America’s Finest City & The Berlin Wall

Border train. Photo by Jeremy McBride.

Border train. Photo by Jeremy McBride.

This post was co-written by Kati Pinkerton and Matt Kroneberger.

Political geography often influences transport choices with unequal weight. Though Tijuana and San Diego, my home town, form a single human megalopolis, the cities form two international political units. The San Diego trolley will take you to the border in San Ysidro, CA but no further.  You have to get off, walk across the border, and use Mexico’s public transportation from there.  Compare this to the E.U. where the Schengen borders are as porous and integrated as between those between American states. This may make sense from an I.R. perspective, but for land use and transport, the disjuncture in service is just silly.

At the other side of NAFTA, the Windsor, Canada to Detroit, MI bridge has caused more trouble than any common sense infrastructure project ever would from a mobility perspective. Indeed, the West Berlin/East Berlin border, separated by a certain wall, is perhaps history’s greatest lesson in disjoint urban connectivity. Along much of the former Berlin Wall, which stood between nation-states and political systems, now sit shiny glass buildings and parks. What does this teach us about connectivity.

In the age of globalization, connectivity will question of IR, what is the point of walls in the ground or in our minds?

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Fix All of the Machines

Farragut North. Photo by Peter Roome.

Farragut North. Photo by Peter Roome.

At Starbucks, pre-Orange/Blue Line to Capitol South, I had the pleasure of meeting a not-to-be-named Metro Station Manager waiting for coffee. She was still wearing her uniform jacket which caught my eye and interest. My app development team in San Francisco, SMARTmuni, began its journey to the eponymous iPad app through the encounter of a Station Manager at the SFMTA’s Embarcadero station.

The Farraguts (West and North) the subjects of political and commute drama alike, provide access to 49,691 people per day. When an escalator, schedule or a passenger goes down, it is the problem of the Station Manager. I asked one question of this woman (we’ll call her Shirley). “Ma’am, what is the one thing that would make your job easier?” Shirley heard me incorrectly.

 “This job ain’t easy…”

“No no, what would make your job easier?”

“Oh,” coughed Shirley, “Machines. New machines. All of ’em.”

“Which machines, ma’am? The fare machines…?”

“No, the machines I use. They don’t work and we need new ones.”

“Thanks, Ma’am.”

I take this to be a call for action. This Shirley, who is responsible for thousands of people getting to-and-fro her station during her shift doesn’t have the tools to do her job. At 7th St/Convention Center/Mt. Vernon Square Station, I chatted the Station Manager up as well.

Q:”When is the next Yellow Line train to Braddock?”

Looks at Screen

A: “I don’t know. I gotta wait until the train hits Fort Totten and turns around before it tells me.”

There is plenty of “Metro sucks” sentiment out there, but perhaps we can investigate this further and help the pros over at WMATA fix things… for Shirley’s sake? Using know how and affordable solutions? Let’s.

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What is this blog? Who is this guy?

Welcome to pilut.

Welcome to pilut.

My name is Matt Kroneberger and I am introducing  pilut – people in land use and transport. I was the last intern blogger for TheCityFix, the official blog of EMBARQ – The World Resources Institute for Sustainable Transport. Though we are now unaffiliated, they do great work and y’all should read their blog and about what EMBARQ does.

This blog will encourage young people (and some older ones) to drink, discuss, and do for the built environment.

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pilut will discuss issues that chiefly affect urban folk,

urge young (and some older) people to do something about the built environment present and future,

and arrange DC happy hours to let the dialogue flow in person.

…it will also probably fetishize Manhattan, dedicated rights-of-way, rail transit and attendance of public meetings. Will be coming at you live from the District of Columbia. Welcome to pilut.

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Transport is multimodal.  Photo by Mikael Colville-Andersen.

Transport is about choices. Photo by Mikael Colville-Andersen.

“Those who can, build.” – Robert Moses

Zhou Enlai’s response to the question, “What were the effects of the French Revolution?” was famously (though debatably), “Too soon to say.” Robert Moses’ effect on the history of planning is similarly dubious.

Moses’ audacity, to even propose expressways across America’s most bejeweled urban landscape, sparked the works of Jane Jacobs and the movement to save American cities from their imminent highway-laden death. The efforts to fight against the highway broadly failed in the US. Hell, even Jacobs moved to Toronto.

While some urban freeways have been deconstructed (re, the Embarcadero Freeway ) the bigger opportunities for the future of transportation – and the land use that follows it – are in the developing world.

One less-LOMAX later, Greenwich Village and its unapologetic pedestrian, chic, gentrified, grit and prep stands as the most fabulous example of preventing the devastation of the private vehicle and the infrastructure that favors (read, supports) it. Jacobs’ work is a testament to urban activism and allows transport planners to see the point of what they do. Is it to move cars? Is it to move feet across pavement? Transport, according to this blogger, is less about movement and more about placement. Where something is placed (a bike lane, a park, a condo complex, a “lovable object”) determines the movement in and around it. The choice for planners, citizen activists, politicians, technocrats and voters alike is where do we place people?

What choice do we as young folks have? Is the planning of highways and use of personal automobiles a choice? Is it ours? Obviously.

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