisco and Honolulu. Our bike commuting ranking also improved from #42 to #41.

Still Room for Improvement
KC’s bicyclist safety ranking dropped from #34 in 2012 to #37 in 2014. Our closest neighbors include Omaha at #45, Chicago at #19 and Wichita at #2. (Safety rankings are based on crashes and fatalities.) KC also still lags behind on rankings of residents getting the recommended amount of physical activity. We ranked #38 in 2014.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Woman in Her 60s Hit by Taxi Driver at Bush and Stockton (ABC)
  • SFPD Rescinds Jaywalking Ticket Issued to Injured Man, 86, Due to “Policy Omission” (Examiner)
  • Driver Who Killed Elderly Woman in Bayshore Blvd Hit-and-Run Pleads Not Guilty (CBS)
  • BeyondChron: SFMTA’s Budget Falls Short of What’s Needed to Get to Vision Zero
  • SF Weekly‘s Joe Eskanazi: Sunday Meter Repeal Shows SFMTA’s Schizophrenia
  • Interactive Map Visualizes Bicycle Crashes in San Francisco (Curbed)
  • Next Week is Bike and Roll to School Week (SFGate)
  • Construction Update on Contra-Flow Bus Lane Project at Haight and Market (Hoodline)
  • BART Showcases New Train Car at Ferry Plaza; Disability Advocates Protest Poles (ABCAppeal, KQED)
  • No Charges for Driver Who Killed Former NRDC Treasurer Joy Covey on Bike in San Mateo (Almanac)
  • A Look at the First SMART Train Cars Tested, Approved in Japan (Press Democrat)
  • Construction to Start on Bike/Ped Path to Larkspur Ferry Over Sir Francis Drake Blvd (Marin IJ)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA