Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Locust Street Connection

This is an outrage.
So a legally-mandated bridge crossing that has been in the works for three years and was designed with a lot of community involvement (I should know, I voted on the design myself) is being held up by a bunch of idiots who remained willfully ignorant. They are complaining that it will (a) destroy "mature shade trees" and (b) destroy their belovèd dog park.
I don't call trees planted in 1980 "mature shade trees". And, while the current dog park will be out of action for a little over a year, a decent alternative will be provided. Look at the site plan! And furthermore, after construction, the dog park will reopen bigger and better than ever. It's a win-win for everybody.
So shame on you, Fitler Square dog owners who couldn't be bothered to inform themselves for 156.5 weeks that their park would be temporarily modified for a legally-mandated bridge project. And especially shame on you, Damon Roberts, City Council also-ran, for demonstrating that you are incompetent for the job: it is a Councilman's job to know what public projects are happening in their district, and the fact you are filing suit demonstrates that you did not. You have lost my vote now and forevermore.
I can only hope that whichever judge this asinine case goes in front of laughs it out of court. This is a suit they cannot win. This will only cause a delay--and a delay means a wastage of public funds. Thank you for wasting our tax money, Damon Roberts. You truly do not deserve an elected position of any kind.

Tell the Friends of the Schuylkill River Park to call Damon Roberts out here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Triangle City

In the comments to my post on grids, Charlie over at Old Urbanist suggested that I create a physical representation of my ideal city from scratch.
Protip: Click on it to make it bigger.
Well, here it is. Carved out of the South Jersey backwoods, Triangle City is the hypothetical conversion of a bunch of farms into a small city of about 30,000. It is done via several design techniques:

1. Street hierarchy. ...Wait? Yep, street hierarchy. Yes, that bane of the suburbs makes an appearance here. The reason is that it's not the hierarchy that makes suburban streets so darn wide, it's the prescribed width of the streets. Here, the hierarchy is:
(a) Intercity highways. Complete streets about 75 feet wide. These are the roads which connect Triangle City to other towns and cities.
(b) Through-roads. Complete streets, or bike-sharrowed streets, about 30 feet wide. These are the arteries of the city.
(c) Local streets. Naked streets, 15 to 20 feet wide.These are the streets that actually go past most addresses.
Unlike autocentric suburban hierarchies, however, this one assumes connectivity. The reason why residential streets stay quiet is because they're so narrow hardly anyone'd think to use them. Pedestrian connectivity, however, is quite strong, since these roads normally interconnect between various parcels.

2. Reserved park and civic space. Three major reserved spaces show on the plan. The central one is Center Park (duh), a large reserved centerpiece civic park, of the type most communities this size lack. The funky-shaped one southeast of it is Civic Square, reserved for governmental buildings (think City Hall). Finally, the long linear park along the northern edge is the nature preserve, Forest Park. Within each neighborhood in this city, however, at least one (1) public park about a block in size and one (1) public playground, same size, is required in the development plan.

3. Reserved space for prime properties. Prior to releasing the land for development, the City will also reserve chief parcels (wonky corners, hilltops, etc.) for prime civic buildings--schools and libraries--and a plot, pursuant to a prior location plan, for combined police and fire stations. Three civic health centers would also be placed.

4. Gridlike Grid. As I noted in my previous post on the topic, the best way to design a grid is to modify it. By using laneways and a few other tricks, the otherwise-strong grid of the city is modified enough to create place and interest.

5. Urban Density. The average density would be about that shown in this post, where wealthier neighborhoods would use this model as single-family detached and less wealthy ones twins or four- to six-unit apartments. This is a density similar to suburbia most everywhere else in the world (Europe, Japan, South America), and is an ideal density for a place that exists at the fringe of the Northeastern megalopolis.

6. Connectivity. (Not shown). A light rail line would connect to the nearest transportation hub, Vineland.
Triangle City lot density
These are traditional techniques laid over a substrate of Pennsylvania pragmatism. The primary failure of Victorian grid was the lack of provisioning adequate public green space; this issue is retained even in sprawl. It is an issue some people just don't get. By utilizing an overarching plan for prime structures and amenities, and enforcing provisioning of secondary ones in land-use covenants, this issue would hopefully be curtailed.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Washington Metro, Improved

This is the first post of a three-post series (maybe) on improving transportation in Maryland, D.C., and northern Virginia. In the first post, I concentrate on the D.C. Metro. In the second post, I will talk about commuter rail in Maryland and northern Virginia (MARC and VRE), and the third, improvements to the Baltimore metro.

The D.C. Metro is among the most convenient subway networks in the U.S., being about equally as convenient as, say, Boston's or Chicago's (though nowhere near as convenient as New York's). However, it has two conflicting mandates: at its nether reaches, it acts as a commuter rail line, and in the city, a traditional subway. This would work a lot like New York's Far Rockaway or Jamaica Bay subways...if there were express tunnels. Instead, since the tunnels are all two-track and there doesn't seem to be a way for overtaking to be scheduled in, all trains are effectively local trains. This works well on lines, in theory, where there are connections with MARC or VRE, since it enables local/express passenger transfer--that is, passengers originating on the Metro but wishing to skip intermediate stations and go straight downtown can use the commuter rail going to Union Station from places like Alexandria, Silver Spring, or New Carrollton, or passengers originating at Manassas and going to Bethesda, or Gaithersburg going to Rosslyn. However, since the ticketing networks of MARC, VRE, and the Metro are mutually exclusive, this is made prohibitively difficult for most passengers. Therefore, the first major action needed is to unify the ticketing schemes and operational patterns across the three networks, in a way that mirrors European S-Bahns. This is, of course, organizational improvement.

Even so, there are real concrete improvements that do need to be made. The network offers poor access (service gaps) into parts of the metropolitan area to the north, south, east, and west of downtown--most pronounced all along the Potomac, in east D.C.'s poorer neighborhoods, and directly west of the Pentagon. Additionally, as the core of the system was designed with the 1970s downtown in mind, it offers an increasingly inadequate service. (See Exhibit A.)
Exhibit A. Note how current system, while adequate by American standards, has major gaps in several directions, and downtown service can be improved.
Greater Greater Washington recently ran a series on second-generation improvements to the Metro, and while some of the ideas were pretty good (such as running the Yellow Line out to Union Station via 2nd), others were merely okay (the north-running Blue Line idea and its Silver Line kin: same idea, different lines), while others were just atrocious (the how far outside D.C. would the Brown Line be extended, anyway?
Exhibit B. The new network idea.
Taking the best three ideas--the Yellow Line tunnel out to Union Station, the southerly separate Blue Line tunnel, and a modified version of the Green Line spur to National Harbor, I came up with Exhibit B. This Metro system sports two new lines (Brown and Pink), and, to complement the new tunnels, extensive new interlining. This interlining would, in addition, offer superior Generation II downtown service. A final addition is the construction of an express track along the interlined Silver/Green section between Falls Church East and Rosslyn; this track would allow for faster commutes along what is now the single longest interlined section in the network (see Exhibit C).
Exhibit C. Downtown lines and interlining.
These lines would be as follows:
Red Line would be unchanged.
Orange Line would be unchanged.
Green Line would be unchanged.
Blue Line would run a new downtown tunnel from the Anacostia River, via H Street, to Union Station, where it would curve down to the National Mall, servicing the primary jobs and cultural centers in the city. It would then curve up through Foggy Bottom to Georgetown and return to the current Blue Line at Rosslyn.
Yellow Line would (1) be extended south from Huntingdon to Beacon Mall, (2) run a new tunnel via I and 2nd Sts. to Union Station, and (3) follow a new alignment north along North Capitol Avenue to Rhode Island Avenue and thence 18th St. NE out to Langdon and Howard Divinity School.
Silver Line would be extended along a new route along North Carolina Avenue, Tennessee Avenue, and the Bladensburg Road to Bladensburg and thence across the Anacostia out to Riverdale, where it would terminate in a new transfer stop with the MARC Camden Line.
Purple Line light rail would be unchanged. (It's a Maryland project, anyhow.)
Brown Line would run from Carderock, MD, via Langley, VA, and American University through Georgetown and thence interline along the Yellow and Green Lines into Anacostia, where it would peel off and continue running south to Forest Heights and National Harbor.
Pink Line would run from Walter Rand Medical Center in northern D.C. down through Columbia Heights, where it would interline with the Green Line to L'Enfant Plaza, and then interline with the Yellow Line to Pentagon, where it would follow a westerly route into Virginia via Columbia Pike to Bailey's Crossroads and Annandale.

