The Automobile, The Elevator and The World Bank

Panel of mobility experts at the Annual World Bank SDN Conference. Photo by Matt Kroneberger.

A panel of mobility experts speak to land use and transport at the annual World Bank SDN Conference. Photo by Matt Kroneberger.

Roger Gorham of the World Bank kicked off last week’s Annual Sustainable Development Network panel on sustainable transport with a quote from Frank Lloyd Wright, “The outcome of the city will depend upon the race between the automobile and the elevator—and anyone who bets on the elevator is crazy.” The cart leading the horse in planning today is all too often that of the suburb and the proverbial horse, its natural partner: the automobile. Right bet correctly on the urban milieu.

Putting the present sprawl in context globally, we should take a quick look at Los Angeles.

Contrary to popular belief, LA was not built on the freeway, it was built on transit. A lot of it. The Pacific Electric Railway once had a range of 40 miles inland from the Pacific, and yet now cars are the predominant mode amongst the 15-million inhabitants of LA County, who and experience the 2nd worst commute (Washingtonians have the first) in America.

Henry Huntington, a Gilded Age millionaire, first drove LA’s transit oriented development (TOD) into the orange fields, populated by citrus not citizens. After the trains, the deluge of new people and new homes began: built-in transit oriented development (TOD). Only later due to policy failures, paired with lack of gilded age investments in transit, did the freeways come and the trains rust.

TOD, where it does exist today, would be charming (if not infantile) to Huntington. A single story McDonald’s above heavy rail or even a Target next to a busy station doesn’t mean much when this is on the same block.  In the developing world, will local leaders make use of land and modern technology and leap forward to sustainable land use built around transport?

Elevators v Automobiles: The Race Continues 

Today, we lack Huntingtons, but have planners to create transit-centric communities instead. The problem is capacity. “I don’t recommend it,” noted  MIT Professor Emeritus Ralph Gakhenheimer of integrated transport and land use planning, “and it is the hardest topic out there.” This dispersion was only partly in gest, but captured just how difficult meshing the planning process with transport access is in the contemporary age.

Robin King, Director of Urban Development and Accessibility at EMBARQ, spoke to the difficulties that the most essential unit of transport – the pedestrian – endures with ever widening, auto-oriented roads that make way for ever increasing traffic.  Why is it that we don’t plan for pedestrians? Gakhenheimer’s capacity concerns are part of the problem, but King gave a more realpolitik view. In developing cities, she noted, the people in the cars have more sway with elected officials.

Today, the race is on in middle-income countries, where the formerly poor are eeking into the middle class, and thereby car ownership. How do we actively apply lessons from the developed world’s past failures with density to the developing world’s present? Can we build our way out by building up? Only with policy priorities made by national governments, we can hope that the cart of sprawl does not continue to lead the century-old horseless carriage that is the private automobile.

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Biggest Climate Change Rally in History

An estimated 50,000 climate activists gathered on the National Mall. Photo by Bora Chung

An estimated 50,000 climate activists gathered on the National Mall. Photo by Bora Chung

Aysha Rüya Cohen is an experienced professional in transit and land use with ties to the United States and Eurasia. Follow her @AyshaRuyaCohen. 

An estimated 50,000 people from the United States and Canada marched together in freezing temperatures and through 26 mph in Washington, D.C.  in a rally billed as the ”largest climate change rally in US history”  on Sunday, February 17, 2013. Simultaneous rallies were held across the nation, from Montana to Oregon, to send a clear message to move forward on economically sound, ecologically sensitive and socially equitable climate change solutions during this Administration’s second term. Protesters rallied from Pennsylvania Avenue to the National Mall , chanting slogans and carrying home made puppets and props, including a Keystone XL Pipeline replica reading, ”Separate Oil from State”.

Common Cause

The international nature of climate change activism was on display. Photo by Bora Chung.

The international nature of climate change activism was on display. Photo by Bora Chung.

The rally successfully united 168 diverse organizations, including Native American and First Nations leaders, the NAACP, the Green Zionist AllianceNational Nurses United and the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. pilut blog attended the rally with the sole sustainable transit organization, Americans for Transit.

From former Presidential Special Adviser for Green Jobs, Van Jones,  to   Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), prominent voices rang clear in the protest. Grasstops and grassroots alike found common cause, with First Nations indigenous leaders marching alongside former hedge fund manager and billionaire investor, Tom Steyer, both calling for a better alternative to the Keystone XL pipeline.

