Category Archives: infrastructure

Penang report excerpts: Pedestrian Overpasses

6.1           Pedestrian Overpasses

 A pedestrian overpass allows pedestrians safe crossing over busy roads without impeding traffic.

malaysia penang ped overpasses stairsThere was a time that these grafted bits or road-related infrastructure seemed to make sense. A mark of that time was the implicit assumption that “traffic” meant  cars and that it made perfect sense to give them priority over pedestrians, cyclists and anybody else who might wish to cross a busy road. That time has now passed.

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Aside

Brief: “Cycling is the ‘Cinderella’ form of transport – ignored, mistreated, and yet to have its day. For the cost of one kilometre of urban freeway you could build 150km of bicycle paths, 10,000km of bicycle lanes or 100 well … Continue reading

What percent of your city’s street space is allocated to non-car uses

The pie chart you will find just below  graphically illustrates the state of street space allocation today in New York City, after four years of hard work on a committed local effort by city government and many associations to free street space for pedestrians, bikes and buses. All that for less than one half of one percent of the public space given over to cars. So here is our question this morning: Do things look any better in your city in 2011? We invite your reports and comments. Continue reading

Support for High Speed Rail in Britain

Strange as it may seem when you do the basic arithmetic, there is strong support from the three main political parties in the UK for the HSR proposal, and if our first article in this series argues that the reasoning behind it is heavily flawed, it is important in these matters to present the arguments of those who may not agree. Here you have some extensive extracts from a group, Greengauge 21, that have aggressively argued for the HSR proposal. We leave it to your attention. Beyond what you see here they have a more detailed leaflet outlining their arguments which you can have here – “HS2 — why the critics are wrong“. And once again, we welcome your comments. Continue reading

UK High Speed Rail: Going very fast in the wrong direction

In the field of transport, no matter how straight-forward the issues may seem to be to the busy citizen, merchant, reporter or policy maker, when it comes to making wise policy it really does take a certain level of time and attention to detail to come to grips with the underlying issues and priorities that shape the outcomes. The awful conundrum encumbering the mobility issues of our new century from a policy perspective is that just about everything turns out upon study to be unobligingly complex, interdependent, complicated and time lagged – no matter how simple it may appear to be on the surface. In the article that follows, the authors  have a go at a lot of the too-easy thinking that is the main currency of the High Speed Rail discussions in places like Britain and the US, where the only experience with these technologies and operations has been that of a far-away time-lagged dream machine. Let’s embrace a bit of complexity here. Continue reading

America’s Amsterdam? – Work in progress on the bike front in the Home of the Brave

When anyone talks or writes about city biking in America, Portland is invariably the first place one hears about. But how do they stack up to, say, the five hundred best cycling cities in Europe? Is there anything really there other than a bit of self-boostering in the otherwise hostile cycling environment that characterizes city after city across the Home of the Brave (which we understand is how cyclists are called in America). Let’s see what Jay Walljasper has to sayafter talking a close look. Continue reading

Dutch cycle infrastructure quality drives one cyclist crazy

Not Holland

It will drive you crazy, at least it does this cyclist. The quiet Dutch voice of reason while they so patiently try to help us understand that a cycling nation or city is not built overnight. But put aside your prejudices (and your prides), and spend five minutes with the Dutch cycling guru Mark Wagenbuur while he rides us through the history of cycle infrastructure in the Netherlands. (There had to be a reason for it.)

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Will the real British local transport policy please stand up.