This network would implement service to the D.C. area's major service gaps and greatly improve downtown circulation (especially around the Mall). Combined with fare and schedule unions with MARC and VRE, making cross-platform connections infinitely easier, this network would offer the D.C. area an impressive Generation II metro/commuter rail network.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Understanding the Grid

I was reading through Recivilization's theory on the three separate sources of American culture earlier, and how these three sources manifested themselves in urban design. As the writer notes, the Pennsylvanian pattern--the grid--came to win out over New England's medieval mores and the South's Baroqueness--but, unfortunately, he offers no in-depth analysis of the Pennsylvania tradition.
A boring grid.
This is unfortunate. While the gird easily became a curmudgeonly speculators' tool, Pennsylvanians have, in fact, managed to make it just as malleable and sophisticated as both the medieval and baroque traditions. This is especially noticeable in Philadelphia, where the grid was developed and later perfected--it is unfortunate that only one variant of this whole system of urban design came to dominate every other American city. Old Urbanists, like Old Urbanist, Recivilization, and Nathan Lewis, have a tendency to look on grids with the same scorn they attribute to the Modernists' looking on Trumbauer and Beaux-Arts urban design,* but like it or not, a grid's what we got, so it's far better working on how to perfect it rather than wax nostalgic about gridlessness. How else are we supposed to actually fix broken cities?

How was this done? Three ways: the use of the grid as a spatial organizer at the neighborhood level, and secondly by the use of main streets to reference and reinforce the grid, linking it between neighborhoods; the third element--perfected in Philadelphia's  urban paradigm but seemingly lost outside of it--is the use of sub-grids, with their own internal spatial organization and reference-and-reinforcement networks, is connected with art of the grid in overarching city design, and seems a necessity to retain the grid's usefulness in terms of spatial organization without impairing it by overextension.
Internal Spatial Organization in Wash West. Note mews.
1. Internal spatial organization. The grid divides blocks, but does not allocate within blocks. These blocks are then subdivided, with new streets run through. In the older Colonial and antebellum days of the city, the pattern was one of conch-shell mews; during the Victorian era, the pattern became the use of one or two through-running minor streets. These streets normally run only one or two blocks, and thus have terminated vistas at both ends, giving them an aura of a public room. Even in the poorest parts of North Philadelphia, the stronger individual blocks are usually (though not without exception) planted along one of these minor streets. The effect is, again, one of mews.
The blue lines reference and reinforce the grid; the red lines break different grid alignments; the brown lines transect the grid without breaking it.
2. Reference and reinforcement. One of the more remarkable things about Philadelphia's grid is how it references and reinforces itself. Unlike the City Commissioners' plan for New York, there does not seem to be a clearly defined plan for Philadelphia. Indeed, neighborhoods such as Northern Liberties and Southwark were not actually in Philadelphia city as late as 1840--and these communities retain a quite strong connection with the city's internal grid.

How did this come to be? Reference and reinforcement. A reference is a main street a grid branches from; as the grid extends further from this street, another main street--a reinforcement--continues it. The part of West Philadelphia dominated by Lancaster Avenue is a perfect example of reference and reinforcement. Since Lancaster is the principal main street in the area, shouldn't it be a local grid reference? No...actually, the grid Lancaster exists in--and cuts across--references Powelton Avenue, and is later reinforced along 42nd St., thence Girard Avenue, and finally 63rd. Similarly, Southwest Philly's primary grid references Springfield Avenue first, and the Woodland Avenue (west of 49th), and is reinforced by Whitby and Elmwood Avenues.

The final element of reference and reinforcement is grid-breaking streets (or foils). These take two forms: either a street will transect an existing grid without getting referenced or reinforcing (such as Frankford, Ridge, Lancaster, or Passyunk), or it will divide different grid sections (such as Haverford, Baltimore, or Kensington). Both are necessary, as they interject variety into the otherwise monotonous grid.

Without reference and reinforcement, a grid will unravel itself. Market Street, once it becomes West Chester Pike, ceases to be referenced; the overarching grid unravels and becomes a series of highly localized mini-grids.
Multiple grids in Philadelphia
3. Multiple grids. Chicago is completely dominated by a singular grid. Many American cities, such as Houston and Minneapolis, have a downtown grid set at a 45-degree bevel to the overarching urban residential grid. There are only one or two grids in most major American cities.

San Francisco is an exception to this rule, and in fact its main street (Market Street), functions as a foil, effecting the 45-degree split between the downtown and circumferential grids right in the middle of downtown. In addition, San Francisco's circumferential grid has some occasional kinks in it--a slight change of orientation following the reference and reinforcement streets, but no new references or reinforcements.

In Philadelphia, however, the situation is different. There is no circumferential grid, and only about half of the city is defined by the primary grid--referencing Market and Front, and reinforced primarily by Broad, 25th, and 30th. This grid looks like a north-south column with a long westerly branch. The rest of the city is defined by a succession of lesser grids: Southwest, referencing Springfield-49th-Woodland, and reinforced by Elmwood and Whitby; the River Wards, referencing Girard at first and then Richmond, and reinforced by Emerald; the Lower Northeast, referencing Cottman and reinforced by Devereux, Pratt, and Castor; and Powelton, referencing Powelton and reinforced by 42nd, Girard, and 63rd.
Manayunk and Roxborough: looks like a grid, but really isn't.
But this only accounts for so much. In fact, the most surprising thing about Northwest Philadelphia is that it's not quite gridded so much as grid-like. Looking from afar, and walking around, many Northwest Philadelphia neighborhoods feels like walking in a grid, but when you look closer, there's no reference-and-reinforcement system in place, and actual alignments shift almost at will. There is no real grid in lower East Falls, for example; only an illusion of one created by density between Calumet and Indian Queen. Similarly, Manayunk and Roxborough streets act like a grid at first but shifts in alignment may or may not be taken account, and neither Main nor Ridge are strong references. Grid-like systems describe the urban setup of many medieval-era European cities, which likewise organically expanded in a similarly grid-like pattern--which, again, indirectly points out the history of the city.

(Edit) I should talk about squares some. Squares are key public amenities that occur in any city building scheme. One of the great failures of the American grid is the failure to provide any. Even here, Victorian Philadelphia fails: the most important public squares, such as Rittenhouse or Franklin or Passyunk or Liberty Lands--and so on--either predate or postdate the Victorian era. Even today, carving out public squares in gentrifying neighborhoods is a strenuous issue. As such, every grid, to succeed, also has to have an internal method of providing public squares. The Billy Penn grid was one-off; Savannah's grid actually works best in this regard.

