Monday, November 15, 2010

Several Quick Links

Several stories have come out in the last two weeks that I have been meaning to post and discuss, so I'll knock them out here.

First up, we look at the car ownership rates of one of the youngest driving generations, or perhaps more specifically, the declining rate. There have been these stories for years now, usually in the form of demographers or planners predicting the future. This one is a bit different, in that it comes from people who care, the car companies.

The cause are quite numerous, from personal reasons (environmental conscientiousness, social networks, time), to social (economic slowdown, cities investments in transit and urban areas, convenience) but the underlying point is still the same, if car companies are focused on this, planners should be too. Cities that are adequately prepared for the car-lite/free lifestyle will be ahead in the game.

New York has always avoided the population fate of its peers, but don't be surprised to see other NE cities stabilize/gain population. Conversely, cities like Dallas and Los Angeles that are building extensive systems to offer that lifestyle in car dominant areas will also be winners of this population segment.

Of course, this coincides with the youngsters parents moving back to the city as well as staying in place, a well documented phenomenon for a few years now. This is important for two reasons. One, cities need to provide for a variety of lifestyles, not just the boomers or Gen Y. Second, do we really want the largest elderly generation (as well as the largest current generation) behind the wheel for everything with their deteriorating physical skills?

The next link comes from USA Today. I read the paper version and immediately thought of the planning ramifications. In essence, for the first time in...perhaps ever Americans are buying smaller houses. The median size house has dropped 200 square feet since its peak in 2007. Again the reasons are varied and even the same as before, but one thing isn't clear. Is this a response to the current economic situation or a longer term trend? Certainly this is unheard of in prior recessions, but none have been as severe either.

Personally, I hope the trend continues. These types of houses are more costly to serve from a civic standpoint. Take a piece of paper and draw one-inch square. then draw a line connecting those squares. Do the same again, but this time draw squares with only 3/4 inch sides. The line connecting them can be a number of infrastructure types/services, water, sewer, roads, postal, fire, police, etc. Obviously, the longer line means a greater cost. It is more expensive to serve low-density areas, primarily because the tax revenues generated do not cover the costs of more infrastructure. This may help balance civic budgets in coming years.

Finally, I post this link from the Miami Herald to back up an earlier point on parking. This concerns Brickell Avenue in Miami, which according to the article is one of the densest places in Florida. Planners residents and city officials want this road to become what is termed a "complete street" where cars, pedestrians, transit, cyclists, etc. all can use the space equally.

However, the State Department of Transportation, composed largely of traffic engineers, is making the street an auto-oriented one, to get as many cars through as fast as possible. It is common place to see pedestrians dodge oncoming cars and see cut-through's in the bushy median.

It hearkens back to something I have said consistently, if Americans do indeed love our cars, it is similar to an arranged marriage. People tend to do what is convenient. When we build for cars, we all of a sudden love them. We will never divorce our cars if we keep following a traffic manual designed for maximum car use at the expense of any other mode.

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