About two weeks ago I sent out a red flag to a short list of my most respected British transport/environment colleagues with a cry for help in preparation for a keynote speech I had been asked to deliver to a conference scheduled to take place this Thursday, 2 December, in Liverpool, and where the speaker just before me is a respected ministerial representative of the latest British government. I confessed to my distinguished British friends that I was at best half-educated in terms of the current policy and practice debate in Britain and needed a fast tutorial before exposing myself to a critical audience. They responded fast, generously and most usefully as you will soon see here in a follow-up piece to the conference; but one of the responses opened up his perceptive comments with an amusing analogy which I thought you might enjoy this morning. Continue reading

From Australia, Jarrett Walker on transit’s role in “sprawl repair”

Urban sprawl is at its best a very mixed bag, as we all know. But worse yet behind its tempting glamorous face it surreptitiously locks in unsustainability in many many ways, ending up with a grossly unfair package of no-choice mobility combined with close to totalitarian car dependence for all at the top of the awful list. But is this a prisoner’s dilemma in which everyone at the table is forever destined to lose once those die are cast? Not so sure about that. The other day, we heard from Paul Mees with our review article “Locked in Suburbia: Is there life after Autopia?” where he suggests that we will do well to look more closely at the options other than hand-wringing that are in fact there to be taken. While today, Jarrett Walker walks us through his interpretation of how “sprawl repair” can work without waiting for some distant Nirvana (or Hell, whichever my be your vision of choice).
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Honk! One really does try to be balanced . . .

. . . and not allow oneself to get caught in every political elephant trap and querulous carping of those not in office. But there are times when it is necessary to shine the spotlight on a really mean-spirited, disingenuous idea or statement about the important matters which bring us all here. This is one of those cases. We introduce you to a very short video in which Britain’s new transport secretary talks very clearly about his investment priorities and intended policies. Very disturbing to World Streets.

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Cycling as the catalyst for more human and sustainable transport

The interest for a human and sustainable transport is growing in the public and private sector, at local, national and global level.  Our cities and our planet cannot rely on cars for our transport needs, even if they become more energy-efficient or even carbon neutral. We have to create accessibility for people. With current planning and design, roads are isolating people from important destinations.  The public domain should be designed with priority for people over motorised traffic.  Apart from emission reduction, mobility with zero emission should get value. It is the combination of a human-rights-based orientation with eco-efficiency, that will direct us to a real sustainable transport system. Continue reading

Kaohsiung 2010 Papers: Share/Transport in India – Threats, Challenges, Opportunities

Sharing is an inherently natural process of establishing a joint use of resources It is a primarily self-initiated and regulated process. In this regard share transport can be seen as an informal, unregulated or loosely regulated, low-cost (even works on micro credit, when loose change is unavailable to complete the transaction), small or medium scale sharing of transport infrastructure (such as roads, streets and spaces) and/or vehicles in time and/or space. Sharing of Transport in this format, across the Indian Sub-continent and indeed many other developing countries in South-East Asia, has always been a part of the informal public transport network and is mostly as old as the city itself. Continue reading

1-minute movies

If you click today to the home page of the 2010 Kaohsiung Conference of the World Share/Transport Forum at www.kaohsiung.sharetransport.org, you will see that the organizers have just this morning added the first of an intended new cycle of “1-minute movies” by way of livening up the conference preparations and as a quick introduction to the concepts of sharing in transport as a sustainability strategy. We have long been proponents of the imaginative use of media of all sorts to get the messages of sustainable development and social justice out to a world that is for the most part more puzzled than antagonistic. Continue reading

“They will solve Delhi’s problem of congestion for good.”

Bravo!  Bravissimo!!! I love this sentence (says he gritting his teeth). Solutions, solutions. It’s a wonderful world.

If you recall you heard from us last week concerning the wondrous “Straddling bus” project that so surprisingly popped in from an ambitious (?!?) entrepreneur in China — but not about to be undone by the competition to the north, here you have some comments coming from India about two miraculous “zip over” projects in one Indian city, Mumbai, which offer some new wrinkles on our “let’s build our way out of it” approach to sustainable transportation. That said, I might add that we thought this particular horse was actually already dead — but apparently there is still some twitching there. We should really be finding the way to put it out of its (our actually) misery. Continue reading

Honk! “Straddling” Bus? (Have a stupid weekend)

The happy life is one where every day something happens that makes us smile. Today we were blessed with this article that appeared in China Hush under the title  “Straddling” bus–a cheaper, greener and faster alternative to commute. Your editor was fascinated and hopes that you will be too.  Thank you Shenzhen Hashi Future Parking Equipment Co., Ltd. Continue reading

Highway of the future? (Give them more rope.)

