Nov 202015

Urbanism is an old idea with new recognition about how cities worked before the auto became the dominant planning idea for the way cities have been designed since about 1945.

Here are a few links to help us understand what this new Urbanism is and how to achieve a people and place oriented city instead of car dominated cities:

A General Theory of Urbanism
by Duany et all. PDF

Urbanism Making Places for People
An urbanism oriented presentation for Ventura County  at a recent VCOG meeting by Sargent Town Planning out of LA. PDF

Oct 132015
Robert Steuteville, Better! Cities & Towns – post by Robert Steuteville on 13 Oct 2015

A major barrier to human-scale, complete streets appears ready to fall. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is proposing to drop 11 of 13 mandatory standards for streets under 50 miles per hour, which will help in the design of federally owned urban streets.

“It is definitely a step in the right direction that FHWA is finally responding to the overwhelming amount of research showing little safety benefit to most of their controlling criteria,” says Wes Marshall, associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Colorado.

Wider lane width is one of the crucial criteria for urban streets that has been shown to have no safety benefit. A series of studies (link, link) have shown that in urban places 12-foot lanes—which have been used on arterial streets since the middle of the 20th century, are less safe than narrower lanes because they encourage speeding. For comparison, Interstate lanes are 12 feet wide.

“We have made great strides in recognizing that urban conditions require more flexibility in design guidance, and the ITE/CNU manual as well as the NACTO guides have certainly given engineers the ability to design for context and walkability,” says Wade Walker, an engineer with Alta Planning + Design. “This proposal by FHWA can make the process much simpler by eliminating the need for design exceptions on many design proposals for these type streets.”

New urbanist engineers have long argued for “decision-making that encourages engineered solutions rather than relying on minimum, maximum, or limiting values found in design criteria,” notes Peter Swift, an engineer in Gold Hill, Colorado. “This, in itself, is a remarkable admission that competent engineers are finally taken seriously!”

But dropping these standards is no panacea. “It is also worth pointing out that they still expect design speed to be a controlling criterion for streets under 50 mph,” says Marshall. “Given that the selection of a design speed is often left to the discretion of an engineer, you could still theoretically end up with streets signed for 25 mph being designed for 45 mph design speeds.”

State DOTs, which determine design on key arterials, and local DOTs and engineers, will not be directly affected by this proposal. “Until the direction is embraced by not only the state DOT’s and local staffs we will continue to run into resistance for creating truly walkable urban streets,” Walker says. Yet state and local engineers may take their cues for the federal authorities. “I can definitely envision these benefits eventually extending to state DOT and local guidelines,” says Marshall.

This proposal is part of a culture shift that is taking place at FHWA, which long supported highway standards applied to urban places. A little over a year ago, the administration gave the seal of approval for engineers to use the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street Design Guide, which shows dimensions and standards for tighter urban streets with bike lanes and pedestrian facilities. The proposed changes can be thought of as another domino that is falling.

As of yet, the changes are just a proposal. They must go through a comment period that ends December 7. Supporters of complete streets can read the details of the changes here and support them with a comment here.

Robert Steuteville is editor of Better Cities & Towns and senior communications advisor for the Congress for the New Urbanism.

Original article.

Oct 082015

A fascinating Internet discussion makes the case for solving congestion problems using economic, rather than engineering, strategies. But urban design should also be considered.

Two blogs (traffic engineer Simon Vallee and City Observatory) describe how traffic engineers exclude human decision-making from their road construction decisions. Roads are simply pipes and drivers are fixed inputs. This view generally leads to road widenings in response to predictions of possible overload. Those decision leads to more driving, less walking, and the cycle continues. Recognizing that most trips are economic decisions and that people have choices puts a whole new spin on roads and traffic. As Hertz of City Observatory says:

“The economic, or behavioral, approach brings back humans—and with them, the idea that given amount of vehicle trips isn’t just a feature of the natural world, but the result of decisions by actual people who want to get somewhere in order to do something. The question then changes in a subtle but profound way: not how to speed vehicles through a road most efficiently, but how to best connect people with the places they want to go.”

“Bringing humans back into the question also allows you to acknowledge that people have desires that aren’t directly related to transportation. Safety, for example. Reducing the number and length of vehicle trips translates straight to fewer car crashes, and fewer avoidable serious injuries and deaths. Making streets a pleasant place to walk and gather—something that’s difficult when sidewalks have been narrowed to make room for speeding cars just feet away—can pay serious economic dividends and help establish a sense of community. In the economic or behavioral approach to transportation policy, all of these goals suddenly become fair game.”

Viewing congestion as an economic problem may also get transportation engineers to recognize that congestion is often good. The bad kind of congestion is when people are just sitting in traffic and little economic activity is taking place. But in a mixed-use downtown, congestion is a sign of life. A downtown without congestion is dead. Similarly, now that we know there is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, how would we feel if our doctor tried to eliminate all cholesterol? We’d get a new doctor.

Bringing human beings into the thinking of traffic engineering is a big step forward, but engineers need to bring real places into the equation as well. Traffic congestion decisions determine the shape of public places, so they are an urban design problem. The engineering approach belies tens of thousands of miles of urban streets that function exceptionally well with vastly different design than what engineers recommend. This study showed that spatial characteristics of streets—factors not considered by either the engineering or the economic approach—have a dramatic impact on safety and livability.

Engineers typically don’t study streets with strong spatial definition to see why and how they work.

An economic approach to solving traffic problems would vastly improve the traffic engineering profession. An understanding of urban design would be even better.

Robert Steuteville is editor of Better Cities & Towns and senior communications advisor for the Congress for the New Urbanism.

Original article.

Sep 272015

We have many NEW resources on our Resources Page.

For instance we recently added four links about infill housing, with several great Myths vs Facts articles plus a Infill Design Tool Kit.

There are several new articles about Economic Development and City Planning and Urban Design.

This website is becoming the go-to venue for planning issues and education in Oxnard, CA.

Sep 152015


The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has been working to address nonmotorized safety issues nationwide and help communities create safer, better-connected bicycling and walking networks as part of the Department’s Safer People, Safer Streets Initiative.

Since launching the Safer People, Safer Streets Initiative in 2014, DOT has engaged safety experts, existing and new stakeholders, local officials, and the public on a range of targeted strategies to encourage safety for bicyclists and pedestrians on and around our streets, including bus stops, transit stations, and other multimodal connections. Through these discussions, a number of common misconceptions have been raised about the use of Federal funding, street design, and the Environmental Review process that can cause confusion and result in project delay.

The information below addresses these common misconceptions and distinguishes between Federal standards and State and local practice. Where possible, links identify resources that provide more detail on the topic. This document focuses on three policy areas: Funding, Design, and Environmental Review.

Funding Misconceptions

1. The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) is the only Federal funding source for pedestrian and bicycle projects.

This is false. While TAP is a popular source of funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, pedestrian and bicycle projects are eligible for many programs through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA). At FHWA, pedestrian and bicycle projects are eligible for funding through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program, Surface Transportation Program (STP), Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), National Highway Performance Program (NHPP), Federal Lands and Tribal Transportation Programs (FLTTP), and TAP. The FTA funding may also be available through Capital Funds and Associated Transit Improvement.

Each of these programs has different requirements, so to be eligible, the pedestrian and bicycle project must meet the program’s requirements in order to receive funding. For example, transit funds may be used to improve bike lanes and sidewalks as long as they provide direct access to transit; CMAQ funds must be used for projects that benefit air quality; HSIP projects must be consistent with the State Strategic Highway Safety Plan and address a highway safety problem; NHPP-funded projects must benefit National Highway System (NHS) corridors; and FLTTP funds could be used for bicycle and pedestrian accommodations that provide access to or within Federal or tribal lands. Often bicycle and pedestrian elements are included in much larger roadway or station-area projects that are funded through each of these programs. For example, pedestrian and bicycle facilities may be included on rehabilitated, reconstructed, or new bridge structures to improve the network. The FHWA division offices can assist in determining options for using multiple funding sources to fund one project.

Funding is also available for non-infrastructure projects. For instance, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides funding for behavioral safety aspects, education, and enforcement, in coordination with the State’s highway safety office.