The timing of the rally was set to coincide with the Administration’s decision to approve the northern half of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would eventually connect Canada, to the Gulf of México.  “There is nothing else you can do if you let that pipeline go through. It doesn’t matter what you do on smog rules and automobile rules – you’ve already given the whole game away,” said Van Jones, on the impending decision to move forward with the pipeline.

Former Administration Official Van Jones addresses the rally. Photo by Shadia Fayne Wood.

Former Administration Official Van Jones addresses the rally. Photo by Shadia Fayne Wood.

Keystone So Far
Less than halfway completed, the Keystone XL pipeline has already caused concerns, spilling diluted bitumen 12 times in its first year alone, with serious implications for the surrounding residential and commercial districts.

The toxic and highly volatile nature of the tar sands Keystone XL transports – under high temperatures & pressure –  has caused potentially explosive leaks that are harder to detect and clean than conventional oil spills, according to the U.S. Department of State Environmental Impact Statement. These result in nearly 60% of residents reporting neurological, gastrointestinal and respiratory problems, according to the NRDC.

Further failures have proven dangerous per the Congressional Research Service’s 2013 report on the pipeline, with 21,000 gallons of oil spilled in just one single incident. Just like the 1.1 million gallon, $765 million spill in Enbridge, Montana, this toxic spill in Ludden, North Dakota was left undetected by Keystone XL’s monitors, and instead reported by local residents. To date, there have been a total of 14 spills from the Keystone XL pipeline, causing activists to warn, “Absent a witness to a spill, a leak in a remote area could potentially go undetected for a long period.’’

Each of these 14 spills continues to have long-lasting effects on public health, property values, freshwater resources and the tourism industry.

Business and property owners from Montana to Nebraska have already filed class action lawsuits in response to the damage done to their freshwater and livelihood. The pipeline intersects the largest source of freshwater  in the United States, the Ogallala Aquifer, which feeds and an additional 1,904 waterways leading to major Midwestern cities. A 255-mile strip would be craved through Nebraskan farmland. Forest lands and wildlife could need 20 or more years to recover. Organic farmers risk losing their certification from the chemicals the construction releases. In total, 7,157 acres of farmland and 11,122 acres of rangeland would be affected by the pipeline, including the removal of crops, contamination of irrigation and drainage systems and the degradation of top soil according to the Environmental Impact Statement. Business profits dropped an estimated 35% a year near spill sites and millions of blue collar and white collar workers alike have united against the temporary and minimum wage jobs Keystone XL creates.

The tourism sector fears a negative impact to their $67 billion dollar industry which employs 780,000 Americans. Effected states include Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas whose recreational waters, state parks, forests, wildlife refuges and historic trails would be intersected by the pipeline. Route 66, the Lewis and Clark trail, the Pony Express and the Oregon Trail are among those scenic historic routes impacted by Keystone XL.

The President has allies in the land use, environmental, interfaith and labor movements to create the kinds of long-term, high-skill and good paying manufacturing jobs that the green economy has and will continue to create. Investing in this one, unsustainable resource may not yield the path to energy independence, nor the green jobs promised in its development.

Alternatives abound to fossil fuels. Photo by Bora Chung.

Alternatives abound to fossil fuels. Photo by Bora Chung.

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The Very Definition of Access

Wintry infrastructure in Indianapolis. Photo by Howard Kang

Wintry infrastructure in Indianapolis. Photo by Howard Kang.

When CJ Craig (aka, Allison Janney) mentioned in The West Wing, “When I move back to Los Angeles, I am going to do a lot more walking.” The retort was obvious, “Yes, Los Angeles, known for being a pedestrian nirvana.”

As a native Angeleno, I can commiserate, but LA has nothing on Indianapolis, so it has been reported. In this local news human interest story an 18 year old man was walking to a job interview in Indianapolis “10 miles” away from home…without sidewalks…’in the rain and snow and ice.’ It gets worse. He could only ‘afford the bus when he got a full time job’.

Now, the news story highlights how a local businessman smooths everything out, offering the young man a job in his restaurant’s kitchen, considerably closer to home.  What the feel good piece neglects is the point: access.

This was an ambulatory young man that still struggled to make that 10-mile schlep. What of the less-abled? What of the 18 year old woman making that trek at night? What of the kids and adults alike trying to get around when the weather is fair?  Though Indianapolis is trying (sort of) to make pedestrian access better, this should be a news story sans wintry-mix. No sidewalk = little access.