Again and we have to ask you to believe us dear readers, we’re definitely not anti-car — but sometimes a low-IQ high car-favoring project proposal pops up that puts the case in such flagrant terms that it just screams for attention. Which we are now if not exactly pleased at least prepared  to share with you. Continue reading

Car Crazy: The Perils of Asia’s Hyper-Motorization

We need to be quite frank about this. World Streets is not, even if it may at times appear to be the case, an anti-car journal. To the contrary! There are many reasons for this, one of them being the sheer good sense of  understanding that it’s going to be kind of hard to get rid of something like one billion of them with a simple swing of righteous rhetoric. And not to forget that cars really do play a powerful and useful role under many circumstances in the daily lives of many honest hard-working people.   But the other side of this good sense coin is awareness that our very high and even cascading level of car dependence and profligate use are major challenges to quality of life, health and sound economics that need to be faced squarely and soon. Let’s see what our long time colleague “Mr. Meter”, Lee Schipper of the Global Metropolitan Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, has to say on the subject of car-madness in Asia.
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Watery Future for the City of Light

One of the amazing/complicating things about the world of mobility in cities is that it is one of those slices of daily life where everything touches something else and then something else again. Which means that nothing ever obliges us by standing still long enough so that we can fix it fast, once and for ever. It’s all about process.

So here is a report from today’s New York Times on a pretty exciting waterfront  project here in Paris for which World Streets’ editor was interviewed this week  and about which, when you get right down to it, is pure New Mobility Agenda. As you can see he managed to patch in some of our common concerns here (see closing section below), along with some words on the importance of value capture and tax reform, followed up by a good closer from Todd Litman in Vancouver. You will recognize and I hope appreciate it.

Sustainable mobility: Step by step. Step by consistent persistent step.

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Paris’ Plan to Kick Cars Off Its Riverbanks

In the pages of World Streets we lean heavily to giving attention to concepts and policies which promise near-term relief from the worst abuses of old mobility. But this does not mean turning our backs on longer-term thinking and strategies, as long as they do not contravene the basic sense of priorities which are needed for a consistent and effective sustainability policy. Here is a brief article that appeared in this week’s Time magazine which reports on views, pro and con, about the possibility of converting some significant chunks of Paris’s urban highway for uses by people, instead of cars.

Paris’ Plan to Kick Cars Off Its Riverbanks

– by Jeffrey T. Iverson,Paris. Time Magazine, Wednesday, Apr. 28, 2010

On a recent Sunday in Paris, stroller-pushing parents, rollerbladers and cyclists eased their way up and down an unusually tranquil stretch of the Seine’s left bank. Normally this road is filled with thousands of cars zipping along, but once a week it is transformed into an oasis of calm as part of an experiment by City Hall to see what happens when cars are banned from Paris’ riverbanks. So far the experiment, which has been going on for the past few years, is proving popular. Delphine Damourette, 31, a Montmarte resident whose cobblestoned neighborhood is a rollerblader’s hell, says the traffic-free Sundays give her a taste of her city as she most loves it — during summer vacation, when Paris slows down, cars disappear, and pedestrians reclaim the Seine. “It would be great if Paris were like this all year long,” she says. Soon, she may get her wish.

If Mayor Bertrand Delanoë has his way, by 2012 the 1.2 miles of left bank expressway between the Musée d’Orsay and the Alma bridge will be permanently closed to automobiles, while traffic on the right bank will be slowed, all with the goal of turning the urban highway into a “pretty urban boulevard.” The estimated $50 million project — dubbed “the reconquest of the banks of the Seine” — calls for the development of 35 acres of riverside, with cafés, sports facilities and floating islands. “It’s about reducing pollution and automobile traffic, and giving Parisians more opportunities for happiness,” Delanoë said at the April 14 project unveiling. “If we succeed in doing this, I believe it will profoundly change Paris.”