More information:

Bicycle and Pedestrian Funding Opportunities

Federal-Aid Highway Program Funding for Pedestrian and Bicycle Facilities and Programs

FTA Bicycles and Transit Information

Final Policy Statement on Eligibility of Pedestrian and Bicycle Improvements under Federal Transit Law

2. Federal transportation funds cannot be used to enhance the local roadway network.

This is false. The FHWA guidelines allow NHS capacity and safety needs to be addressed through a mix of on-system and parallel system network streets. A portion of the local network is part of the Federal-aid highway system. All other roads that have a functional classification higher than local road or rural minor collector are eligible for Federal-aid funding through STP. Projects on local roads and rural minor collectors may be eligible in some cases. Furthermore, STP, TAP, and HSIP funds may be used for bicycle and pedestrian projects along any public road or trail, without any location restriction.

More information:

STP Eligibility

Functional Classification

STP Guidance, see Eligibility.

TAP Guidance, see Eligibility.

HSIP Guidance

3. Separated bike lanes cannot be built with Federal funds.

This is false. Federal funds can be used to plan and build separated bike lanes, which can include cycle tracks and protected bike lanes. The FHWA recently published a Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide, which includes planning considerations and design options for separated bike lanes. In addition, separated bike lanes are included in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Funding Opportunities: US Department of Transportation, Federal Transit, and Federal Highway Table.

More information:

FHWA Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide

4. Federal funds can’t be used for road diets.

This is false. Federal funds may be used for road diets, which are generally described as removing vehicle lanes from a roadway and reallocating the extra space for other uses or traveling modes, such as parking, sidewalks, bicycle lanes, transit use, turn lanes, medians, or pedestrian refuge islands. The FHWA supports consideration of road diets or rightsizing when applied at the proper location and has created a webpage to promote the use of this technique. Road diets can offer significant safety benefits to a community (20-60% reduction in crashes is common) and are one of FHWA’s Proven Safety Countermeasures being promoted through the FHWA Every Day Counts 3 Initiative. Additionally, in many applications, they are part of city and regionally approved pedestrian and bicycle master plans, and community comprehensive master plans. Localities across the nation are using this low-cost safety countermeasure to improve safety, operations, and livability in their communities.

More information:

FHWA Office of Safety Road Diet

5. Nonmotorized projects cannot compete effectively for CMAQ funding.

This is false. States have funded more than $1.5 billion in bicycle and pedestrian accommodations with CMAQ Program funds since 1993. The CMAQ Program is intended to be a flexible funding source to State and local governments for transportation projects and programs to help meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act. Funding is available to reduce congestion and improve air quality for areas that do not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone, carbon monoxide, or particulate matter (nonattainment areas) and for former nonattainment areas that are now in compliance (maintenance areas). Funds may be used for transportation projects likely to contribute to the attainment or maintenance of a national ambient air quality standard, with a high level of effectiveness in reducing air pollution. The CMAQ funding is apportioned to the States to support projects that meet specific eligibility criteria. Some locations give preference to CMAQ eligible quality of life projects, such as nonmotorized transportation projects, as part of their CMAQ funding criteria. See for example the Merced County Association of Governments’ Goals and Procedures for Programming CMAQ Funds:

More information:


Design Misconceptions

6. The only design standard that can be used on Federal-aid highway projects is the AASHTO A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets (Green Book).

This is false. The FHWA adopted the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Green Book as the design standard for projects on the NHS, other than projects on the Interstate highway system, regardless of funding source (23 CFR 625). States may adopt their own standards for non-NHS projects (23 CFR 625.3(a)(2)). The Green Book provides flexibility in design. When a Green Book standard applies but an element of the design is outside the Green Book parameters, a design exception may be considered in accordance with 23 CFR 625.3(f).

Part 9 of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD) is dedicated to traffic control on bicycle facilities. Compliance with the MUTCD on facilities open to public travel is required regardless of funding source, in accordance with 23 CFR 655. In addition to the flexibility the MUTCD provides through Guidance and Option provisions, the MUTCD also contains a mechanism for experimenting with novel traffic control devices (Section 1A.10). Note that some of the traffic control treatments shown in the external resources referenced herein might still be subject to the experimentation process under the MUTCD.

The FHWA’s 2013 Bicycle and Pedestrian Design Flexibility Memo supports a flexible approach to the planning and design of pedestrian and bicycle facilities. This memo indicates that FHWA supports the use of additional resources that build off the flexibilities provided in the AASHTO Guide for the Planning, Design, and Operation of Pedestrian Facilities and the Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, as well as the policy based Green Book. These resources include the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Bikeway Design Guide and the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares. FHWA also recently published the Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide that includes planning considerations and design options for separated bike lanes.

More information:

Guidance on NHS Design Standards and Design Exceptions

MUTCD Experimentation Process

FHWA Design Flexibility Memorandum

7. Lane widths cannot drop below 11′ on the NHS and 9′ when Federal funds are used on local roads.

This is false. There is no minimum lane width requirement to be eligible for Federal funding. As stated in the answer to Question 6, States may adopt their own standards for non-NHS roadways. The NHS includes major arterials as well as other roads important to the nation’s economy, defense, and mobility. As such, the Green Book generally requires 11′ or 12′ lanes on these roads. The Green Book allows for lesser lane widths on low-speed facilities and low-volume roads in rural and residential areas; situations in which research shows that narrower lanes should not negatively impact safety if appropriately implemented based on the context. There is no outright prohibition against using lane widths less than those stated in the Green Book, if a design exception is justified and approved in accordance with FHWA regulations and policy. For more information on design standards and design exceptions, please visit

In appropriate contexts, narrower lanes, combined with other features associated with them, can be marginally safer than wider lanes. The FHWA supports the use of sound engineering judgment in design. The FHWA frames this discussion using the terms nominal safety versus substantive safety. Nominal safety means a design meets the technical standards; substantive safety means that a design will achieve low crash rates relative to expectations.

To assist engineers in creating roads that are substantively safe instead of simply meeting standards, FHWA offers several resources:

  1. The Highway Safety Manual
  2. The Interactive Highway Safety Design Model
  3. Safety Analyst
  4. The Crash Modifications Factor Clearinghouse

8. Curb extensions, trees, and roundabouts cannot be used on the NHS.

This is false. There is no prohibition on incorporating these features on NHS projects.

Curb extensions, also known as bulbouts or neckdowns, can have significant benefits for pedestrian safety. Curb extensions are explicitly supported by FHWA because they enhance the safety of pedestrians, reduce the distance needed to cross the street, and make pedestrians more visible to motorists, particularly when there are parked cars in the vicinity. The related use of medians and crossing islands are FHWA Proven Safety Countermeasures.

The suggested AASHTO clear zone distances will vary based on a number of factors such as speed, traffic volume, roadside grading, and horizontal curvature. On higher speed, higher volume roadways, certain roadside features might need to be located farther from the roadway.

According to FHWA’s Roundabouts: An Informational Guide, roundabouts can be considered for a variety of reasons from community enhancement and traffic calming to safety improvements and operational benefits. In fact, roundabouts are one of FHWA’s Proven Safety Countermeasures.

More information:

FHWA Proven Safety Countermeasures

Every Day Counts 2012 Initiatives – Intersection and Interchange Geometrics (FHWA included roundabouts as one of the innovations during the initiative)

9. Speed limits must be set using the 85th percentile methodology.

This is false. The MUTCD Section 2B.13 contains the following mandatory (Standard) statement: “Speed zones (other than statutory speed limits) shall only be established on the basis of an engineering study that has been performed in accordance with traffic engineering practices.” According to the 2012 FHWA Document Methods and Practices for Setting Speed Limits, there are basic ways of setting speed limits. Use of the 85th percentile methodology is just one part of what FHWA calls the Engineering Approach. This is described as “A two-step process where a base speed limit is set according to the 85th percentile speed, the design speed for the road, or other criterion. This base speed limit is adjusted according to traffic and infrastructure conditions such as pedestrian use, median presence, etc.” The 2012 document goes on to say that the engineering approach requires the use of judgment. This is different than simply setting a speed limit based on the measured 85th percentile.

