Tag Archive for 'Urbanism'

A long way ahead

Michael Moore suggested 9 action points to President Obama regarding the bankruptcy of GM. Bottom line of his article: convert GM’s car factories to mass transportation factories and promote energy efficient technology. Basically I would agree, though, I think it’s only one side of the medal and that there are a few more things one might consider:

Working on symptoms never cures the disease. Transportation needs are caused by urban planning. I’ve seen Jacksonville, Florida and I can’t possibly imagine how an urban structure like that one can be run by mass transportation. Providing public transportation services for such spread out areas – I’m talking about population densities as low as 970.9/sq mi in Jacksonville compared to 12,172.3/sq mi in Boston with decent public transportation for instance (source: Wikipedia, see map below) – is a tough task, and not very cost efficient or green. Urban sprawl at such dimensions leaves in most cases no other options than to rely on cars.

Population density in US cities 2000

Other ways of individual transportation – bicycles, walking – require shorter distances to daily services (groceries, schools, doctors, etc.). Again, a large residential area and a huge mall somewhere along the highway make it impossible to introduce anything but car transportation.

Apart from being the most unpopular word in that country, increasing taxes on energy prices, like proposed in point 9, will hurt poor people first if the policy is not balanced out well. Wealthy people don’t care as much about gas prices, they can afford better cars and probably live somewhere close to city centers where they don’t even need them so much. Poor people on the other hand are the ones who have to take a 2 hour daily commute in an old inefficient car to get to work or bring kids to school. Taxes are an interesting lever in transportation and energy policy, but not the holy grail.

Rethinking urban structures, transportation and energy policies is a time consuming issue. It took almost a century to create the status quo, it’s not gonna change in a single presidential term of 4 years. I believe this country must be prepared for a long way ahead.

Who needs planners?

Apparently not the people of New Orleans.

After the failed master plan people there decided to take action and plan their city theirselves. 15 planning teams will design neighborhood by neighborhood. Even if the teams are supported by urban planners and architects, the final decision about how their neighborhood is going to be developed and built is up to them, the people.

Some might call it “democracy in action”, I call it dangerous. Maybe future of this planning process will teach me better, but I doubt that a city at the dimension of New Orleans can be developed without any long-term strategy and concept. Urban development is too complex for planning decisions made on an ad-hoc basis.

(via The New York Times)

Routing for cyclists

CyclistThe city of Vienna offers a well-built bicycle infrastructure. In September 2005 the 1000th bicycle-track-kilometer was finished. If weather is fine it’s the fastest way to move within the inner districts (1.-9.) of Vienna. I think its share in the viennese modal-split must be around 4-5% now. According to the Transportation Master Plan it should increase up to 8% by 2020. On certain streets you’ll be able to count about 5.000-8.000 cyclists on a rainless day.

Since spring should be arriving within the next few weeks I thought that I’ll have a look if there are some new useful bicycle tracks available. Browsing through the city’s website I came across this service: Routing for cyclists.

As in any other routing service you enter a start/end location and the system calculates the best (shortest/fastest/cheapest) route for you. Like car routing systems consider parameters such as speed limits, fuel consumption, traffic volume, etc. this bicycle routing includes one-ways (in many one-ways cyclists are allowed to drive in both directions), slopes, bicycle tracks and low-traffic-volume roads in its calculation. Sounds pretty exciting for everyone who likes to go by bike in Vienna.

Just to do a short test I entered my home and work address and let the system calculate the best route. The result was surprising because I wouldn’t even had thought of choosing that way to my office. But the route makes sense, maybe it’s better than I’m thinking. When weather allows it I’ll give it a try.

I’m aware that only car navigation and routing is interesting for doing businesses in that market. The business of city governments is basically, among others, to attract residents. One of the “products” a city has to offer is quality of life. In terms of improving quality of urban life and urban transportation systems, increasing non-motorised modal split shares, services like the mentioned bicycle routing can be a valuable contribution.

Of course building more and better bicycle-oriented navigation and routing systems would be nice task for GIS experts too.

Streetart in Google Earth

Streetart - readable cityFor anybody interested in streetart (like stencils, stickers, etc.): I made the ongoing streetart exhibition “Streetart – The Readable City” available through Google Earth. Actually only the outdoor part is available in Google Earth (indoor it wouldn’t make sense, lack of GE’s accuracy, once Galileo is operating we can talk about mapping pictures inside of galleries). The outdoor part is a short walk through the 7th district of Vienna, along some streetart works. I did this walk with a turned on GPS, so that I could later at home geocode my photos and load them into Google Earth. That probably sounds pretty geeky, but I ensure you that I’m going for walks without the GPS device as well. Sometimes. However, playing around with Google Earth, GPS and Flickr was fun and I got a nice photo set with clean GPS EXIF entries.

Here you find the Network link for Google Earth.

On Flickr I put a few more pics from the indoor part too. It’s a free exhibition and I guess it was allowed to take pictures, at least nobody complained so far. If somebody feels like his intellectual property is violated by publishing this photos online please let me know.

Die lesbare Stadt

11.2 – 20.3.06

Freiraum / quartier21
Wien Museumsplatz 1
1070 Wien

Have a look at the official website of the exhibition.