But Parisians have already been through several years of policies — some drastic, some less so — aimed at ending the automobile’s reign in the capital. Are they ready for another transformative transportation project? Deputy Mayor for the Environment Denis Baupin, who as transportation chief from 2001-2008 launched tramways, bus lanes, bike paths, the Vélib’ public bikeshare and other schemes — all while weathering virulent criticism and monikers like Khmer Vert — thinks they are. “If we can talk about reconquering the banks of the Seine today, it’s because we first had the Sunday [closures] … which allowed people to acclimate to the idea that it was possible, pleasant and positive,” he tells TIME. “Mentalities have changed, and desire has grown for a city that’s going somewhere, that’s transforming and becoming more ecological.”

In seeking to take back the Seine, though, City Hall has started a new fight on one of the most historic battlegrounds in Paris for competing visions of the capital. The 1967 creation of the right bank expressway was part of a wider plan to crisscross the capital with high-speed roads, reflecting former President George Pompidou’s belief that “Paris must adapt itself to the automobile.” That philosophy hit a roadblock in 1975 when grassroots opposition successfully blocked plans for an elevated left bank expressway that would have passed in front of Notre Dame.

The victory was a benchmark for France’s nascent green movement and constituted “the last gasp of the Los Angelesation of Paris,” says Eric Britton, Paris-based economist and founder of the transport think tank New Mobility Agenda. “It was the beginning of another idea about how to handle mobility, transport infrastructure and the environment in general.”

Yet 35 years later, more than 30,000 cars still zip down the Seine expressways every day, and for critics of Delanoë’s idea, like French radio commentator Marion Ruggieri, they are “no less than the umbilical cord of the capital for everyone working and living in the suburbs.” Worried about how closing the river’s banks to traffic will affect those who depend on their cars to make a living, Ruggieri told France INFO radio, “Bertrand Delanoë wants a museum city, petrified in its clichés, reserved to tourists and the privileged, all this in the name of pollution.”

Other detractors scoff at City Hall’s claims that traffic diverted by the project will be absorbed into the upper quays and that drivers’ commutes will only increase by 6 minutes. Environment deputy mayor Baupin, however, is confident that, when forced to, people will change their habits. It’s already happened. Thanks to municipal policies such as lowering speed limits and replacing thousands of parking spaces with wider sidewalks and bike and bus lanes, daily car trips in Paris were reduced by 450,000 from 2001-2008. The hope is that by making the river banks automobile-free, more drivers will leave their cars at home and use the east-west-running bus lines, metro, and RER commuter trains along the Seine — all currently under expansion.

But in the end, they may have no choice. “This thing is inevitable, the reclaiming of waterways is happening worldwide,” says Britton. “Major cities like Bordeaux and Lyon have banned automobiles from their river banks in recent years and invested millions to develop green promenades, tramways and other transportation alternatives — projects widely embraced by residents today after initial skepticism. Outside of France, transformations have taken place even in industrial cities like Bilbao in Spain — which since the 1990s has cleaned up the infamously polluted Nervión river and moved its port downstream to reclaim its banks — and Kaohsiung in Taiwan, the country’s busiest port, where the city has transformed shipyards and military complexes into green space and leisure areas.”

Baupin believes that all these examples point to a permanent shifting of the tides. “Not a city in Europe would build the Georges Pompidou expressway today,” says Baupin. “The movement has finally reversed.” Technically that won’t be confirmed until Paris City Council votes on the project in July. But with the right bank to still be partially occupied by cars whatever happens, Baupin and the Greens won’t be fully satisfied. “This is only a step,” he says. It seems the banks of the Seine haven’t seen their last battle yet.

Source: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1985219,00.html

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About the author:
Jeffrey T. Iverson has been reporting from Paris as a TIME Magazine contributor since 2007. Born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, he graduated from New York University with a master’s degree in French Studies and Journalism in 2005, and today writes on a variety of subjects including Paris city politics for TIME, Paris Magazine and other publications.