The FHWA developed a model called USLIMITS2, which is a web-based tool using an expert system with a fact-based set of decision rules to determine an appropriate speed limit for all roadway users. For roadway segments that experience high pedestrian and bicyclist activities, USLIMITS2 recommends speed limits close to 50th percentile instead of 85th percentile speed. For more information, visit

The other three approaches to setting appropriate speed limits are called: Expert system approach; optimization; and injury minimization or safe system approach. To learn about these, visit

Environmental Review Misconception

10. Bicycle and pedestrian projects must be within the existing Right of Way (ROW) to be eligible for a Categorical Exclusion.

This is false. As with all roadway projects, FHWA regulations do not require bicycle or pedestrian facilities to be within the existing ROW to be eligible for a Categorical Exclusion. See 23 CFR 771.117(c).

The environmental review process for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) considers environmental impacts of a proposed project, and does not mandate the siting of a project either within or outside of existing rights-of-way. Often an existing highway right-of-way has been disturbed to a point where it may be unlikely that a bicycle or pedestrian project would result in important impacts. This may or may not be true for proposing a project that includes locations outside of existing rights-of-way. If significant impacts result from a project, whether situated entirely within or including some areas outside existing rights-of-way, a categorical exclusion may not be appropriate, and an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would need to be prepared instead.

Also available as Adobe PDF (615 KB)

Original article.

Aug 052015

A huge amount of urban traffic comes from cars circling for available parking. Robot fleets could change all that.

Image Amr Dalsh / REUTERS
Amr Dalsh / REUTERS

Traffic jams aren’t exactly Zen. People are anxious about getting somewhere else instead of being happy about where they are.

To make matters more frustrating: In many cases, the cars clogging roadways are often already at their destination—and just circling the blocks looking for parking. There’s plenty of research showing that a surprisingly large number of people are driving, trying to find a place to leave their car. A group called Transportation Alternatives studied the flow of cars around one Brooklyn neighborhood, Park Slope, and found that 64 percent of the local cars were searching for a place to park. It’s not just the inner core of cities either. Many cars in suburban downtowns and shopping-mall parking lots do the same thing.

Robot cars could change all that. The unsticking of the urban roads is one of the side effects of autonomous cars that will, in turn, change the landscape of cities—essentially eliminating one of the enduring symbols of urban life, the traffic jam full of honking cars and fuming passengers. It will also redefine how we use land in the city, unleashing trillions of dollars of real estate to be used for more than storing cars. Autonomous cars are poised to save us uncountable hours of time, not just by letting us sleep as the car drives, but by unblocking the roads so they flow faster.

Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote a book called The High Cost of Free Parking, about how low-cost parking ruins cities. He estimates that cities that underprice their parking encourage circling, resulting in roads where up to 45 percent of the traffic is people looking for a place to park. His solution is for cities to boost the cost of street parking until there are usually a few free spots on each block.

Robot cabs don’t need to park. They just move on and pick up the next fare. Human-guided cabs don’t need to park much during the day either, but even in the densest cities there aren’t enough of them. In Manhattan, there are 100,000 off-street parking spots alone below 60th Street and even more on the streets. New York City brags that there are 500 metered spots that accept credit cards in the Broadway theater district. But there are only 13,150 Yellow Cab Medallions for the entire city. In the future, when demand ebbs at the end of the day, robot cabs can simply move to the edges of the city for rest, refueling, and repair—all out of the way.

To study this effect for myself, I built a simulator with rows and rows of city blocks filled with little cars headed for random destinations. The cars aren’t drawn to scale and there is no effort to simulate stop lights or collisions, but even in this simple model, the streets quickly clog up. If a car reaches its destination and there are no more parking spaces, it chooses a new destination at random, turns grey, and starts circling.

Here’s a video showing how the simulator works:

What’s striking is that the streets start clogging up when 15 percent to 25 percent of the blocks are full. If the cars can’t find a place to park in one section, they start bouncing around looking for another and jamming the streets. And because finding another spot takes almost as much time as getting to the destination, they start to fill up the streets quickly.

Here’s one video showing the simulator just after the first few blocks are full. The percentage of cars searching for parking starts to soar.

This next video is taken later in the simulation when more than 60 percent of the blocks are full. Most of the cars on the streets are on a quest for one of the open parking spots.

Notice that most of the empty spots are toward the bottom. The procedure for choosing a random location does not pick initial destinations uniformly, effectively simulating cities where some blocks are more desirable. Once the major destinations start to fill up, it takes some time for the cars to find the empty locations. They don’t have access to any central database of empty spots so they circle mindlessly until they happen upon an empty spot. (The simulator is very basic and full of poor approximations of the way that humans look for spaces. One researcher, for instance, suggests that people circling for parking often take right turns at red lights because they don’t want to wait. The simulator doesn’t try to be that smart: It just chooses a new destination nearby at random. The source code for the simulator is written in a game platform called Construct 2 and is available to anyone who wants to play with it and make it better. You can play with the simulator yourself here.)

Some parking garages have installed sensors that count the number of empty spaces, and signs to share this information to keep people from driving down full aisles. When autonomous fleets take over, they’ll have access to similar databases. The cities will probably keep a few parking spaces around for cars that need to pause but most will probably be repurposed as parks or retail locations.

Even though the simulator I used is just an approximation, it supports researchers’ findings about just how many cars in urban environments are looking for parking at any given time.

The results also show that autonomous cars have the potential to change urban life dramatically. If replacing the human drivers and their need to park will reduce the demand for the roads and eliminate the stressful traffic jams, it will make city life that much more peaceful. Maybe not Zen, exactly, but more like it.

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.

Original article.

Jul 082015

The Ventura County Civic Alliance has created a guiding principals document for livable communities and place making in our communities:

“It is said if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.  And for much of the last century, southern California’s growth was scattershot with too little thought given to the big picture.

Even in our beautiful Ventura County, we live daily with results of this short-sighted approach: traffic congestion; a disjointed regional transportation system; a dearth of affordable homes for working families; and excessive wear and tear on our environment.

The Ventura County Civic Alliance and its Livable Communities Working Group believe we can do better and, in fact, already are building communities that enhance – instead of degrade – the quality of our environment and our quality of life.

Founded in 2001, the Alliance advocates for a more sustainable approach to development in Ventura County.  It adopted a nationally respected set of principles. These include promoting a range of housing choices; walkable, close-knit neighborhoods; repurposing of historic buildings; preservation of open space, farmland and critical environmental areas and a variety of transportation options.

Called the 10 Tenets of Livable Communities, these are not lofty, academic theories but sound practical strategies to serve as planning guidelines.

How do we know that?  This booklet will show you projects that follow these tenets – already built or approved – in every city of Ventura County.”

Download the booklet.

Ventura County Civic Alliance Livable Communities page.

Jun 282015

Would you use a rototiller to get rid of weeds in a flowerbed? Of course not. You might solve your immediate goal of uprooting the weeds — but oh, my, the collateral damage that you would do.

Yet when we try to eliminate congestion from our urban areas by using decades-old traffic engineering measures and models, we are essentially using a rototiller in a flowerbed. And it’s time to acknowledge that the collateral damage has been too great.

First, an explanation of what I call the “deadly duo”: travel projection models and Levels of Service (LOS) performance metrics. Travel projection models are computer programs that use assumptions about future growth in population, employment, and recreation to estimate how many new cars will be on roads 20 or 30 years into the future.

Models range from quite simplistic to incredibly complex and expensive. Simple models deal primarily with coarse movements of vehicles between cities, while complex models deal with the intricacies of what happens on the fine grid of urban areas. To be truly accurate, growth projection modeling can be expensive. Therefore, absent compelling reason to do otherwise, most growth projections tend to be done using less expensive techniques, which usually lead to overestimates.

Levels of Service (LOS) is a performance metric which flourished during the interstate- and freeway-building era that went from the 1950s to the 1990s. Using a scale of A to F, LOS attempts to create an objective formula to answer a subjective question: How much congestion are we willing to tolerate? As in grade school, “F” is a failing grade and “A” is perfect.

Engineers decided that LOS “C” was a good balance between overinvestment in perfection and underinvestment leading to congestion. In urban areas, a concession was made to accept LOS D, representing slightly more restricted but still free-flowing traffic. LOS is commonly (actually, almost always) calculated using travel projections for 20 to 30 years into the future.