In sum, however, there are urban design principles in play in grids which do allow them, when those techniques are used properly, to grow organically and create a satisfying sense of place. Secondly, when the techniques are not present but an urban place where it looks like they ought to be is, this place is grid-like and in all likelihood evolved organically in the same way Koln's city center evolved organically out of the Roman grid of Colonia.
* Scientistic urban planning was led, in large part, by Lewis Mumford, who, like Carmello Sitte, idealized medieval urban design. Mumford was clearly influenced by Sitte (do read The Culture of Cities), which makes it kind of odd (and ironic) that other Modernist urban planners--especially those working under the Radiant City frame of reference--who would not so easily dismiss Mumford dismissed Sitte based on no more than some poor translation choices.

Monday, June 20, 2011


I went for a walk today. I'm a hardy pedestrian, I want to see the nice houses in East Falls up along Henry and Midvale, and since I've got a nasty sunburn across my shoulders my girlfriend doesn't want me to go swimming for a couple of days until it clears up, so I figure, why not?
This is the route I took. Extraneous arrows signify direction I was walking.
But I didn't have to go too far for things to start going wrong. Right off the bat, there is no sidewalk along Neill Dr. all the way down to the Falls Bridge. Now, this is an access road for West River MLK Jr. Drive, and it has no less than two major blind curves, and I was forced to cross at the corner of Falls Rd. and again between the Schuylkill Expressway and Norfolk Southern underpasses. The shoulder is in deteriorated condition, and shrubbery sometimes blocked the way, all the while as cars rocket past at 50 mph on a 25-signed road. To say this road is pedestrian-hostile is an understatement.
Typical conditions along Neill Dr.
East Falls is a mighty nice neighborhood, with classic Main Line building stock (where it departs from the Main Line: (1) It's accessed via former Reading lines, rather than Pennsy ones, and (2) it's in the city), but oddly it has some rougher-looking blocks near the foot of the hill, and the river side of the Ridge Avenue business district is grotesquely underbuilt. However, when I endeavored to get back across the river, this time via the City Line bridge, I found myself having to navigate a sidewalk ramp jammed in any old how between a wasp's nest of ramps connecting the auto traffic to even access the bridge--and then, once across the river, found myself having to bushwack thistles and poison sumac just to follow a sidewalk less than ten feet away from a major arterial and U.S. highway!

This. Is. Unacceptable.
Dangerous pedestrian conditions along City Line Ave. Believe it or not, there's a sidewalk under all that brush.
This lack of pedestrian interconnection between Wynnefield Heights and East Falls* effectively isolates the neighborhood from its cross-river neighbors, making it feel culturally more a part of uppermost West Philly (Wynnefield, Belmont Village) and the Lower Main Line (Cynwyd) than Northwest Philly, even though--with the proper densification strategy--it can sop up the demand for living close to Manayunk and East Falls destinations. While the large apartment structures in Wynnefield Heights are holding up well (I should know, I live in one), the smaller, traditionally owner-occupied, airlites in the neighborhood are starting to show signs of neglect. These Wynnefield Heights apartments are also incredibly convenient for St. Joe's students and moderately convenient for Temple students. They should also be incredibly convenient for Philly U. students, as the commute would be, quite literally, down the hill, over the bridge, back up the hill.

But they are not.

To get from City Line and Presidential, Wynnefield Heights' most transit-rich intersection, to Schoolhouse and Henry, Philly U.'s main entrance, requires a two-mile walk with a 200 ft. overall change in vertical elevation (down a hundred feet, and back up), or at least one transfer via bus (65-32, or 1-K and walk down Henry), despite the fact that Wynnefield Heights is equidistant between St. Joe's (54th and City) and Philly U. This, again, disconnects Wynnefield Heights from the northwest neighborhoods, and strengthens their connection with West Philadelphia, which is almost certainly part and parcel of the early signs of neighborhood deterioration visible in the airlites.

1. Mow the brush along the sidewalk along the City Line Bridge. Like, once every two weeks or so. The current conditions are deplorable overall and absolutely unacceptable for a key pedestrian linkage.
2. Extend a multi-use trail up the shoulders of Neill Dr. and Falls Road. Neill, in particular, sees high biking use despite its total lack of facilities, and would see more pedestrian use (the woods are pleasant) were there facilities. Borrowing one of its shoulders would be cheap and effective.
3. Extend the 38 from Wissahickon Transfer up Schoolhouse Ln. at least as far as Philly U., and preferably to either the Queen Lane or Chelten Avenue stops along the Chestnut Hill West line. Yes, the 38 is already a long route, but, well, the 23 is longer. This creates a more direct, one-stop public transit service from Wynnefield Heights to Philly U. and improves East Falls' own transit interconnections.

Longer-term solutions? Well, I think I want to spend a whole post on that, but suffice to say, current planning and service in the area is atrocious compared to what could be done. Why is there, for example, no easy pedestrian connection between Wynnefield Heights and Wissahickon Transfer? Or East Falls and same? For as important a transportation center as it is, Wissahickon Transfer feels kind of out in the middle of nowhere. Also: isn't there a better way of connecting the City Line Bridge to Ridge, Kelly, and Lincoln than that interchange-like knot? These are the questions better answered with a broader East Falls plan.
* And--just ask anyone who's walked it--Manayunk and East Falls.

Idle Thoughts

Idle Thought #1: In Alon Levy's latest post, he argues that international intercity links of all stripes underperform their domestic counterparts. Hence a Seattle-Vancouver link would underperform relative a Seattle-Portland one, even though Vancouver's closer. The argument is convincing.

However, he makes a point he doesn't really take up again, namely that "Eurostar’s mode share is quite normal by the standards of other HSR lines of comparable travel time". Since the market's undersized, the total ridership on the high-speed line will likewise be undersized...but the fact that London-Paris Eurostar commands an equivalent mode share (as measured by percentage of trips taken per mode used) in its market as, say, the Paris-Brussels Thalys does in its market, offers a key into how we want to do ridership projection modeling for intercity high-speed service--namely, we want to create a model which prioritizes mode-share rather than just an absolute count of riders. Knowing the size of the current travel market (in terms of total trips taken), the size of the mode share being aimed for, and the average ridership per trip, we can actually create an extremely simple and effective model for figuring out whether a particular market is profitable for high-speed rail relative to ridership. Secondly, since most rail lines are actually linked corridors, finding the mode share for each significant intercity pair, extrapolating ridership, and then adding it all up into a combined ridership (for example, the mode share of D.C.-N.Y. = mode share of D.C.-N.Y. + D.C.-Philly + D.C.-Baltimore + N.Y.-Philly + N.Y.-Baltimore + Philly-Baltimore) should create a powerful, effective mechanism for ascertaining projected ridership.

For example, let us assume the travel markets between Cities A, B, and C are all 10 million, and the mode shares for City A-City B and City B-City C are 70% rail, 20% air, and 10% road (relatively common for intra-megalopolis travel), while City A-City C is 50% rail, 40% air, and 10% road (think Tokyo-Hiroshima). 70% of 10 million is 7 million, and 50% 5 million. Hence total ridership on the line connecting Cities A and C via City B will be 7m + 7m + 5m = 19m, which, if I remember correctly, should be a rough estimate of the total ridership of the Tokyo-Osaka-Hiroshima shinkansen, or perhaps the TAV between Milan and Naples via Rome.

Idle Thought #2: In today's Sunday Train, Bruce McF mentions that "whenever a Republican passes over the opportunity to propose regulatory reform, it seems worthwhile to look at what regulatory reform might have to offer". This falls squarely into my overarching narrative of how modern Republicans (most lately under the guise of the Tea Party) are using populist-libertarian ideology to shroud and advance corporatist interests, and furthermore that the Tea Party ideology is in fact only made possible due to a now-generation-long collusion between corporate conservatives and televangelists, and that elements of televangelical* culture, such as those which create the whole astroturfed "controversy" between evolutionary theory and creationism intelligent design, demonstrate clear cultural values in anti-intellectualism and dogma acceptance...or, to put it another way, their "real world" is quite different from ours.