The future for roads in 2050 – Australian perspectives on sustainable transportation

Several days ago Peter Newman of Infrastructure Australia and Professor of Sustainability at the Curtin University Sustainability Policy (CUSP) Institute was asked by the Sydney Morning Herald what the future for roads was going to look like in Australia in 2050. He gave them this: Continue reading

Honk! Complex thinking on reducing traffic signals in cities

What is that old saw that goes something like “the definition of high intelligence is the ability to keep two contradictory ideas in mind at the same time without ones head exploding?” Well, whatever the exact wording there is no doubt that this is an imperative capability for making wise policy in terms of our transportation arrangements. Here is an exchange taken from several leading newmobility discussion fora, which offers some complex views on the advantages of removing at least some, possibly many, traffic lights from our cities. Maybe.

This exchange took place on the several indicated discussion fora.

Mayor identifies 140 traffic signals for removal

Source: http://www.transportxtra.com/magazines/local_transport_today/news/?id=21956

—–Original Message—–
On Behalf Of Eric Britton
Sent: Friday, April 02, 2010 4:09 PM
To: NewMobilityCafe@yahoogroups.com; Sustran-discuss@list.jca.apc.org; WorldStreets@yahoogroups.com;
Subject: London Mayor identifies 140 traffic signals for removal

Transport for London has identified 140 traffic signals across the capital that may no longer perform a useful role and could be removed.

Officials are finalising the collection of data on traffic flows and accidents from each site to verify that the signals are no longer useful in traffic, pedestrian or safety terms.

David Brown, TfL’s managing director for surface transport, told last week’s meeting of the TfL board that 28 sets of traffic signals had already been removed in the capital this financial year, ten of which were on TfL’s road network.

Board members also received an update on the proposed trial of pedestrian ‘countdown’ signals. TfL submitted plans to the DfT at the beginning of March to trial the technology at eight locations in the capital. If approval is granted the first trial site could be installed as early as June.

Countdown signals will show pedestrians how many seconds are left in the ‘blackout’ period – the phase between the green man being extinguished and road traffic receiving a green light.

Brown also provided the board with details of TfL’s lane rental plans under which utility companies would have to pay a charge for the time they occupy the road when conducting streetworks.

Brown said utility companies could avoid paying the charge if they undertook work at non-traffic sensitive times or employed “innovative working practices” so that the carriageway was returned to traffic use at peak times.

Brown said TfL’s plans would need amendments to existing legislation. Lane rental powers were included in the New Roads and Streetworks Act but have only ever been trialled, in Camden and Middlesbrough.

Transport minister Sadiq Khan said in December that the DfT would consult on lane rental this summer and that regulations could be introduced in October 2011. They would only be available for use on the “most sensitive roads in the most congested urban areas”.

(Thanks to Ian Perry for the heads-up)

—–Original Message—–
From: Simon Bishop, Delhi
Sent: Monday, 05 April, 2010 08:01
To: Eric Britton
Subject: RE: [sustran] London Mayor identifies 140 traffic signals for removal

Dear Madhav, Paul, and Everyone,

This raises an interesting issue Eric. Here in Delhi you may be aware that there are a comparatively very small number of signals, 700 whereas London has around 6,500 for a similar land area and lower population density.

In some senses then you have ‘naked streets’ in Delhi. However, on most roads in the city this is an unenviable state of affairs. The rising motorized middle class neither want to see more signals hindering their path and are pushing for ‘signal free’ stretches where they can drive non-stop and unhindered. The results are there to be found in the road casualty statistics.

In this scenario I find myself arguing for the implementation of many more signals in Delhi precisely because the ‘roads’ are designed to facilitate car movement (ironically like many of the ‘roads’ in London too). There is also an ‘imperialistic’ attitude towards vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists, ignored most of the time and hooted at when they get in the way. So called zebras are worth less than the paint they use to make them with.

A combination of these reasons leads me to think that it is very well to have naked streets when a) you clearly have a ‘street’ and not a ‘road’ (many of the ‘colonies’ or residential areas here in Delhi would come under this category and could work as such with minor traffic calming measures, and b) equally importantly, you have a sufficiently ‘democratic’ approach to the use of road space and a respect for vulnerable modes. It is questionable that both exist in Delhi or London.