Using basic traffic models and LOS C/D to plan and design the interstate system was a no-brainer in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. When deciding how many lanes to build on a freeway connecting major cities, a sensitivity of plus or minus 10,000 trips a day could be tolerated, and the incremental difference in cost to plow through undeveloped land was relatively insignificant.

Good approach, wrong setting

I’m not going to look back and quibble with the general philosophy of how the interstates and the associated high-speed freeways were planned and designed. On many levels, the approach made sense.

But it became increasingly less persuasive when applied to the rest of our road network. Unlike interstates and freeways, most roads exist not just to move traffic through the area, but also to serve the homes, businesses, and people along them. Yet in search of high LOS rankings, transportation professionals have widened streets, added lanes, removed on-street parking, limited crosswalks, and deployed other inappropriate strategies. In ridding our communities of the weeds of congestion, we have also pulled out the very plants that made our “gardens” worthwhile in the first place.

It’s worth remembering, too, that not all congestion is bad. John Norquist, former Mayor of Milwaukee and current CEO and President of the Congress for New Urbanism, suggests that congestion is like cholesterol: there is a good kind and a bad kind.

What makes the prevailing situation even more troubling is that there are no comprehensive requirements dictating the use of either LOS or travel modeling in transportation planning and project design. The “Green Book” from the Association of American State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) (more formally known as “A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets”) clearly states that these are guidelines to be applied with judgment — not mandates. So does the Federal Highway Administration’s “Highway Capacity Manual.”

The idea that we must rid our roads of  any and all traffic congestion is, in fact, a self-imposed requirement. As Eric Jaffe wrote in an article for Atlantic Cities in December, 2011:

Although cities aren’t required to abide LOS measures by law, over the years the measure hardened into convention. By the time cities recognized the need for balanced transportation systems, LOS was entrenched in the street engineering canon.

Worse yet, many designers size a road or intersection to be free-flowing for the worst hour of the day. Sized to accommodate cars during the highest peak hour, such streets will be “overdesigned” for the other 23 hours of the day and will always function poorly for the surrounding community.

If that isn’t troubling enough, LOS is often calculated using traffic predicted 20 years into the future, even in urban settings. Until the forecasted growth materializes, the roadway will be overdesigned, even during the peak hour. Overdesigned roadways encourage motorists to drive at higher speeds, making them difficult to cross and unpleasant to walk along. This degrades public spaces between the edges of the road and the adjacent buildings, encourages people to drive short distances, and generally unravels a community’s social fabric.

Let me repeat: Contrary to what you may hear, there is no national requirement or mandate to apply LOS standards and targets 20 years into the future for urban streets. This thinking is a remnant from 1960s era policy for the interstate system, and has erroneously been passed down from generation to generation.

So what are the right approaches?

Asking the simple question, “Do you want congestion reduced at a particular location?” is a question out of context. It’s like asking you whether you want to never be stung by a bee again. Of course, the answer will be yes. But what if I told you that to in order to never suffer a sting again, every plant within a several mile radius would have to be destroyed — and that you could never leave the area of destruction?

You would have a completely different answer, I’m sure.

The question that needs to be asked in urban settings is not whether you ever want to sit in congestion again. Who does? The question is whether you want to eliminate congestion on your Main Street 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year — knowing that the consequence would be a community with decimated economic and social value, increased reliance on car use, increased crashes, and, ultimately, more congestion.

Recognizing the need for balance, a number of entities are beginning to promote approaches sensitive to the context.

I was the New Jersey Department of Transportation’ s project manager for  the “Smart Transportation Guide” (STG), adopted jointly by the state DOTs in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.   The STG directs DOT designers to consider the tradeoffs between vehicular LOS and “local service.” It goes on to say that if the street in question is not critical to regional movement, that LOS E or F could be acceptable — and that designers may actually need to design to slow down cars.

The Institute of Transportation Engineers, an “international association of transportation professionals responsible for meeting mobility and safety needs” also promoted this concept in its landmark “Context Sensitive Solutions Guidelines for Urban Thoroughfares.” Florida DOT has adopted multimodal LOS standards, and cities like Charlotte, N.C., have elevated pedestrian and bicycle LOS to the level of that for automobiles. We have a long way to go, but the door is opening.

Creating balanced standards for roadway design will benefit transportation as well. In the Netherlands, the “Livable Streets” policy led to a remarkable improvement in safety on their roadways. They started in the 1970s with a crash rate 15 percent higher than in the U.S., and now have a crash rate 60 percent lower.

Design with the community in mind

It’s time for communities and transportation professionals alike to accept that we have been using the wrong tools for the wrong job. LOS and travel modeling may be effective when sizing and locating high-speed freeways, but are totally inappropriate in every other setting. If travel modeling with high rates of growth is used to make street decisions, your community may be doomed to a series of roadway widenings or intersection expansions. If vehicular LOS C or D performance measures are adopted as non-negotiable targets, major road construction will be heading your way.

Village, suburban and city streets need to be designed with the community in mind using the PPS principle of Streets as Places to create a vision for a great community and then plan your streets to support that vision.

Lets not be fooled by the appearance of science behind Levels of Service and Traffic Modeling. As I pointed out in an interview with Wayne Senville that was published in the November 2010 “Planning Commissioner’s Journal,” LOS standards are easy to understand — and that’s exactly what makes them so dangerous.

All images by Andy Singer.

Original Article.

Jun 282015

If you prefer listening, or want to learn more, check out this Urban Solutions podcast. Jeff Tumlin of Nelson Nygaard, Chris Ganson of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and I connect the dots between California’s climate change laws AB32, SB375, and the possibility that one fix could change transportation and land use planning around the country.

I think it’s important to remember—as we slap each other on the back about this year’s legislative victories—that getting a bill passed is just the beginning of making change happen. Fortunately, we have some great progress to report on one of the bills that made it through in the waning hours of last year’s legislative session—a bill that could fundamentally change the way we think about development and traffic in California.

As I’ve written in the past, the crux of this issue comes down to three little letters: L.O.S.  It stands for Level of Service, which is essentially just a measure of how much a project will slow down cars, and it’s the way the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has evaluated new projects for decades. Until now.

Last year the Legislature—in their infinite wisdom—decided that in fact, in California in the year 2014, transportation is about a whole lot more than moving cars quickly. In fact we have much more important goals, and volumes have been written about the deep flaws of the LOS paradigm: it makes road widening look good for the environment, discourages infill, encourages traffic engineers to remove pedestrian crosswalks and slows transit projects. Through Senate Bill 743, they directed the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to kick Level of Service (LOS) to the curb, and find a replacement that can better help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create transportation choices.

So here’s the good news: they’ve done it. OPR has just released their draft guidelines recommending Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as the much more appropriate metric. Let’s think about this for a second. Under the old system, a proposed bike lane had to analyze its transportation impacts and if it was found to slow down cars (by, say substituting a bike lane for a car lane) then our environmental statute would have said let’s either not build this project, or pay a lot of money to find some other way to speed up cars. Pretty backwards, eh? Considering the whole point of bike lanes is to encourage one of the cleanest, healthiest and most sustainable ways of getting around we know. Now, instead, the same project would be asked a simple question: will this project result in any more vehicle miles of travel? Even a four year old can figure this one out. NO! Abundantly clear that the answer is no. So these bike projects—not to mention transit projects, safe pedestrian crosswalks, and other livable communities projects—will get built faster, cheaper, with less headache. We all win.

We love OPR’s proposed new metric because it just makes sense. It’s worth pointing out that California is the first state in the nation to try to tackle the insidious LOS problem and OPR should be praised for setting the precedent. Comments are due October 10th, and we feel that certain elements of their draft guidelines need revision—such as the proposed threshold and which types of projects are presumed to be less than significant—and we will blog again with more information on these details.

But we can’t forget the bigger picture: we and a whole host of other livable, sustainable communities advocates have wanted to see the end of LOS for decades, and we say it’s about time. RIP LOS.

Original Article.

Jun 282015


Vehicle Miles Traveled in California has been on the decline for a couple of years. Changes in how the state manages transportation changes promise to drive it even lower. Photo: ## Traffic##


Ding, dong…LOS is dead.