Anyway, sidetrack aside, "whenever a Republican passes over the opportunity to propose regulatory reform," considering that true libertarianism is always anti-regulatory in nature, this offers a clue into real motives. While the libertarian argument is that regulation is always bad, due to it detracting from the ability to do business, the progressive counterargument is that regulation, when properly done, is a sort of legal referee making sure the public get what they think they're getting when they get something. After all, we'd rather not buy a burger full of shit or poisoned rat carcasses. So, when an ostensibly anti-regulation politician passes on the chance to tackle regulatory reform head-on--and on regulation that is widely considered, across the political spectrum, to be broken, at that--to score political points in a vainglorious attempt to undermine Amtrak's political coalition, we can be sure something's going on, and the public's best interests are not being properly represented. Even the Department of Transportation's own recent FRA reform was exceedingly tepid, especially for a regulatory framework so baldly, badly broken by international standards. Someone wants the current regime to stay in place--who? A special-interest coalition, I bet, of (a) the freight railroads, (b) AASHTO, and (c) unions (who see "Buy America" as ensuring work)**. The result? A promulgation of the broken status quo.

One thing we can be rest assured of, however, is that the Tea Party and our politicians are making such a mockery out of libertarian thinking it's damaging real libertarianism (of the Market Urbanism kind) and progressivism alike.
* That is, the culture of Billy Graham-style evangelists.
** In direct contravention to the let-it-go-it'll-work style of libertarian thinking. Actually, bringing American rail regulation in line with UIC standards and eliminating Buy America will almost certainly create more jobs than it eliminates--because it allows the tools to start creating more passenger rail in a country where so much of it has been lost, and once enough potential buyers are in place, the domestic industry will follow. The current regulatory environment is very much putting the cart before the horse--no wonder it fails so hard!

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Now I want to talk about the highway system I would like to see in 2050. While the Philadelphia highway network is largely built-out, it is by no means in an optimal state, and in fact, the national trend of ongoing outer-edge investment over core and inner-suburb investment--the trend that held true until 2008 and that Tea Partiers are vainly and idiotically trying to reboot--has guaranteed that projects left unfinished by previous generations remain unfinished--even when they are enormous assets.
While I fundamentally disagree on any need for a true limited-access radial beyond 20 miles of the city center (and most cities throughout the developed world, and where their highway networks are fairly mature, developing, happen to have radials of that distance), and frankly the construction of the 202 bypass between Exton and King of Prussia via Chesterbrook was a major factor in the vampiric job sprawl out there sucking Center City's office market dry*, from a purely transportation planning viewpoint, one which attempts of minimize, if not outright eliminate, biases for or against roads or public transit, there are a few road projects necessary in the long term: increasing capacity on the grossly congested Schuylkill Expressway, via various means; separating the Roosevelt Boulevard's dangerous-to-traverse express lanes from at-grade running (that is, converting the express lanes into a highway), new or improved interchanges at I-95 and I-76, I-95 and I-276, and I-295 and I-276, as well as the N.J. Turnpike and the North-South Freeway, and so on.
The two most important feasible road projects in the region--aside from alleviating the high degree of congestion on the Schuylkill Expressway--are the construction of an expressway link along the Roosevelt Boulevard, to facilitate through-traffic currently using the express lanes, and completion of a partial inner (~10 miles) loop, in large part to facilitate the dismantling of a large section of the Delaware Expressway, which would (hopefully) lead to the obsolescence and removal of the Vine Street Expressway and North-South Freeway north of the Walt Whitman Bridge approach, and perhaps in the longer term, the Schuylkill Expressway between City Line and the Walt Whitman, as well. I-95 would be strategically rerouted via the Walt Whitman Bridge, to the North-South Freeway, to I-295/N.J. Turnpike, where the Turnpike would function as express lanes and the former I-295 local lanes, the Delaware Expressway from Oregon Avenue to Girard Avenue would be dismantled**, and the access spur the rest of the Delaware Expressway would be converted to would be numbered I-695, north to the junction with I-276.
Of course, the elimination of I-295 as a highway designation north of the North-South Freeway creates something of a numbering void for the highways around Trenton. Since, with the completion of the (now-called) I-95/I-276 and I-295/I-276 exits, both of which sorely need to be built, a full loop road will exist around Trenton, this loop road would be called I-995.
Of all these projects, the only one currently being worked on is the I-95/I-276 junction. This project will route I-95 to the N.J. Turnpike via the P.A. Turnpike--but at the same time, it does absolutely nothing to alleviate the issue of I-95's running directly through the center of Philadelphia. As a through road and not an urban spur, until I-95 can be rerouted off that alignment, the otherwise overengineered, overbuilt, and unurban Delaware Expressway will be forced to remain.

In the long term, of course, these projects would be financed via the bonds and tolls system common in the United States prior to the advent of the Interstates. Indeed, a dismantling of the current Interstate funding mechanisms (which ceased to be self-sufficient some time ago) in favor of a partly-public partly-private bonds-tolls system, in which existing highways are leased or sold off to private entities, who would then be in charge of maintenance*** and new starts would be funded by bond issues, paid for by tolls, and then leased/sold off when paid off, is my long-term road policy recommendation.
* While Center City's office market usually shows between 75% and 90% occupancy, in fact the total amount of office space in Center City, over the past twenty years or so, has been subject to a number of downward adjustments, due to condo and apartment conversions of older office buildings (the most spectacular being perhaps the Aria at 15th & Locust and the Residences at Two Liberty Place in an overbuilt section of former Cygna headquarters). By my estimation, there is now only about half as much office space available in Center City as there was in 1990.
** Industrial access to the Richmond Marine Terminal being the main reason why it's not being dismantled further, all the way to the Betsy Ross Bridge.
*** This solution, note, is truly libertarian. For a Tea Partier, proposing this solution for roads would be political suicide. Again--the Tea Party is not libertarian, but rather a form of radical populist conservatism veiled in libertarian-esque language.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lindenwold Line

The final full line utilizing the Loop is the Lindenwold Line.

This line already exists: it is called the PATCO Lindenwold Line (colloquially, just PATCO) and it utilizes the east and south sides of the Loop framework, terminating at 15th-16th (the tunnel ends at 18th, or Rittenhouse Square). Added to the existing system is a new stop between Walter Rand and Ferry Avenue (mislabeled on map, mea culpa) at Kaighns Avenue. Another possibility is the closure of the Ashland station and its relocation closer to the Echelon Mall (it is currently a mile-long walk between the two), although rail transportation tends to be separated from destination uses in South Jersey in the grossest way. Woodcrest is a natural park-and-ride, right off 295 and the New Jersey Turnpike*.

The lack of fare parity between this line and the SEPTA network is one of the major barriers to its incorporation into the Loop. Two possibilities exist for the amelioration of this: either the PATCO fare is amortized with SEPTA's such that free transfers are in fact possible where the two lines interconnect, or SEPTA leases PATCO such that the separate PATCO fare is eliminated. Either way, the fare separation ensures an additional barrier for New Jersey patrons wishing to access Philadelphia, thereby undermining the goal of access; furthermore, the Lindenwold Line is the connecting through-route linking lines terminating in Camden (such as the River Line and proposed Glassboro Line) with ultimate destinations in Center City. Making these connections as easy as possible plays its part in inducing transit ridership--one of the major goals of the program.

Finally, some of you may notice that the Lindenwold Line and 25th Street Line terminate in the Loop, coming from opposite directions. There is the possibility of them interlinking, such that trains originating in Lindenwold terminate at Sports Complex South, but the major reason I declined to show this is because if these lines were joined it becomes exceptionally difficult to properly balance service within the Loop, since if the joined line uses one section of the spine, it disproportionately adds service to just that section, and if it is broken up so that each direction uses a different section of the spine, it disproportionately services one direction at all stops over the other direction. The only ways out of this operational asymmetry in Center City are to either: (a) terminate the two services in the Loop, running opposite directions, or (b) introduce an extra service to terminate in the Loop, running the direction opposite (clockwise), assuming 25th-Lindenwold service is split such that each direction runs different branches of the Loop. This could work, but only if the Roosevelt Boulevard Line (see section here) is interconnected into the Loop...the current general idea, however, is that it terminates on the Broad Street Line at Washington Avenue and peak-hour Fern Rock express service enters the Loop. The connection is there via the Ridge Avenue Spur, which would be transformed into a maintenance track with the creation of the Pennsport-Andorra Line, but could just as easily be reactivated for a new service.
* One of these two duplicate roads really needs to be closed. Seriously.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In the Pipeline

I've had some ideas for blog posts for a while, but haven't been executing for the past couple of days. However, hopefully (maybe) look for these in the coming days:

(1) A post on the hierarchy of parks, from the neighborhood square to the main city greenspace;
(2) A post on Roman-style house construction viz. setback construction;
(3) Finishing my series on the Loop Network (Philadelphia2050);
(4) Concerns with the new zoning code and the comprehensive Philadelphia2035 city plan;
(5) Taking a look at transportation centers in Philadelphia and how they can be improved; and
(6) Whatever else is on my mind.

What will happen? We shall see!

Monday, June 13, 2011

25th Street Elevated Line

Our penultimate addition to the Loop Network segment of Philadelphia2050 is the 25th Street Elevated Line, a subway which follows the Pennsylvania's Delaware Extension from the Sports Stadium District to Washington Avenue, and then an underground right-of-way to Rittenhouse Square, where it meets with the existing Loop. This underground right-of-way follows Grays Ferry to South to 19th, about two miles.

This line fills a real need in South Philadelphia. Currently, transportation access in western South Philadelphia (west of 20th Street) is relatively limited and serviced mainly by the 2, 7, and 17 north-south buses, as well as the various east-west feeder buses (7 and G on Oregon, for example). However, South Philadelphia hosts the city's most-densely populated neighborhoods (by tract) and the neighborhoods themselves are very much inherently transit-oriented, when not unbuilt with suburban-style small-box Rite Aids and other such dross. South Philadelphia is, indeed, considered a North American example of European-style urbanity, and neighborhoods such as East Passyunk and Southwest Center City are booming, while Point Breeze is gentrifying.
Existing elevated line. Formerly electrified.
Furthermore, this line is less expensive to construct, and can tap into more funding sources, than initially meets the eye. 25th Street makes sense because of an already-existing elevated line, currently used by Norfolk Southern and CSX to access Greenwich Yard and the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal; since nearly all of the subway line, other than the Rittenhouse-Washington Avenue segment, uses this easement (barrier-separated), or else otherwise existing or proposed Loop tracks, this line can be built via a public-private partnership with Norfolk Southern (the owning entity): as the existing trestle is quite literally crumbling, the partnership would involve a renovation of the trestle, benefiting all parties, along with the setting aside of about half its right-of-way for this use. Modern, ultra-efficient signaling will help enable this, as well as the single-track Arsenal Bridge creating a pre-existing bottleneck making the trestle just too plain wide for purely freight use. In exchange, direct structural ownership would transfer to the passenger rail operator for future maintenance.

The running of mass transit and freight trains side-by-side is feasible: it is commonly done in Chicago. 25th Street offers the best access of any alignment in South Philly--directly servicing SWCC, Point Breeze, Grays Ferry, Girard Estates, and Packer Park--and the formerly industrial badlands surrounding the trestle offer abundant opportunities for upzoning in the city's fastest-improving section. Finally, since one of the propositions of Philadelphia2050 is that the city is both large and dense enough to support heavy rail mass transit within the most-urban core, this heavy-rail running is accomplished via the least expensive means available, and that is the repurposing of existing infrastructure.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Cemetery Heights Pt. II

Some time ago, I wrote about my proposed extension of the Cynwyd Line, perpetually SEPTA's lowest-performing, to a park-and-ride by the Schuylkill Expressway, quite a long bridge across the Schuylkill River from Manayunk and just outside of where the Expressway enters Philadelphia proper. My proposed park-and-ride terminus got some flack, and I defended my justification of one there based on a need to balance maximized access with local station-side upzoning (both increase ridership, and upzoning does it in a more natural way, but park-and-rides offer maximized access only where auto infrastructure, i.e. freeways, and rail infrastructure intersect). Based on in-system ridership from similar types of stations, I made the case this proposal would triple Cynwyd Line ridership while at the same time increasing Center City access.

Now I want to revisit Cemetery Heights*. Not because I am rethinking any of my earlier points, but rather because I am interested in how to further increase ridership. The Cynwyd Line, as it exists today, is extremely similar to the MBTA's lowest-performing line, the Fairmount. Both lines are substantially shorter than any other on the system, at about 10 miles each, and each has only five stations (Cynwyd has Suburban, 30th, Wynnefield Ave., Bala, and Cynwyd, while Fairmount has South, Uphams Corner, Morton St., Fairmount, and Readville). Even so, the Fairmount Line has a ridership three times that of the Cynwyd Line, and the MBTA is planning and building several new stations along the Fairmount Line: Newmarket, Four Corners/Geneva, Talbot Avenue, and Blue Hill Avenue. By just about doubling stations while maintaining the same line length, the MBTA is also doing something else: it is treating the Fairmount Line more like a metro. Granted, a metro using commuter-rail equipment, but a metro nonetheless.

The question I want to ask is can't we do this with Cemetery Heights, too? If we (a) add three new stations between 30th St. and Wynnefield Ave. (Zoo, Parkside, and 52nd St.) along with the two (Belmont and Cemetery Heights) proposed in the Cemetery Heights extension, and (b) extend service along the SEPTA main north to North Broad** with new local stops at Spring Garden and Girard***, given the high capacities the Center City tunnel currently allows, such a quasi-metro can be born. With reasonably frequent service (roughly every 20 minutes is the least frequent, I would suggest), and considerable upzoning and densification around the stations--something Philadelphia2035 is generally promoting anyway--we can come up with a ridership projection which assumes (a) parity between Cemetery Heights and Cornwells Heights (SEPTA's other major park-and-ride station) and (b) ridership increases at other non-core stations based on upzoning. We will peg average daily ridership at Belmont, Cynwyd, Bala, Wynnefield Ave., 52nd St., Parkside, 34th St., Spring Garden, Girard, and North Broad at 300, and treat, for the purposes of this analysis, 30th, Suburban, Market East, and Temple University stations as destinations for those alighting at other stations. We will assume 90% of riders are round-trip riders, and since this analysis is biased toward this, we will add a 10% contingency (assumption of one-way riders).

Thus 300 x 10 (average ridership per station times station count) = 3,000 + 1,100 (Cornwells Heights boardings = Cemetery Heights boardings) = 4,100 + 410 (one-way ridership) = a projected ridership on this line in this scenario of 4,510. This projection is likely an underestimation, due to, among other things, the tendency of such models to underestimate urban transit mode share, but it also demonstrates parity with the ridership of other urban Regional Rail lines (~5,000)...for once.

Of course, the trick is considering Cynwyd (Cemetery Heights) more a Subway 2.0 than commuter rail.
* A justification can be made on naming the terminus Pencoyd Heights, after the name of the viaduct extending across the Schuylkill (Pencoyd), which formerly carried the Pennsylvania Railroad's Schuylkill Branch. This viaduct was taken out of service in 1986 due to structural concerns, and, since the rail line beyond parallels that of the active Norristown Line, there is currently very little reason to extend passenger service any further than the Schuylkill Expressway connection.
** This takes advantage of a track stub and the former coach yard at North Broad.
*** Or to Wayne Jct., or Fern Rock, or even Fox Chase or Chestnut Hill East...coupled into a through service as need be.

Garages and Backyards

Expanding on a comment I made on this Old Urbanist post, I have provided a site design for four blocks offering a reasonable house for the money, a spacious backyard, and a small carport with storage area at the rear.
It's how they did it in the 1920s and earlier...with a few tweaks. The houses are 45x45' American Foursquares with five-foot-deep front porches (making them deeper makes them shadier at the expense of backyard space) set on a 50x100' lot. They have been placed asymmetrically, in order to provide side access on one side. A tiny amount of green space on the other side of the lot detaches the structures, since detached structures still have a price premium.

The alleyway is 10 feet wide, and the streets 30. This 30 feet is here translated into two 8' auto lanes (either both for travel or one for travel and one for parking) and two 7' sidewalks. You can go up to 50' in this design and use three 10' auto lanes (travel and parking) and two 10' sidewalks, or you could go narrower still and utilize naked streets.

This site design is easily adaptable, too. By switching out what we think of as proper "streets" with Radburn-style greenways, with the frontage side facing a 9' footpath with 7' access sidewalks, the rest of the former street space is converted into some small front (or side) yards. Thus, depending on frontage type and street width, this type of neighborhood can be optimized for (a) New Urbanism in a lower-density transect, (b) Landscape Urbanism (the Garden City), (c) streetcar suburbia, or even (d) autocentric suburbia. And since it's a '20s-type product, the results are already a pleasant known.
Notice how small the amount of auto facilities is needed for adequate service--just 250 square feet of alleyway and 400 square feet of carport.
But narrow streets are a key feature of the design. A 50-foot street width is barely tenable for a neighborhood street, and if the primary artery has a parking lane on each side, 60 feet would be the maximum allowable. Notice, too, how the way the houses are sited divides the site into a hierarchy of rooms: the street "room", the indoors "room", and the backyard "room". If the houses were sited any further back, the backyard would cease to be spacious and thus an amenity.

Finally, some population statistics. Each block (500x210') has 20 single-family detached houses. With the average family size of 4.3 (2 adults and 2.3 kids), this means the average block population is 46; since each block is (roughly) two acres, this gives a per-acre population of 32, which thence gives a per-mile population of 20,480 with 4,050 square feet a house* much of the U.S., an urban population with a large house size, and a population density more than enough to support transit.

How was this done? By narrowing streets and removing ornamental lawns. In a Radburn-like situation, where streets are only needed for vehicular access, even the ornamental lawns are restored while the mean density remains extremely urban.

So bad zoning and bad subdivision regulation is the problem. To put it bluntly: setbacks destroy backyards just as overly wide streets and overly restrictive single-use zoning** destroys place.
* 45 x 45 = 2,025 x 2 = 4,050. This includes neither basement nor attic. Foursquare assumes four 20 x 20 rooms per floor, linked together by 5-foot-wide hallways and closet areas. Eight 20 x 20 rooms is quite spacious for most families.

Secondly, consider if this setup were twins instead. Per-family living area decreases to 2,025 sf plus half a cellar and half an attic (gross 2,025 sf), but the per-block, per-acre, and hence per-mile population densities would all double, now to 40,960 per square mile. Storage shed space would need to double, thus reducing one twin's backyard space, but this would be by a mere 100 sf.
** Notice not Euclidean zoning. A lot of people confuse the two, but when done correctly, Euclidean zoning is extremely flexible and can even include some form-based elements. It can, in other words, be inclusive. By contrast, ORSUZ is inherently exclusive, and when combined with a subdivision code which mandates hierarchical street patterns and excessive street width, functions like place-destroying dynamite. It is a pity traffic engineers know so little about cities since they have unwittingly designed or redesigned so many of them over the past half-century.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Basics: Landscape Urbanism?

New Urbanism's grand don, Andrés Duany, and Landscape Urbanism's nascent patriarch, Charles Waldheim, debated at CNU 19  this past week. While readers of this blog will note that I tend to fall somewhere between New Urbanism and another nascent challenger (Old Urbanism), I have said in the past that Landscape Urbanism is most ideally suited to park design, and landscape design techniques have become substantially more sophisticated* since Landscape Urbanism's spiritual forefather Olmsted's day.

But what about habitable space? Landscape Urbanism would, I think, hold Radburn, NJ, up as the exemplar, the community to be emulated.
Radburn, NJ. Credit: The Urbanerds
Radburn is actually not Landscape Urbanist at all but was rather built under the theory and ideals of the Garden City. The Garden City ideal actually comes from the late Victorian period, and stressed escape from the dingy, filthy, dark, polluted cities of the Industrial Age. Garden Cities were, above all else, self-sufficient, and was the first major example of urban planning executed on sociological principles rather than the aesthetic ones which had defined Baroque and City Beautiful planning. Radburn, as a Garden City, was designed and executed such that the primary entrances opened into a series of pedestrian malls or pseudo-parks, while services (of the automotive kind) were located at the back of the houses--along the street. Since the yard space, become amentized, was later privatized, Radburn is a unique historical look at how the postwar suburb developed...every suburb, somewhere in its heart, wants to look like Radburn, but without the uniquely strong and careful planning that went into it, no suburb can ever be Radburn**.

Just the same with Landscape Urbanism. Waldheim denies that he's defending the suburbs, but if one looks at their loftiest living-space ideals, and the history of those ideals, there can be no doubt that a Landscape Urbanist mentality will lead us right back into traditional suburbia. Waldheim may be a new Ebenezer Howard, and James Corner Frederick Law Olmsted, but it was the catch-22 Mumford noted: without careful planning, landscape planning devolves into something else, something much worse.

This isn't to say that Radburn is a bad sort of place--but with the resources needed to get Radburn right, a certain rarity value is needed--and with that rarity value, expense. The lowest common denominator of the Levittowns and their progeny is unsustainable. A handful of Radburns can be--but that's the key--a handful. There are not enough resources available in this country, or even on this earth, to sustainably house the United States' population in a way befitting Landscape Urbanism's Radburn ambitions; to do it quickly would involve a coarsening of design that would be indistinguishable from Levittown and benefit no one.
* Pretty as Central Park, Prospect Park, the Emerald Necklace, and other assorted Olmsted parks are, they are extremely unsophisticated in light of today's landscape design techniques. They discount the natural "lay of the land" in their settings and are instead highly engineered green sculptures. Indeed, the weaving of ecology in has been one of landscape design's most stunning successes over the past century.
** Also, Radburn is a rail-oriented design. The town focus is the train station, and the main retail strip is centered on it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tea Party Urban Planning Pt II

 Planetizen got wind of the California Tea Party group actively "engaged" in land-use planning. A few posts ago, I criticized the group's approach, and used this criticism to demonstrate my critique that the Tea Party is really just a bunch of hypocrites using a warped version of libertarianism as cover for retention of a faltering status quo.

The Tea Party isn't really libertarian in nature. The California group demonstrates this to a T: their primary focus is in preserving the "entitlements" they've grown used to...a large house with a large lawn and a car for each parent, each of their 2.3 children, and possibly their pet(s) too. There's nothing wrong* with this as a lifestyle choice, but to the Tea Partiers, it has been warped into a God-given right that every red-white-and-blue-bleeding American needs to have. What if otherwise reasonable people, like you or I, don't want it? Well, tough balls.

But you see, there's the rub. That's not choice. And without choice, you can't have freedom. "Freedom Is Slavery" is really a right and proper motto for these Tea Partiers, for a "freedom" without choice is a false freedom--a slavery. And that segues into the ultimate irony: this position is the antithesis of the libertarian ideology. That's right: the Tea Party is to libertarianism as al-Qaeda is to Sunni Islam, or televangelism to mainstream Christianity. It's a warped, perverted, obnoxious fringe view so secure in the dogmatization of its entitlements that it can't see there's another way of doing things, and one that may well be better in the long run.

By contrast, libertarianism really is about choice. If these Tea Partiers really were at all libertarian, no matter what their opinions on the planning effort may be, there's one thing they should unconditionally support: road privatization. But they don't, and they won't, because doing so exposes many of the hidden costs of suburban living currently just subsidized away. They don't want a balanced playing field, or real choice, or freedom: they just want to put blinders on and have things stay the way they are.

But the world is changing around them, and that ain't gonna happen.
* Well, other than the insane social, sociological, psychological, cultural, and ecological costs, of course.

Say My Name

 Any publicity is good publicity, they say. CCME got face time in the Daily News today. Check it out:
Temple student Stephen Stofka, who started the Facebook group Concerned Citizens for Market East, said that there's almost no signage on Market East now, at least none that you can see from Independence Mall.
"There's an invisible wall here," he said at 6th and Market. "Why would anyone walk up there? It looks boring."
Stofka walked around Market East and The Gallery for an hour one recent day with the Daily News, unable to hide his concern.
"It's not rocket science to know that this parking lot shouldn't be here - it's taking up valuable land," he said, pointing to a street-level lot at 8th and Market, also known as "The Disney Hole." (Disney's plans for an indoor amusement park at the site failed.)
The Goldenberg Group owns two acres on Market between 8th and 9th. Senior partner Robert W. Freedman said in a statement that the company is "continually analyzing retail, hotel, entertainment and office uses to sculpt a dynamic mixed-use project that will add vitality to Market Street East."
Ain't that nice?

Market East

I spent most of the day today (technically yesterday) at the Council meeting discussing the large signage bill on Market East.

I am in support of this bill because (a) legalizing any and all funding sources should provide stronger development financing and leveraging, (b) the outside of the Gallery looks like crap, and (c) it's in keeping with Market East's historic character.

Which is why I find the "historic" argument by the opposition so ironic and hilarious. Each opposition group repeats the same claim: Market East is a historic district. It is not. It is a smattering of historic buildings (Lits, Strawbridge's, Wanamakers, Reading Terminal, PSFS, etc.) in a fabric largely rebuilt between 1950 and 1980. The (lack of) density of the historic buildings doesn't merit historic district consideration. And furthermore, since so many of these buildings were built with retail in mind, they sported large signs from the very beginning. Robbing them of their signs robs them of their real historic nature and creates a false history, one in keeping with a mentality that the only things in Philadelphia worth keeping were built before 1800.

Market East's history is one of a retail and commercial heart of a city. It is like Boston's Downtown Crossing, New York's Herald Square, Toronto's Dundas Square, San Francisco's Union Square, Chicago's Historic Loop, Minneapolis' Nicollet Mall, London's Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street, and hundreds of other examples globally. Such centers have always been populated as signs as big and fancy as then-current technology allowed. To say otherwise countermands their history.

It is thus unsurprising that the most satisfying intersections on Market East are at 12th and 13th (especially when 1234 had that Dunkin' Donuts billboard in). This is because they are activated, and part of their activation is their signage. The Hard Rock guitar, an incised Marriot sign, the signs for Sole Food and Loews Hotel, the Convention Center, Macy's' display windows...all of this results in the skeleton of some reasonably lively corners. By Market East standards, they're positively tripping.

We must not distract from pedestrian amenities (or their lack thereof). But most the historic assets of Market East have been redeveloped, and further redevelopment needs to happen now on the multitude of underutilized properties (650 Market, the Disney Hole, 910-50 Market, 1000 and 1100 blocks of Market, 1301 Market...) that surround and besiege the historic properties. And to do that as many funding sources as possible must be tapped. Philadelphia's sign ordinance is, when enforced, among the most restrictive in the country. Maybe it's time to concede that, in Market East's case, it's too restrictive, and needs to be relaxed.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Complete Streets and Naked Streets

A naked street in Britain
 Two major new approaches to street designing are being tested in Europe and the Americas: complete streets and naked streets. These approaches emphasize completely different aspects of the street: by separating every conceivable use into its own carriageway, complete streets emphasize the transportation use of the road, while by designing the whole road at a pedestrian scale, naked streets emphasize its public-room aspect. Local street space, whether a grid byway or suburban cul-de-sac, is an ad hoc shared space, if not de facto, which is why I prefer the earlier term "naked street"--a street space designed to be shared by motorists and pedestrians.
A complete "road" in Minnesota. Courtesy Strong Towns.
Because of complete streets' transportation aspects, they can range in width all the way from fifty feet (Philadelphia's historic street width) on up; it is difficult to downscale them any further. Complete streets usually have, at the very least, two ten-foot sidewalks and a bike lane in addition to traffic lanes; worse, the traffic engineers have a predilection to design the traffic lanes first, creating "complete" roads--still designed for cars first and foremost, with non-motorist design features added at the end of the process to placate NIMBYs and such. Essentially, the added carriageways (two sidewalks and bikeway) become expensive and nigh-useless ornamentation.
Spruce-Pine complete street design. Note that the total width must be 50 ft., and everything else flows from that.
However, complete streets on a small scale, such as Center City's Spruce-Pine bike lanes, with two 10 ft. sidewalks, a 10 ft. traffic lane, 10 ft. parking lane, and 10 ft. separated bike lane, can make sense in the broader urban context, as a way of deploying velocentric arterials into the street grid. Larger complete streets at boulevard scale, such as the Wynnefield Heights plan's proposal to widen City Line Avenue, in order to incorporate a dedicated 30 ft. transit right-of-way, four 12 ft. traffic lanes (six southeast of Monument), and two 11 ft. sidewalks, for a grand total width of 100 ft, similarly, only work in an arterial context with abundant crossing possibilities and superlative transit access. The fact that complete streets only work on arterials makes it temptingly easy, especially when the arterial is a highway arterial, to overengineer it into a complete "road" instead. For engineers, who seem to be trained to put as much concrete into something as the budget will bear rather than optimizing the mix of uses, this temptation is overbearingly powerful.

Naked streets are primarily European, and emphasize narrow streets lined with pedestrian uses and amenities, no signage whatsoever, no barrier between pedestrian and motorist whatsoever, and very subtle (texture changes are popular) differentiation between vehicular and non-vehicular "zones" on the street. Since scale and detailing prioritizes the pedestrian, a naked street is in essence a pedestrian zone the motorist "borrows" for the duration of his trip. Since this is not the motorist's element, the perception of a lack of safety, on his part, is greater, and thus (ironically enough) the street is safer*. They are clearly rooted in traditional urban paradigms, and are thus of great interest to Old Urbanism, as a nascent movement of sorts. Unlike complete streets, narrow streets can fit in far narrower rights-of-way--even as narrow as the 12 ft. Nathan Lewis likes, or, in the American landscape, probably more commonly the standard width of the city's streets, as determined by prewar building tradition (50 feet in Philadelphia, for example).

Since complete streets' and naked streets' optimal widths are so different, with only the teensiest overlap at 50 ft., a scalar system immediately suggests itself...a scalar system which looks, remarkably enough, quite like Philadelphia's grid, with 75 ft. complete-street arterials, 20 ft. naked-streets, and finally sub-20 ft. mews running through the blocks defined by the naked streets (Philadelphia's grid is historically 50 ft., with the exceptions of Market and Broad, at 100 ft., all of which was considered generously wide in 1700). The end result is a street paradigm which promotes a built form extremely close to the older parts of Philadelphia and Boston, such as can be seen below.

North End, Boston, top, and Washington Square West, Philadelphia, bottom. Both are taken at 500 ft. scale on Google Maps. Both neighborhoods are excellent surviving examples of traditional urbanism in American cities--indeed, this is what makes the North End such a tourist attraction!
* Which says a lot about human nature, really.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Wayne Junction Work

 See this Newsworks article.

It is a fairly status-quo SEPTA project, converting low-level platforms to high-level ones, but the total project includes a restoration of the historic headhouse (the white building in the center of the picture). Of note is the idea to raise the floor level within the headhouse to bring it to the new platform level.

Wayne Jct. is a key Regional Rail hub, and given local developmental opportunities (see this link [PDF]), this is a project that needs to be done yesterday. Densification and upzoning around train stations--except where deliberately designed otherwise--needs to be a key goal of 21st-century public transit.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Psychological Ramifications of the Radiant City

This essay grew out of my brief page description on the subject. Honestly, I had no idea the psychology would run so deep...I just kept following the causal chain. --S.M.S.

Okay. Space can be assigned in a passive or active manner. Structures, such as houses, apartments, offices, retail, and so forth, are active insofar as they respond to their context; the space between, whether it is used as streets, sidewalks, parks, gardens, courts, quads, or whatever, is, by contrast, passive. Passive space isn't built for a particular activity, and as a result, all sorts of activity may happen in it. Enclosure is the way surrounding active space responds to the passive space so as to certain kinds of activity in the passive space and not others--that is, it activates it. When this activization process fails, passive space goes unused.

But to activate a passive space, there must be a critical mass of activity surrounding it. Even large parks are activated in such a manner: witness Central Park, Fairmount Park, Hyde Park, or Balboa Park. Enclosure is thus an act of definition above all else: if the opposite process is attempted, the interspersion of active uses in parkland, there is not enough of a concentration of active uses to effectively define and enclose a space: it cannot be activated, and hence becomes a barrier, both physically and mentally. Worse, if this parkland ethos is implemented via public controls on private property (zoning), this is an effective privatization of what should be amenity space (parkland)...and when enforced on human habitat (where we put our houses) via these means, where we raise our kids, the barrier aspects of undefined, unenclosed, inactive parkland can inculcate themselves deep into our young, and express itself in a surprising, fractal, chaotic manner. Unchecked, it can even define culture.

The idea of this pseudo-rural landscape, of houses dotting sweeping parkland, can be powerful, aesthetically enthralling, and sinfully seductive--but it conceals a dark underside--barrier mentality yields a more domesticated culture, a culture that can actually be controlled from the top down. Rulers have ruled populations from the top down, yes, but no culture has ever been centralized in such a manner. Only recently has technology even emerged that makes it possible--the technology we call "zoning", the privatization of public space, which causes the proliferation of the barrier mentality, further enforced by the norms we vaguely call "autocentrism" but could just as equally call the fortress mentality--the cloistering away of nearly every active use behind blank walls and vast parking lots, eliminating any possibility of activation of the passive in-between space, furthering the perception of "danger" of any space not so protected, which morphs into a fear of the city, due not so much to its intermingling of uses but rather because properly "urban" buildings have no need of protective fortressing, since they reinforce one another and activate in-between spaces synergistically. Eventually the slum belt around the urban core is treated, psychologically, as barrier space (the same type of space as the flowing parkland enforced by suburban setback requirements), and, without proper fortressing of the core, the indefensible space is abandoned.

The fortress mentality is an essentially militaristic way of looking at the world: the car becomes the tank conveying us from sanctum to sanctum through wilderness, and those who do not, whether through inability or choice, use it become something other, and hence inferior. Autocentrism is thus an outgrowth, and symptomatic, of this larger problem.

Corbusier, when he codified this barrier vision, the ironically-named Radiant City, foresaw the inevitable rise of autocentrism his vision would entail, and of suburbanization, but it is extremely doubtful he understood the full psychological ramifications of his vision, and how treacherous it ultimately is. The barrier and fortress mentalities I just described--they destroy freedom. They destroy freedom by the destruction of choice through the illusion of choice, but much more insidiously, they destroy freedom by control over marketplaces of ideas. They create and abet a narrow range of narratives (ideologies) of the world, and, over the long term, dogmatize them by making even the conception of narratives outside of these narrow ranges exceedingly difficult--a feat worthy of Newspeak. It's unlikely anyone could have ever foresaw these consequences, and frankly these are viewpoints only noticeable after several generations' worth of data, with a means of communication and understanding which transcends the limitations of lived world of the barrier and fortress mentalities (and which, in another feat of irony, emerged from them), and with serious grounding in deep Western thought, such as Nietzsche and Wittgenstein (it has to be Western because this argument employs causal chains, empiricality, and falsifiability, all of which are a priori to the conduct of Western science, i.e. the intellectual tradition of Galileo, Kepler, and Newton).

It is perhaps a direct result of the rise of the Internet that the psychological problems with a world built on the sweeping-landscape vision became evident to the degree they have, to the point where the rejection of this world has become a generational moment. (The end of the Cold War probably has something to do with it, too.)  But with entire successive generations of Americans raised under this worldview, its effects will continue to echo in our culture generations from now. And it is our responsibility, as the meta-architects of our generation, to start the process of healing our built form, of fixing our shared psychology at its source.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Map Porn!

Check this out! This map shows what's in a x-minute transit (walking?) radius of anywhere you plunk the point down. I've set it to 15-minute radiuses of City Hall, top, and Wissahickon Transfer, bottom.
Warning: messing with the time slide makes changing zooming nigh-impossible and may cause tab to crash.

TransitView Goes Live

TransitView screenshot, 5:45 PM, 2 June 2011
Check this out. It's the 10 trolley on SEPTA's new TransitView technology. Just gone live a few days ago, it allows anyone to track any bus, trolley, or trackless trolley real-time with GPS data. This is something even the MTA is still piloting.

SEPTA, I have to give you props. You may still not have real-time subway information at your stations (seriously, how hard is it?) but between the real-time information available at (many) Regional Rail stations and on the web, and this TransitView technology, planning a mass-transit trip in Philadelphia, and compensating for late buses, is now easier than ever. In fact, it might now be easier here to coordinate across modes than anywhere else in the U.S.

Notice, by the way, that the URL is Switch out ### with whatever route you want information on (10, 17, 65, 99, whatever*) and you can easily toggle between routes on TransitView just using your browser's URL bar.

Let's pop in on this link too, soon. It's not quite live yet, but when it is, it'll rock. Tip to Temple students: remember stop IDs 1277, 16111, and 5328. These are the stop IDs for Center City-bound routes from Main Campus: 1277 is Cecil B. Moore station, 16111 is 12th and Berks (23), and 5328 is Broad and Berks (C).
* Caveat: I'm not getting it to work with lettered routes (C, G, L, H, XH) right now.