I’m a bit out of touch with London but I understand that Boris also wants to remove signals because they are a hindrance to motorized vehicles. If this is the case then I’m afraid I’m not in favor of the concept. The UK has a long way to go to reach the attitudes of Dutch drivers when it comes to sharing the road – one of the main reasons because cycling is still an activity of health freaks and eccentrics (so you’re not mowing down a friend or family member if you drive fast).

In the UK there has to be a change in mindset and an effort to remove all of the risk averse, health and safety regulatory culture which leads local authorities to make roads out of streets if naked streets are to work. At the same time, we have to start somewhere and attitudes will change when our urban environment becomes more friendly to vulnerable users, so let’s get the ball rolling.

In London removing signals could be started on quieter streets with appropriately designed traffic calming measures. Delhi could leapfrog London by going straight ahead for traffic calming on streets. But in London and Delhi signals are still needed on main roads designed for traffic movement.

I have an idea, Boris can give the signals he’s removing to Delhi to put on their roads….. Who could facilitate this I wonder?

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Have you had a look at Urban Planet yet? “South Korea and Japan streets ahead in smart transport”

Urban Planet is a new information service of CNN.com offering active worldwide coverage of sustainability issues to which you may wish to lend an eye. You can pick it up today at http://edition.cnn.com/CNNI/Programs/urban.planet/. And while it is not exactly our cup of tea here at World Streets — i.e., their coverage is much broader than ours (agriculture, water, energy, construction, etc.) while giving lots of place to buzz, new technology, that telltale word “smart” and (very) long term horizons — it is nonetheless an information source you may wish to keep in view.
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Letter from Kathmandu: Promoting walking as sustainable transport in cities

Does anyone notice anything a bit strange in these two photos of traffic in Kathmandu Nepal on any typical day. To the left we have boiling Asia-style traffic propelling speeding high carbon males. While to the right we see a woman and a girl making their way as best they can by foot. Hmm. Continue reading

How to build more traffic? It’s not hard. Read on.

A bit down on the resource column just to your left is an early warning system of sorts which calls up relevant articles from an eclectic collection of independent sources that publish regularly in areas related to our field. One of these is Planetizen, where yesterday we spotted this thoughtful interview we thought you might wish to check out. It’s an old story, but good research helps us to get beyond the purely anecdotal. And now that we know it, the job is to get that message across where it counts.

Freeways Responsible For Emptying Out Cities

- Interview by Tim Halbur, managing editor of Planetizen

A recent study shows that for every significant freeway that gets built in a major city, population declines by about 18%. Nathaniel Baum-Snow, author of the study, talks with Planetizen.

Photo: Nathaniel Baum-SnowNathaniel Baum-Snow is a professor of economics at Brown University. His research has been remarkable consistent and urban-centric since writing his dissertation in 2000 on “The Effects of New Public Projects to Expand Urban Rail Transit.” Baum-Snow’s work came to our attention when he was cited in a recent Boston Globe article quoting his study that concluded that each new federally-funded highway passing through a central city “reduces its population by about 18 percent.” The implication of this type of data-driven evidence of the effect of highway construction on cities is often hard to find, so we went to the source.

BAUM-SNOW: There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence we see out there in metropolitan cities that a lot of jobs exist in the suburbs, and that that wasn’t nearly as true 40 or 50 years from now. But amazingly enough, there’s not a lot of systematic, empirical evidence about the extent of which that employment decentralization has occurred, and their isn’t a lot of empirical evidence about how commutes have changed over time. In the process of writing my first paper about highways and suburbanization, I tried to read everything I could about this and I couldn’t find anybody who’d looked at this in a systematic way across metropolitan areas.

And it turns out that not only has the nature of residential and employment locations have changed dramatically, but the nature of commuting patterns have also changed dramatically. Now, the vast majority of commutes do not involve the central city at all, even commutes made by people who live in metropolitan areas, whereas in 1960, the majority certainly involved central cities either as origins or destinations or both. And that’s a major change. I think the next step is to try to understand all the things that generated that change.

PLANETIZEN: Over the last couple of decades, planners have shifted their attention to thinking about regional planning. It seems to me that your research could indicate that regional planning is unnecessary, because people tend to live and work in their own locality. Is that your take?

BAUM-SNOW: Actually, I think it’s an argument in favor of having more regional land use and transportation planning, and the reason is that if suburb A builds a highway to connect to suburb B, that’s going to effect the distribution of commutes not only between those suburbs but also the commutes in the region as a whole. So there are going to be these externalities where someone in suburb C has a faster way to get to work, so they’re going to start using it and filling up this new highway. And a business downtown might say, hey, there’s this new infrastructure, let’s go locate out there and I can have a lot more space to work with. So anytime one part of a region changes something, it’s going to effect population and employment throughout the metropolitan area. So I think it’s important to engage at the regional level.

I think that zoning and densification are important. But there’s no way to make people or firms locate in a densely packed manner without providing the transportation infrastructure to allow them to do it. So you have to have some sort of policy at the metropolitan area-level. And what you can get is local communities imposing costs on everybody else by doing something like imposing big exclusionary zoning right next to the urban core. And that’s clearly not economically efficient for the region as a whole- they’re obviously trying to protect their housing values. So I think that it’s important for regional government to be proactive and realistic with transportation planning.

Everybody would like to live in a dense neighborhood as long as they have the biggest house on the block. So they have a lot of living space, but their neighbors are all contributing to the sidewalk life. There’s a balance there that is hard to get around, so there is a role for zoning that encourages density and gets the transportation infrastructure set up in a way that is feasible.


Image courtesy of Flickr user jbrownell.

PLANETIZEN: So was the creation of the highway system a good thing overall or a bad thing?

BAUM-SNOW: I do think that there was a welfare benefit from highway construction for a lot of people. People get to live in bigger homes, they have more choice in where they’d like to live. Now most households are dual-worker households, which wasn’t true back in 1950. Highways have allowed two people living in the same house to commute to different areas each day, so I think there’s been a welfare gain from that. So it’s sort of a mixed bag, but I think most people would say that although there have been some costs, the highway system has been a good thing.

A lot of people think that decentralization is about fleeing to the suburbs out of central cities, but if you look at the change in the spatial distribution of the population across large metropolitan areas, you find that it’s really much more of a spatial phenomenon. You see that the population density in the more peripheral regions of central cities actually went up quite a bit over the last 50 years, while the population of the central business districts went down.

PLANETIZEN: And how did you, as an economist, get interested in issues of transportation and land use planning?

BAUM-SNOW: Growing up I’d always been interested in urban transportation. I always loved riding the subway, and one of the first puzzles my parents gave me as a kid was a puzzle map of the United States with all the states and the interstate highways. And I would memorize the subway maps and bus maps, stuff like that. So it was always something I liked.

And as I got older, I would explore different neighborhoods in Boston (where I grew up), and I was fascinated how you could have such heterogeneity in land use patterns and in socio-demographic patterns within such a small space. So in college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I had an interest in public policy and politics, and I took a lot of different classes. Economics struck me as a field that had the best hope in helping me think about all of these things in a satisfying way.

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Nathaniel Baum-Snow is an assistant professor of economics at Brown University. You can access his research papers at his website here.

About the author:
Tim Halbur is managing editor of Planetizen, the leading news and information source for the urban planning, design and development community. Tim is the co-author of Planetizen’s Insiders’ Guide to Careers in Urban Planning and Where Things Are, From Near to Far, a book for children about city planners and what they do. He is also an audio producer and artist, collaborating with artists Amy Balkin and Kim Stringfellow on Invisible 5, a self-guided critical audio tour along Interstate 5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles engaging with issues of environmental racism.

Learning from each other: New York looks at London (So who are you looking at?)

We started World Series last year not because we felt that we were going to tell you everything you need to know about sustainable transportation, but rather to offer you a lively independent platform with worldwide coverage in which all of those of us were concerned with these issues can exchange ideas and commentaries freely. Here is a good example of a shared learning process that does not have to stop with the two cities directly involved in this report. Continue reading