At least as far as the state of California is concerned.

Level of Service (LOS) has been the standard by which the state measures the transportation impacts of major developments and changes to roads. Level of Service is basically a measurement of how many cars can be pushed through an intersection in a given time. If a project reduced a road’s Level of Service it was considered bad — no matter how many other benefits the project might create.

Now, thanks to legislation passed last year and a yearlong effort by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR), California will no longer consider “bad” LOS a problem that needs fixing under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) . This won’t just lead to good projects being approved more quickly and easily, but also to better mitigation measures for transportation impacts.

Late yesterday, OPR released a draft of its revised guidelines [PDF], proposing to substitute Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) for LOS.

In short, instead of measuring whether or not a project makes it less convenient to drive, it will now measure whether or not a project contributes to other state goals, like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, developing multimodal transportation, preserving open spaces, and promoting diverse land uses and infill development.

“This is exciting,” said Jeffrey Tumlin, principal and director of strategy at Nelson\Nygaard. “Changing from LOS to VMT does away with a  contradiction that applicants currently face under CEQA. The contradiction between the state’s greenhouse gas reduction requirements and the transportation analysis requirements is no more.”

This revision in state law promises many positive changes.

The most obvious one is that sponsors of projects that aim to reduce car dependency will no longer have to spend time and money measuring their potential to delay cars. VMT is easier and faster to estimate, and it produces a measure of a project’s effect on overall travel, rather than just focusing on delay caused to cars at certain intersections.

In an extreme example of LOS wreaking havoc, a lawsuit in 2009 forced San Francisco to spend more money studying the traffic impacts of its bike plan than it will take to completely implement it.

Such a study will no longer be necessary.

But perhaps a larger change will be what kind of development the law now encourages. When the state measured transportation impacts of a project based on car delay, it was fighting against its own environmental goals. Using LOS, it was easier and cheaper to build projects in outlying areas where individual intersections would show less delay resulting from new development. At the same time it was much harder and more expensive to build in dense areas where there was already a lot of traffic, and where measured LOS impacts would require expensive mitigations or reduced project size — but also where higher density would make transit, walking, and bicycling more viable transportation choices.

Now, projects that are shown to decrease vehicle miles traveled — for example, bike lanes or pedestrian paths, or  a grocery store that allows local residents to travel shorter distances to shop — may be automatically considered to have a “less than significant” impact under CEQA.

Another change will come in how developments mitigate their transportation impacts. In many urban areas, under LOS analysis the only way a development could lessen its impact would be to slim the sidewalk and widen the roadway. This was particularly frustrating along major bus routes or near rail transit stations, or anywhere bicyclists wanted to travel safely.

Under the new rules, the hypothetical development would instead be able to mitigate transportation impacts by funding better transit, creating better access to transit, building better pedestrian facilities, or a host of other improvements that would actually improve travel choices.

The change in law does not require individual cities and local governments to change the way they analyze traffic impacts for other purposes, although some cities have already been working on more creative analysis than LOS.

While the change from LOS to VMT is clearly a good one in many respects, many of the state’s most progressive transportation leaders hope this is just the first step towards more progressive transportation planning in the state. In her confirmation hearings, incoming Los Angeles Department of Transportation General Manager Seleta Reynolds argued that when projects are analyzed, they should be scored on their value in creating a stronger community by providing better housing, cleaner air, more transportation options, or something else.

Tumlin agrees. “Ultimately, what we need is a process and tool to help us imagine what a better California would look like and what we would need to move toward that vision,” he said. “Even with these improvements, CEQA can’t do that.”

The proposed guidance must still go through a formal rulemaking process, which may involve further revisions. OPR welcomes public comments on the draft. Send them by 5 p.m., October 10, to:

Original Article.

Jun 182015

Oxnard is no longer a sleepy little agricultural town – we are 200,000+ strong and growing every day.

Oxnard is the largest city in Ventura County by far, and it’s time for Oxnard to grow up – to become the World Class city it deserves to be.

It’s time for Oxnard to become the urban center of the County – leading in innovative housing & 21st century manufacturing – with a vital and flourishing downtown and Main Street.

Oxnard has a significant small-scale manufacturing and light industry sector that needs local resources including better education and housing for our residents to thrive.

Housing that is innovative, compact, multi-story, and mixed-use, with choices for all people, along the Oxnard Boulevard corridor and a walkable Main Street will go along way to shift Oxnard towards civic pride and that World Class reality.

May 012015
It may take longer than 10 years, but the editor does not think by much. We can no longer mandate excessive parking for new development.
“PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that the number of vehicles on the road will be reduced by 99%, estimating that the fleet will fall from 245 million to just 2.4 million vehicles.”
(Website editor)



How Uber’s Autonomous Cars Will Destroy 10 Million Jobs and Reshape the Economy by 2025.

I have spent quite a bit of time lately thinking about autonomous cars, and I wanted to summarize my current thoughts and predictions. Most people – experts included – seem to think that the transition to driverless vehicles will come slowly over the coming few decades, and that large hurdles exist for widespread adoption. I believe that this is significant underestimation. Autonomous cars will be commonplace by 2025 and have a near monopoly by 2030, and the sweeping change they bring will eclipse every other innovation our society has experienced. They will cause unprecedented job loss and a fundamental restructuring of our economy, solve large portions of our environmental problems, prevent tens of thousands of deaths per year, save millions of hours with increased productivity, and create entire new industries that we cannot even imagine from our current vantage point.

The transition is already beginning to happen. Elon Musk, Tesla Motor’s CEO, says that their 2015 models will be able to self-drive 90 percent of the time.1 And the major automakers aren’t far behind – according to Bloomberg News, GM’s 2017 models will feature “technology that takes control of steering, acceleration and braking at highway speeds of 70 miles per hour or in stop-and-go congested traffic.”2 Both Google3 and Tesla4 predict that fully-autonomous cars – what Musk describes as “true autonomous driving where you could literally get in the car, go to sleep and wake up at your destination” – will be available to the public by 2020.

How it will unfold

Industry experts think that consumers will be slow to purchase autonomous cars – while this may be true, it is a mistake to assume that this will impede the transition. Morgan Stanley’s research shows that cars are driven just 4% of the time,5 which is an astonishing waste considering that the average cost of car ownership is nearly $9,000 per year.6 Next to a house, an automobile is the second most expensive asset that most people will ever buy – it is no surprise that ride sharing services like Uber and car sharing services like Zipcar are quickly gaining popularity as an alternative to car ownership. It is now more economical to use a ride sharing service if you live in a city and drive less than 10,000 miles per year.7 The impact on private car ownership is enormous: a UC-Berkeley study showed that vehicle ownership among car sharing users was cut in half.8 The car purchasers of the future will not be you and me – cars will be purchased and operated by ride sharing and car sharing companies.

And current research confirms that we would be eager to use autonomous cars if they were available. A full 60% of US adults surveyed stated that they would ride in an autonomous car9 , and nearly 32% said they would not continue to drive once an autonomous car was available instead.  But no one is more excited than Uber – drivers take home at least 75% of every fare.11 It came as no surprise when CEO Travis Kalanick recently stated that Uber will eventually replace all of its drivers with self-driving cars.12

A Columbia University study suggested that with a fleet of just 9,000 autonomous cars, Uber could replace every taxi cab in New York City13 – passengers would wait an average of 36 seconds for a ride that costs about $0.50 per mile.14 Such convenience and low cost will make car ownership inconceivable, and autonomous, on-demand taxis – the ‘transportation cloud’ – will quickly become dominant form of transportation – displacing far more than just car ownership, it will take the majority of users away from public transportation as well. With their $41 billion valuation,15 replacing all 171,000 taxis16  in the United States is well within the realm of feasibility – at a cost of $25,000 per car, the rollout would cost a mere $4.3 billion.