Also of note in this micro-saga: bus-fare. This blogger is aware of only one American city that gives its young people free transit, but in the age of the 26-year old (with degree) living at home and looking for work, what does “youth” even mean? 5-18? Hardly. Is 26 the new 18? In America, it is a hard sell to develop a true social safety net, but if (and its a big “if”) we did, a good starting point would be through subsidized sustainable accessibility for the young. The 18 year old guy looking for minimum wage and the debt-saddled graduate alike don’t need another barrier to entry for employment. They’d tap into the market for their skills if they could only get there. Sidewalks are a start. Subsidized bus fare, which is cheaper, could pave the way…tomorrow.

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A Neighborhood By Its Cover: SoMo

Making a neighborhood thrive with accessibility brings people, perhaps better than a rebranding. Photo by Matt Kroneberger.

Pleasant Pops in SoMo is successful due to accessibility, charm. Photo by Matt Kroneberger.

In the latest issue of Harper’s, a published correspondence between South African author, J.M. Coetzee, and New York novelist, Paul Auster, converged upon -of all things- place making through place naming.

Auster waxes poetic about Manhattan, claiming the anonymous connotation that Coetzee finds in a street name like “55th” can actually elicit the visceral and the nostalgic, from the depths of “erotic encounters” and father’s office alike. However, these connotations derive only from previous experiences. What does “55th” mean in the abstract? None too much. What is in a name without numbers? Lots.

SoMo v. AdMo v. Adams Morgan

Auster recognizes the value of connotation in name alone. An unfortunate name, like that of his relative Elmer Deutelbaum, derives misery all on its own. Destiny is driven by name for Coetzee, and, à la Elmer, name derives value. Does this existential destiny apply to place name? It would seem. There might be hope, if you don’t live on dullll “L Street”, but with a name with pizazz, like “Z, or O, or X Street,” according to Auster, how chic it would be.

What of neighborhoods? If the Meat Packing District is any indication of denotation missing connotation over time, does a cool name on its own, a neighborhood make? The ire drawn from the rebranding of Southern Adams Morgan in DC as “SoMo” (aka, at the bottom of the hill on 18th St NW) was epic, if not comical. My roommate,  living Adams Morgan adjacent for 6 years, still flinches when I say “AdMo.” I am totally comfortable with being more descriptive when I café at Pleasant Pops, with geo-tagging it as SoMo.

Geographic specificity aside, what would Auster and Coetzee say of rebranding after the fact? Would Elmer live a life less mundane as a Walter? The boring fate of an abstract L Street address may doom the dweller to obscurity, but what if we rebranded it to something like “Elle Street?” Quelle Parisienne? Would you want to live there? Would you want to eat in SoMo, not just Adams Morgan?

Making a neighborhood thrive with accessibility brings people, perhaps better than a rebranding. Photo by Matt Kroneberger.

Making a neighborhood thrive with accessibility brings people perhaps better than a rebranding. Photo by Matt Kroneberger.

Rebranding for this sake is perhaps a distraction. Why do I go to Pleasant Pops or Duccini’s in SoMo? Infrastructure. It is close-by, walkable, and there is a bikeshare dock RIGHT there. I’d be more convinced to visit even the most mundane neighborhood if I could actually get to it. Maybe then, I could patronize businesses, bring friends and get the word out: rebranding it with content, not a shiny book jacket cover.

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Happy Hour + K Street

Join us for cheap libations on K. Photo by David Sachs.

Join us for cheap libations on K. Photo by David Sachs.

The characters of “The Ides of March” bandy about ‘making a million a year on K Street’ post campaign stint. I, however, feel that K Street provides the great leveler between the lobbyist and the young person alike: libations.

Join pilut this coming Wednesday, February 20th  at 6:00 P.M. at McCormick and Schmick’s for our inaugural happy hour. Topics of discussion will undoubtedly include Metro, the affordability of the happy hour menu and sustainability.

The HH menu is ridiculously good at this otherwise upscale, lobbyist-rich restaurant. The first person to show up gets a hummus plate compliments of the blog. This McCormick’s is located at 1652 K St NW, Washington, DC 20006 (on the southern half of K, between 16th and 17th, closer to Farragut Square – map below). We’re looking forward to having you there!

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How to Box Your Bike at LA Union Station in 18 EASY Steps

This is a re-post from The Path Less Pedaled and was written by Russ Roca.

I admit, the title is a bit of hyperbole, but not by much. We’ve taken our bikes on Amtrak from LA Union Station several times for bike tours and take it for granted that we know how to navigate the Byzantine maze to do it. So as a public service, I took some photos to make it a little easier for other would be bike-train travelers.

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After a brisk ride from Sunland to North Hollywood, we took the Redline to Union Station. From the platform we made our way to the elevator (which fits two loaded bikes pretty well).

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You enter the grand and historic LA Union Station, where you can now get some coffee from Starbucks, a sandwich at Subway and other sundries at Famima! A Market.

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After getting your tickets either from the blue ticket machines or an Amtrak employee behind the glass, it’s time to find the hidden passage way to the luggage area to box your bike.

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If you are facing the Amtrak counter, go stage right. You’ll see the Hertz and Budget car rental stations. Walk towards them….

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Then make an immediate left. You’ll see a little yellow hallway and there will be elevators to your left which again accommodate two loaded bikes. Go to the second floor.

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When the elevators open you’ll be in a funny white room. Take the unmarked door to the left with the glass window. It should be open.

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Now, proceed down the narrow hallway until you see a door with the magic brass button.

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Push it. A voice should tell you that the door is open. Enter.

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You will enter an open warehouse type space. Walk towards the office type room by the bay doors. An Amtrak employee will give you a box to pack your bike. It will cost you $25 for the box and handling, which is a good deal when compared to flying with a full-sized bike. (To disassemble your bike for the bike box, check out our boxing video.)

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If you have cash on hand, then you’re done. If you have to pay for the bike box via credit card, the fun is not over yet. The baggage area doesn’t have a credit card machine, so you have to go back down to the Amtrak ticket counter and pay there….THEN, you have to back to the luggage area and show proof of payment.

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Congratulations, you’ve now successfully discovered the secrets of boxing your bike at LA Union Station. Now take all your bags back down through the maze and wait for your train. To be fair, the woman in the baggage area was very helpful and even taped our bike boxes together. This is a big improvement over several years ago when some people just stared at us with wonder. She told us that a lot of people were taking their bikes on Amtrak these days. It seems like others have caught on to the joys of multi-modal travel, now if only bike facilities on trains would catch up!


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Bike Lanes, Advocacy and the Silver Spring Civic Center

Ambassadors waiting to greet. Photo by Matt Kroneberger.

Ambassadors waiting to greet, inform. Photo by Matt Kroneberger.

L & 15th Streets NW

Last night pilut joined the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) for a night of driver & cyclist outreach at the crux of the 15th Street NW cycle track ( a bi-directional cycle highway that goes from The Ellipse until Columbia Heights) and the new downtown, L Street bike lane.

L Street bike symbology. Photo by Matt Kroneberger.

L Street bike symbology. Photo by Matt Kroneberger.

The bike lane is a curious one, subject to frequently scratched heads. Mixing lane? Cars in my bike lane? Or, worse still, bikes in my car lane? WABA was handing out these fliers to cab drivers, commuters and inquisitive cyclists to raise awareness about this ultimate share-the-road feature.

A DC Bike Ambassador passing out bike lane driving guidelines. Photo by Matt Kroneberger.

A DC Bike Ambassador passing out bike lane driving guidelines. Photo by Matt Kroneberger.

The turnout of bicycle ambassadors was grand, but the message was more clarion still to cyclists themselves: we are here for you, we will pass out fliers, raise awareness and fight for your right to move on a zero-carbon mode. Also, it was just pretty cool to have cops, advocates, Jane Cyclist (and NOLA-Cyclist, below), and (especially) car commuters aware of how their infrastructure works.

A Mardi Gras reveler cycling home from work.

A Mardi Gras reveler cycling home from work.

Silver Spring, MD

 While the rest of the country was gearing up for State of the Union viewing (and in DC, SOTU viewing parties) we were en route to the Silver Spring Civic Center to get updates from Metro on the Purple Line, a yet to be (nor funded) light rail alternative to the Beltway or to transferring Metro lines downtown.  The Action Committe for Transit, which sponsored the meeting, was a lively, if not usual, public meeting crowd.

Metro community relations staff presented, and many revelations were had…about other issues. From bus route alternatives, to Friendship Heights station lighting, perhaps the most intriguing of all “low hanging fruit” solutions was not answered satisfactorily for this blogger : why can’t we have nice things, like shorter 6-car (out of a total of 8) trains boarding at the center of the platform ? Though this would be a common sense solution (and answer), a series of different minutiae added up to a lack of coordination capacity from technology & personnel alike.  To Metro’s credit, the community relations officer was taking down notes on the community’s suggestions.

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