The effects of the autonomous car movement will be staggering. PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that the number of vehicles on the road will be reduced by 99%, estimating that the fleet will fall from 245 million to just 2.4 million vehicles.17

Disruptive innovation does not take kindly to entrenched competitors – like Blockbuster, Barnes and Noble, Polaroid, and dozens more like them, it is unlikely that major automakers like General Motors, Ford, and Toyota will survive the leap. They are geared to produce millions of cars in dozens of different varieties to cater to individual taste and have far too much overhead to sustain such a dramatic decrease in sales. I think that most will be bankrupt by 2030, while startup automakers like Tesla will thrive on a smaller number of fleet sales to operators like Uber by offering standardized models with fewer options.

Ancillary industries such as the $198 billion automobile insurance market,18 $98 billion automotive finance market,19 $100 billion parking industry,20 and the $300 billion automotive aftermarket21 will collapse as demand for their services evaporates. We will see the obsolescence of rental car companies, public transportation systems, and, good riddance, parking and speeding tickets. But we will see the transformation of far more than just consumer transportation: self-driving semis, buses, earth movers, and delivery trucks will obviate the need for professional drivers and the support industries that surround them.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists that 884,000 people are employed in motor vehicles and parts manufacturing, and an additional 3.02 million in the dealer and maintenance network.22 Truck, bus, delivery, and taxi drivers account for nearly 6 million professional driving jobs. Virtually all of these 10 million jobs will be eliminated within 10-15 years, and this list is by no means exhaustive.

But despite the job loss and wholesale destruction of industries, eliminating the needs for car ownership will yield over $1 trillion in additional disposable income – and that is going to usher in an era of unprecedented efficiency, innovation, and job creation.

A view of the future

Morgan Stanley estimates that a 90% reduction in crashes would save nearly 30,000 lives and prevent 2.12 million injuries annually.23 Driverless cars do not need to park – vehicles cruising the street looking for parking spots account for an astounding 30% of city traffic,24 not to mention that eliminating curbside parking adds two extra lanes of capacity to many city streets. Traffic will become nonexistent, saving each US commuter 38 hours every year – nearly a full work week.25 As parking lots and garages, car dealerships, and bus stations become obsolete, tens of millions of square feet of available prime real estate will spur explosive metropolitan development.

The environmental impact of autonomous cars has the potential to reverse the trend of global warming and drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Passenger cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans account for 17.6% of greenhouse gas emissions26 – a 90% reduction of vehicles in operation would reduce our overall emissions by 15.9%. As most autonomous cars are likely to be electric, we would virtually eliminate the 134 billion of gasoline used each year in the US alone.27 And while recycling 242 million vehicles will certainly require substantial resources, the surplus of raw materials will decrease the need for mining.

But perhaps most exciting for me are the coming inventions, discoveries, and creation of entire new industries that we cannot yet imagine.

I dream of the transportation cloud: near-instantly available, point-to-point travel. Ambulances that arrive to the scene within seconds. A vehicle-to-grid distributed power system. A merging of city and suburb as commuting becomes fast and painless. Dramatically improved mobility for the disabled. On-demand rental of nearly anything you can imagine. The end of the DMV!

It is exciting to be alive, isn’t it?

Original article.

If you are still with us. Click to view a good TED talk about how driverless cars work.
Added on July 1, 2015

Apr 272015

The good and the bad of all these new flexible ride services.

Image Leap Transit
The new private San Francisco commuter bus Leap Transit. (Leap Transit)

Much like the U.S. political system, American urban mobility has traditionally been dominated by two parties: private cars (or cabs), and public transportation. But lately residents of America’s largest cities have no doubt noticed lots of new options that seem to fall somewhere in between. A recent Strong Towns post fittingly labeled this middle-tier movement “microtransit”—more micro than a fixed-route 40-foot bus or a metro rail system; more transit than, well, non-transit; here’s Lisa Nisenson:

We are on the cusp of widespread microtransit.

Cusp may be too cautious. CityLab readers can surely name a bunch of these flexible new transit services without batting an eye. Commuter buses like Leap Transit or Chariot in San Francisco or Bridj in Boston (and now Washington). Dynamic vanpools like Via in New York. Carpool start-ups like Carma. True cab-share options like UberPool (now claiming millions of trips) or LyftLine (now with fixed-point pick-ups). Company and housing shuttles like the Google bus belong in the mix, too.

What you might not appreciate is just how crowded this microtransit space has become. The start-up platform Angel List’s “public transportation” page, currently with 177 projects, seems to grow daily. Its general “transportation” page lists more than 1,000 ventures, and some services like Uber that insist on being labeled “technology.” Plenty of local entrepreneurs don’t bother with the list at all (like a new Omaha bar shuttle). One company, TransLoc, is even building an entire flex-transit platform to help public agencies to join the fray.

“Now it’s not unusual to open your computer or email and find out about two or three new services that have popped up,” says Susan Shaheen of UC-Berkeley, who’s been studying transport innovations since the 1990s. “I do feel like we’re transitioning to a different type of mobility system.”

Strictly speaking, there’s nothing new about microtransit. Informal ride-sharing networks like New York’s dollar vans have operated for years, while city agencies run paratransit services for people with disabilities (often at a great loss). But better data on mobility patterns and wide smartphone access have made flexible, on-demand transit more possible than ever. Social trends toward city living and away from car-ownership have also fanned the current flame.

“There is a shift toward people wanting to free themselves from responsibilities that aren’t a top priority—like owning a vehicle and maintaining it, especially in the city,” says transport consultant Paul Supawanich of Nelson\Nygaard. “What I think these services are doing is exposing that middle ground to the masses.”

So something is happening here. Much of it seems good for city dwellers: you’ll get new travel options and the chance at a car-free lifestyle far, far quicker than if you waited for officials to build new transit networks or beef up density. But bad outcomes also loom, including the possibility that traditional transit service, traffic congestion, and low-income riders will all suffer. We took a closer look at the good and the bad of a microtransit future, and how cities can hope to contain it.

Initially positioned as a transit competitor, the Bridj commuter service in Boston and D.C. has made partnering with cities a priority. (Via Bridj)

3 Ways Microtransit Might Be Great …

An integrated system. In an ideal world, microtransit providers would become the feeders to public transportation’s core routes. They’d address what experts call the “first-mile, last-mile” problem—that gap at the start and end of every trip that’s difficult for traditional transit operators to serve in a cost-effective way. Coverage to low-density corridors or remote neighborhoods becomes very doable. A car-free lifestyle becomes that much more viable.

Consider this: You wake up and e-hail a microtransit pick-up from your home or apartment. Maybe you pay a lot and get scooped at the front door, maybe you pay a little less and walk a block or two to a fixed stop. The shuttle or van takes you and some others to core public transit routes—a bus or train line that can run with super-frequency now that agencies don’t need to bother with feeder routes. At the end of the line you connect to another flex ride and arrive.

Arthur Guzzetti, vice president of policy for the American Public Transportation Association, sees encouraging signs of such cooperation. Take Bridj. Initially positioned as a transit competitor, it has now made partnering with cities a priority. Guzzetti says Bridj is just one of a “a number” of microtransit services that have joined APTA as a member and come to the discussion table with traditional agencies.

“Mobility will be transformed, but public transit, for sure, has a role here,” he says. “Possibly as the core of the system, with all these pieces connected to it.”

More transit riders. If micro- and public transit do function as an integrated system, the result should be less car traffic on the road and more fares for trains and buses. That revenue should lead to better service, which in turn generates more riders.

Research from Berkeley’s Shaheen has found that people who use shared mobility systems own significantly fewer vehicles than other households; many own none. These numbers center on car-sharing services, which don’t quite fall under the microtransit umbrella, but are related insofar as both types of users may prefer a car-free lifestyle. In one survey of on-demand riders closer to microtransit’s core mission, 40 percent said they’d reduced their driving since using such service.

The mere option of flexible rides can be enough for some commuters to rely on public transit. In New York, Metro North’s “guaranteed ride home” program is based on the idea that people will be more willing to ride commuter rail if they know they can get a taxi home in an emergency. A 2013 survey conducted for San Francisco’s Muni found that a third of respondents agreed, treating taxis as part of “a package alternative to owning a private vehicle.”

“Some people use [shared mobility] to take transit more; some people use it as a form of transit in and of itself,” says Shaheen. If these services “keep people out of single-occupancy vehicles,” she says, “then it is a form of public transit and it’s helping to augment the existing capacity.”


Niche service. Private microtransit outfits can target certain niche populations in a way public agencies with a mandate to serve as much of the public as possible cannot. In cases where traditional buses or trains would have struggled to meet this demand, reaching these subsets creates a de facto expansion of the city’s transit network.

At its best, niche service can span income classes and areas. Unlike some public agencies, microtransit companies can access remote immigrant enclaves, or provide enhanced comfort and convenience to well-to-do workers, or use technology to match like-minded riders from the same college campus. These “affinity” groups, as researchers often call them, reflect a pattern that shows up time and again in transportation research: some people prefer to share a ride with others like themselves.

“From a consumer point of view, all this stuff increases choice,” says Nelson\Nygaard’s Supawanich. “At least this way, the entire strata of potential ways to get from A to B at a price lower than owning and operating your own vehicle is a net benefit for car-ownership.”

… and 3 Ways It Might Not

New transit competition. An integrated transit system with public agencies as a core and microtransit as a feeder might be the urban ideal, but whether profit-minded private companies would submit to such an arrangement is another question. One reason public transit agencies can’t reliably serve feeder routes in the first place is they tend to lose money. Asking microtransit companies to take that role might not harmonize with their business mission.

If an integrated scenario doesn’t pan out, the flipside might be an ugly competitive one—with microtransit providers trying to poach bus and rail riders in key high-density corridors. That outcome would create a two-front fight for transit agencies. On one side they’d be battling for riders against private services with potentially greater resources. On the other, as fare revenue eroded, they’d be battling public officials for more funding to stay afloat.

Perhaps cities would adapt by creating some flexible, middle-tier services of their own (that’s certainly TransLoc’s bet). There’s also a reverse scenario where microtransit takes the core routes and public agencies take the feeders (though that would require even greater public funding). But barring such outcomes, transit quality could suffer—especially for the hard-to-serve (read: less profitable) areas often home to disadvantaged residents.

“I think we should view the rise of the private operators as reaction to the failure of public transit to offer the breadth of services they can—that they should,” says Columbia University planning scholar David King. “I do think there’s real concern that if these continue to grow, you’re going to be taking people off the public transit system.”

More mileage and congestion. Less personal car reliance is one of the great potential benefits of microtransit—with social gains for everyone in terms of public health, productivity, and road safety. But those gains are lost if flexible ride services generate new road mileage themselves.

A not-so-hypothetical: Two people who used to drive alone into work give up their car commutes and now share a microtransit ride into the office. Let’s say each drive was 3 miles. On the commute alone, the shared ride saves some driving: instead of 6 total miles, it’s down to the basic 3 plus maybe a half mile to pick up the other rider. But if that vehicle has to drive all the way back after the trip to get a new fare, or if it wasn’t going to be on the road in the first place, it’s not hard to see the total new mileage exceeding the old one, even with fewer cars on the road.

For what it’s worth, computer models of shared vehicle systems have found just that. In one study of Austin, each car in a shared network was found to replace 11 private cars, but still increased vehicle mileage 10 percent. And that was with optimal, driverless cars—human drivers will be far less efficient.

Public agencies run paratransit service that could be considered microtransit (above, New York’s Access-a-Ride), but often do so at a great loss. (MTA / Flickr)

These unintended outcomes can have a more local impact on traffic, too. Take the private shuttles that carry commuters from apartment buildings on the west side of Midtown Manhattan, where there’s poor subway access, to the trains at Columbus Circle. The traffic produced by these vans or mini-buses is much less than if all the riders drove, of course, but there’s still a frightful amount of new daily congestion at the curb where these shuttles fight for space to drop off passengers.

“I think there’s a role for these private services and microtransit,” says King. “We have to figure out what’s the appropriate role for them. We don’t want to be in a situation where we have these private operators taking advantage of free street usage, then making demands on the streets.”

Exclusivity. Targeting underserved or unrecognized niche populations can be a good thing for both a business and mobility at large. But taken too far in the service of a brand or profit, this specialty practice can drift into the sort of exclusivity that violates public transit’s equity mission.

Take the recent news about San Francisco’s luxe Leap Transit service, which according to SFist exchanged wheelchair accessibility on its buses for “bar seating and leather armchairs.” Whether or not that’s true, it’s easy to imagine the clientele on flex-luxury buses deeming certain types of riders often found on public transit undesirable, and hoping the service avoids them. One west side company shuttle was denied its own curb stop because it refused to pick up other members of the public waiting there.

Morality aside, such exclusivity represents a failure of private microtransit to recognize that city streets and curbs are civic spaces that must be managed in the public interest. These practices could also create problems in the event that cities did partner with microtransit providers in some sort of integrated system, since public agencies have a legal obligation not to discriminate among riders.

“We’d also be adamant as the system evolves that there be accessibility, and that mobility is not auctioned to the highest bidder,” says APTA’s Guzzetti. “Mobility has to be available for all.”

What Cities Can Do

The longer cities wait to address the rise of microtransit, the harder it becomes to implement the type of coordination or regulation key to any strong mobility network. (See: Uber.) Guzzetti expects flexible transit companies to join the conversation and says he would “question” any services that didn’t want to operate as part of a system.

“There has to be some accountability,” he says. “I’m not saying crushing regulation, but there has to be accountability to work as a system.”

Nelson\Nygaard’s Supawanich sees hope for “some public entity that’s the clearinghouse or the coordinator” for local rides—perhaps modeled on an oversight body in Denmark that already exists for such a purpose. Under this system, a central dispatcher of sorts would receive trip requests and assign certain vendors to the job. Maybe there’s enough demand in one location for a private flex bus. Maybe there’s a corridor of riders fit for a private cab-share. Maybe there’s a service disruption that calls for a traditional public 40-foot bus to make a route change.

“I really do think the transit agencies are interested in embracing these new things,” Supawanich says. “If they do consider them a partner versus a competitor, it could increase their options in terms of providing service.”

Protests over the private Google bus using public bus stops led to the city charging the company for curb access. (Chris Martin / Flickr)

That type of strong oversight might not go over as well with private companies in the United States. Another option, says Columbia’s David King, is to charge microtransit companies for the curb space they congest while awaiting new fares or making drop-offs and pick-ups—similar to what San Francisco did with the private Google buses that were using public Muni bus stops. Such fees should serve to price out excess traffic and whittle the microtransit market to the most efficient options.

Yet another option, says King, is for city agencies to arrange strategic partnerships with microtransit providers for service that’s both in the public interest and traditionally tough to supply. A flex company could serve a new apartment complex or office park that’s trying to meet its alternative transport goals. The city gets fewer cars on the road and less congestion, and the company might receive some regulatory leeway, a steady revenue stream, and public favor.

“There’s a real question as to how do we equitably and efficiently integrate them in the system,” says King. “It seems there’s an opportunity for them to still be a private operation but offer some public benefit, rather than being solely a private operator getting private benefits.”

A few such arrangements have started to emerge, such as a recent partnership between Dallas’s DART agency and Uber to provide a drunk-driving alternative on St. Patrick’s Day. But in general, says Shaheen, neither the public nor the private sides seem to be approaching the situation as a pressing issue. To her, that’s a sign that few people have yet to realize just how radical the microtransit movement might become.

“How can there be sense of urgency if people don’t really perceive that what’s happening here is potentially transformational?” she says.

Original article.

Mar 242015

More than $1 trillion, according to a new report.

Image Flickr/lindenbaum

More and more young people are moving to urban centers because they prefer to live in walkable areas with lots of public transportation options. Still, developers are reluctant to build compact housing using this smart growth approach. But perhaps a new economic case against sprawl can convince these developers to think twice.

Sprawl costs America over $1 trillion a year, according to a new report by LSE Cities and the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, because it can increase per capita land consumption up to 80 percent and car use by up to 60 percent. Together these outcomes create social costs that amount to $626 billion a year for people living in sprawling areas and $400 billion for those outside of them, the report estimates.

Economic outcomes from increased land development and automobile use. (LSE Cities/Victoria Transport Policy Institute)

The report argues that sprawl-related land consumption displaces economically-beneficial agricultural lands, and therefore, reduces local agriculture-based business activity. Because people are spread out, governments spend more money to construct longer roads, as well as sewage and power lines, to make sure all residents are covered.

Sprawl also tends to require more driving, and more people in cars means more people spending thousands of dollars on maintenance and gas (first chart below). Obviously, more cars on the road also means more traffic accidents (second chart) and pollution (third):

Internal fixed costs are costs of ownership, internal variable costs are operating costs, and external costs are the costs imposed on other people. Together, they can amount anywhere between $2,000-$4,000 per vehicle annually.  (LSE Cities/Victoria Transport Policy Institute).

That’s not to say sprawl has no benefits. Big single-family home in the suburbs definitely provide more space, more privacy, and less noise and air pollution. These areas tend to have less crime and better schools. Developers know this well, as Alana Samuels recently wrote:

Americans want space, they say, and they want backyards and private patios and big closets and places to park their big cars.

But compact urban development doesn’t necessarily exclude the construction of single-family homes. The report makes clear that single-family homes and spacious townhouses fit within the confines of a city smart growth plan, too. And although these single-family homes can be expensive to buy, the report also argues that “smart growth” offers a variety of affordable housing types overall, and cuts down on infrastructure and transportation costs.

Developers, are you listening?

Original article.

Jan 102015

“Strategic disturbance … is the key to … environmental innovation.”

“We are not anti-techmology … what we like … is technology that allows us to better … bio-mimic the patterns.”

Joel Salatin, Polyface Farms

“For the last 3 years we have been filming a documentary on the renowned Polyface Farm & it’s broad community of 5000 families within a 3 hour ‘Foodshed’ of this unique operation in Swoope, Virginia. This farm is a wonderful example of how to feed people & produce food without the use of harmful chemicals, whilst regenerating landscapes & soils, respecting animals & re-invigorating local communities.”

Future of Food – Joel Salatin – Polyface Farms

Future of Food – Darren Doherty – Permaculture Master

Nov 112014

A Proposal:

Oxnard Blvd as AN URBAN RESIDENTIAL COMPLETE STREETS CORRIDOR from the 101 to Pleasant Valley Road.

The concept is that the Oxnard Boulevard corridor be rezoned (as a ‘form based code’ or in some way codified to – encourage and incentivize – mixed use and housing) for retail at the street level with diverse residential above. 4, 5 and perhaps 6 story residential buildings with higher end homes at the top level and all nature of dwellings below: Singles, one – two – three and even four bedrooms units with appropriately sized attached outdoor spaces and gardens. Providing housing options for multi-generational needs, seniors, small families, empty nesters and more. All mixed to make a rich diversity for housing along the Blvd. “To the extent possible we should aim at “flooding” the market with housing, in order to make it affordable to all, not just to build affordable housing.”

In addition the new Blvd will be a tree lined pedestrian and bicycle friendly model of a walkable community the entire length of the new urban corridor, in other words Oxnard Blvd will become a Complete Street. Transportation planners – listen up – as a society we are moving towards more public transportation and much smaller vehicles and away from wide auto dominated speedways that destroy a livable walkable urban landscape.

The new Blvd will have the look and feel of a more urban space with pocket parks and other civic amenities (public art and more) along the spine. This is not a rigid idea – it’s an idea with lots of flexibility built in. Many variations and permutations within the basic theme of housing and retail concentrated along a walkable urban corridor. Each block along the current corridor is different, suggesting and evoking variations on the general theme of an urban residential street.

It is expected that Ventura County, a very desirable and attractive – if less well known area, will experience a strong demand for housing going into the future. This project location will link the LA area via Santa Monica and Malibu to all points north, starting here in Ventura County, onto Santa Barbara County, with Central California and points north. The mix of housing types will, in part, be aimed at Millennials and other savvy urban seeking young people and tech workers. Creative development options, like those proposed here, reduces the pressure to sprawl with its detrimental effects on cities – and enhances our quality of life.

Oxnard has a historic district that may not want a downtown with all the hustle and bustle to encroach into the area. With this plan Oxnard downtown remains A, B, and C streets. There are a number of historic business and buildings along the corridor. These entities must be respected and integrated into the fabric of this plan.

The Blvd will provide auto, bus, and perhaps other (innovative) access from Pleasant Valley to the 101 via this route. However, the Oxnard downtown area (A, B, and C streets) from 1st or 2nd streets to 8th or 9th streets will have streets designed in such a way as to connect the downtown with the Blvd, and perhaps a walking link from the downtown to the Blvd at 2nd and or 6th street.

Many ideas have been proposed for a vital downtown Oxnard and upgraded Blvd, but I am not aware of anyone suggesting this concept. As I think about it this it’s not so much about downtown as it is about creating an urban residential corridor on the Blvd. A few nodes of “neighborhood centers” along the spine of housing will develop – which I perceive as a good thing, as well as helping our current downtown grow in the future.

All too often parking is the form generator for cities. Clearly this is not a good way to plan for the future. The residential structures I am proposing for the Oxnard Blvd Urban Residential Corridor may have parking at the street level behind retail and perhaps on the second floor with residential above. This second floor parking might (will) be designed so it can be easily converted into residential or office space as we advance further into a world where we use public transportation and bicycles more and cars less. Also with appropriate public transportation, perhaps we plan for one parking space in the residential structure and another in a easily accessible parking structure near by. Or a credit of some kind is given for only one parking space.

Currently Oxnard Blvd has a shabby look with empty lots and the remnants of auto dealers, strip malls, and other old worn out buildings lining a rundown road. The above ideas have the potential to make Oxnard Blvd and the City of Oxnard a leader in transportation planning and housing innovation in Ventura County.

Roy Prince Architect

While most of the ideas and concepts above are my own (of course they are in the public domain and have been used elsewhere), I did get feedback and refinement from other stakeholders in our community, and for this I am grateful.

Why is this important?


This is a new section on a Visionary Oxnard, and what we can, and need to do, to make Oxnard a place we can be proud of.

If we do nothing we will get sprawl, which will bankrupt Oxnard. Jones Ranch and South Shore are examples of projects that will require new and very expensive infrastructure and at the same time divert energy and investment from the Oxnard core.

In future posts we will go into more detail about how to make Oxnard a model and visionary sustainable city.



Must View

“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”

– Fred Kent, Project for Public Spaces


What’s the Big Idea?

  1. The current path cities are pursuing is not financially stable.
  2. The future for most cities will not resemble the recent past.
  3. The main determinant of future prosperity for cities will be local leaders’ ability to transform their communities.
Form Based Codes
“Why form-based codes? Because our current laws tend to separate where we live from where we work, learn, and shop, and insist on big, fast roads to connect them all. Roads that are unfriendly to pedestrians, cyclists, and transit. As a result, North Americans spend more hours in their cars than anyone on earth, and a growing number of communities are working to do something about it.” [ ]

Tactical Urbanism

City Planning

City Planning & Urban Design

These firms and consultants seem to get it right

Economic Development

  • Safer Streets – Stronger Economies
  • Fiscal Implications of Development Patterns
  • A candid talk about the future of America’s cities, towns and neighborhoods
  • Competitive Cities for jobs and growth
    “While the report takes pains to note that there is no silver bullet for urban competitiveness, it identifies some key factors and strategies that bear on itThe most competitive cities focus on higher-skill tradable industries, attracting foreign investment, creating new businesses, and growing their existing, already competitive firms (which usually has the biggest impact on job creation). They also have strong growth coalitions of elected leaders, civic officials, and the private sector. Most importantly, they have a clear strategy to exploit their competitive advantages. In Bucaramanga, Colombia, for instance, the city has used its oil revenues to invest in universities known for their research on the oil industry—in turn generating technical skills and boosting human capital. It’s this kind of creative and independent thinking that allows cities to do a lot with a limited amount of resources.”
You Think You Know About Parking?
Design Review

Human Scale Design

Transportation Engineering
  • Context Based Design and the Fate of the Arterial
    A brief and urban look at the way a street engineer can make our streets walkable. The street engineer that pulls out the code book and tells you, with various official sounding citations, that making streets only for cars is the only thing that can be done – is regressive and does not understand where cities are going. We need street engineers that understand walkability, urbanism and placemaking. The code based street engineer is a dinosaur.
  • Institute of Transportation Engineers
    Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach