One of the major problems that could be looming on the horizon is our oil supply. There is many that say we have nothing to fear but when it comes down to it, people have to start realizing that the supply of oil is not infinite. Of course some say that we have already have hit peak oil and production is only going down from here, there is talk that by 2030 Saudi Arabia
may have to import oil to supply their needs. What we do know is that the demand from countries such as China and India are fulling demand and China is using its economic might to control as many resources as possible and the question is, how long will the United States have the economic might to keep up.
That is not to say that there is not oil out there, however our lust for cheap oil was dependent on getting the low hanging fruit to keep the cheap oil going (plus many wars and government interference going back to the turn of the 20th century). However, the low hanging fruit is basically gone so any new oil is going to cost substantially more to develop and of course many will turn a blind eye to the environment damage that will have to be done to develop that oil.
Another way to distract people lately is the thought of autonomous electric cars. I have heard many comments that in 20 years we will all have autonomous electric cars that will solve all of our problems and eliminate the need for transit service. Now let me get this straight, cars across the nation will all be powered by electricity, doesn't that sound wonderful? It would so long as you don't think about the unintended consequences of that action. While the number of cars current being driven by electricity can be handled by our current electric grid, which is by no means stable, what is going to happen when we all have these electric cars? Will some new sources of energy suddenly appear? The question is how many electric cars can the grid handle?
Another item to take into consideration is long term population trends. The once heartland of American
is slowly emptying out. Except for a few examples along the Interstate 40 corridor the middle part of America is losing population and the sunbelt and coasts are gaining the population. By looking at the growth of Las Vegas
, Phoenix and other places in the southwest and sunbelt you clearly see where the population has grown. The question is how long can these cities sustain their growth? Both Phoenix and Las Vegas are needed more and more water with Las Vegas looking to pull a Los Angeles
and start sucking dry other areas of their state. Phoenix has a nice water supply whose cost to the consumer is kept artificially low by the our tax dollars.
The question is, at what point does the population of these areas become unsustainable Of course if we listen to those that benefit from the growth we will hear that it can go on forever but at some point reality is going to set in and we will have to take a look at exactly what populations these cities can handle and if they have already reached their limit.
This brings up another topic we need to consider that that is mother nature. We have millions of people living in dangerous areas and new homes are being built there all the time. The general attitude is that it is our given right to build whatever we want, anywhere we want and no one should be able to stop us. The problem is when disaster strikes, these are the same people who come crying that the response to the disaster is all government's fault and they should have done something better.
Let me give you some examples. Near Cannon Beach, Oregon
there is many million dollar homes being built near the city. Now who wouldn't want to be near the beautiful ocean with lovely views, nice trees, and nice towns to go visit? The only problem is that these homes are being built in well know slide zones. Of course this is no different that many of the homes built in places like Malibu that keep sliding because of unstable earth. Another example is in Draper, Utah
where homes are being built on a sand hill. Homes have started to crack due to the unstable earth and the owners who bought the homes are blaming everyone but themselves. Then again the city and the developers knew about the problems so should they be held responsible for the problems? The developer of course pleads ignorance and says it is not their problem and all the city does is try anyway it can to create new tax dollars for the city treasury.
Of course we also have the disasters that can strike without warning but people want to think it is not going happen like major earthquakes. Living in Portland, Oregon
I clearly know that the area could be hit with a 9 point plus earthquake at any time. The last one occurred in 1700 and they happen an average of every 280 years. You do the math. However, how many of the buildings in the Pacific Northwest will be able to handle that sized earthquake? The Japanese are fare ahead of us in dealing with earthquakes and we saw how badly they were taken by surprise when the one hit in 2011. While we can't stop Cascadia from going off at some point, we can take actions to better insure that our homes are more survivable. Once example is the Northridge valve that automatically shuts of the gas when an earthquake strikes and costs around $50.00. They are required in the state of California and some cities in Washington but not required in Oregon. The problem is our elected officials just don't want to take action.
Finally, this brings us to our crumbling infrastructure. With mounting deficits, the amount of money available for infrastructure will go down every year. Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy should have been warning signs of exactly how bad our infrastructure is crumbling. However, instead of taking it seriously the government wants to just impose tougher standards as a band aid but is too caught up in political infighting to seriously solve the problems that we face.
I could go on with even more serious issues that are plaguing us as a nation but these are really the ones that directly affect urban planning and transportation. Yes, I have painted a pretty gloomy picture however it doesn't have to be. We have the potential to overcome the obstacles but it will take leadership that we sadly currently don't see in most of our elected officials. The question is when will we get true leaders?
|English: A diagram of a diverging diamond interchange, showing how the traffic flows. Apparently, the Dept. of Transportation in the state of Missouri had too much money this year and hired some kids to do the drawings. If people would simply pay attention to their driving, instead of treating their vehicle like a phone booth/restaurant, ridiculous designs like this wouldn't be part of today's roads Svenska: En bild på en divergernade diamantkorsning som visar hur tafiken rör sig. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
For those too young to remember the quote from the title of this entry, it is from Star Trek: The Motion Picture and from Dr. McCoy and I thought it was perfect for this entry.
I came across the video below on the Portland Transport
site and thought it was something that had to be shared. The Utah Department of Transportation
installed one of these intersections at 2100 South Expressway and Bangerter Highway in West Valley.
The diagram on the right gives you the basics of what these types of intersections are supposed to do. I have to say the first time I approached the one on Bangerter Highway it was really confusing especially since it was dark and snowing at the time.
There was also several drivers almost taken out at the intersection by a semi that seemed to be even more confused that the average driver over how to drive this thing.
While the one in the video has "token" pedestrian and cycling access the Utah one does not but then again Bangerter and the 2100 South Expressway is not designed for pedestrians.
Besides this diverging diamond intersection, UDOT has also been busy turning traffic lanes on 5400 South into reversible lanes. In addition they also did a continuous flow intersection treatment at Redwood and 5400 South that I will discuss in the future.
|San Francisco Bay Area highlighted in red on a map of California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Take a look at almost any state in the nation, and you will find something interesting. Except for the original states that were created from the colonies, often times our states were created long before they had major population centers. This means that the population of the state and its regional ties may not necessarily conform to state borders.
Previously I talked about the important of a regional agency that should oversee transit service to insure that separate agencies are working together to ensure connectivity between transit systems so that riders have an easier time traveling across the region. One of the major problems of creating a regional board is that they stop at state lines and even though the place across the border may have economic ties to the other, they often have a hard time working together.
To start off lets take a look at California. I grew up there and always listened to the debates about north vs. south and how one was better than the other or more important than the other. In a way you could say there is actually multiple California's. Looking at regional needs you could say that Southern California is one region, The San Francisco Bay Area
from Monterey to Sacramento is another region, and the San Joaquin Valley
is a third.
An even better case is in the Northwest. While many residents of Vancouver, WA would not want to admit this, they have more in common with Portland, Oregon
than they do with Seattle or Spokane
economically. Politically Vancouver is more aligned with Spokane, economically they are part of a region that extends from Eugene to Longview.
Politically and economically Spokane and the surrounding area are independent and have little in common especially politically with the Puget Sound region. The Puget Sound area is its own region that you could arguably say stretches from Olympia to actually Vancouver BC
but with Vancouver you don't have just another state but a another country which makes matters even worse.
More examples would be Pittsburgh that has more in common with neighboring cities in Ohio than it does with Philadelphia; does Kansas City, Kansas
have more in common and belong in a region with Kansas City, Missouri
more than say Wichita?; St. Louis
and its 'suburbs' to the east in Illinois, the Cincinnati Region and so on.
Lets not fool ourselves, our States and their political existence is a bedrock in our nation and we will likely not see any changes in the future. However, while it may not happen on a national basis, there is still great benefits to regions working together to design and build a interconnected future. Maybe someday Cascadia will represent an economic and planning region in the northwest that will boost the region and not just a time bomb waiting to severly damage the area.
|English: Bronaugh Apartments at 1434 Southwest Morrison Street in Portland, Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Many transit advocates look to parking requirements and say that eliminating the need for so many parking spaces when new buildings are built that it would have a positive affect on transit ridership by encouraging those who live and work in those buildings to ride transit instead of driving.
The theory is that you make parking so difficult or have so few spaces that people would rather take the bus, streetcar, or light rail than have a car that they have to pay for parking or waste time finding a parking spot.
While the concept of eliminating parking sounds like a wonderful idea, sadly it is much harder to implement reduced or no parking requirements than it sounds. Currently there is several apartment buildings in the Portland, Oregon
area that are either in the design stages or under construction that include no on site parking for the tenants. The hope is that the people who move into these buildings will look to using transit instead of driving a car.
The problem occurs with the neighbors surrounding these buildings as they worry that all the parking in front of their homes will be taking up parking spots on their street. One of the controversial buildings is located on the MAX Yellow Line in the area near the Overlook station.
Of course there is two ways to look at the worry's of the neighbors You could look at it as people worried that resident of these new apartments will take up all the parking in their neighborhood and there will be no spaces left for anyone else. The other side of the argument is that we have become so accustomed to having all the parking we need for free that we cannot handle not having it handed to use on a silver platter.
One of the major obstacles faced by advocates is to get the general public to look at parking differently than they currently do. While it may not be an easy thing to do, over time a paradigm shift can occur that will open up people to the idea that parking requirements. Today parking is something that is expected and people can not comprehend that a reduction in it will be successful.
However, I can tell you from personal experience that apartments with no parking have existed for more than a hundred years, continue to exist and gasp, people actually survive. As I have mentioned previsouly I grew up in Pasadena
/South Pasadena area of California
. That's right in automobileville itself the Los Angeles area before there was a Gold Line to Pasadena or an alternative to the Southern California not so Rapid Transit District.
As I mentioned before, I spent many years growing up in an apartment complex with a small grocery store around the corner. Most of my block was made up of apartment buildings except for a few large homes directly across the street from our apartment. The amazing thing was that most of the apartments did not have any on site parking. That's right folks even the buildings that where built in the 50 and 60's did not have any parking attached.
To make this situation even more shocking was that only one side of the our road had on street parking because it was so narrow. Now if you would listen to the profits of doom these new complexes in Portland will be the end of the world. However, from personal experience I can tell you that they do work and over time people will get used to the situation.
However, one thing to take into consideration is transit access. These type of complexes must be on major bus lines, in fact the priority should be to put these where at least one frequent service bus or rail line runs and preferable at the intersection of two frequent services lines to provide the maximum benefit to those that live in the complexes.
Eventually cities like Portland can get even more aggressive about elimating parking requirements. It will take and will have to be well planned as it has worked in the past, it works today in many areas, and will work even more in the future.
Had the opportunity to attend the grand opening of the new Portland CL line this past Saturday. This is the third new rail opening I have attended, the first being the opening of the original TRAX line in 1998, the second was when I was invited on the VIP run of UTA's Front Runner commuter rail service between Ogden and Salt Lake City, and finally the opening of the this new streetcar line.
My first ride on the new line occured before the actual ceremony as I rode the new CL line from 11th and Jefferson to OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
) which I happen to be a member of.
The MC of the event was the mayor of Portland Sam Adams who will be leaving office at the end of his term in a few months. He took time to blast a attack article in the Oregonian and pointed out there is already investment going on along the streetcar line.
Another speaker during the ceremony was Neil McFarlane who is general manager of TriMet
. For anyone who follows transit blogs in the Portland area, they will know that he is often blasted and called some rude names in many circles including on a blog run by a disgruntled former bus driver.
He actually rode the same streetcar that I did from the Portland State University
area and will have to say that I found him to be very approachable and talk to several people on the streetcar.
There was several other excellent speakers during the ceremony including one of the people responsible for the streetcar itself Michael Powell who happens to own a bookstore of some notoriety that is served by both of the streetcar lines now.
After the ribbon cutting the VIP's boarded the Oregon Iron Works
prototype car that was making its inaugural run in revenue service. There has been some complaints about Oregon Iron Works because they are behind in production of the cars by a couple of months but one of the speakers noted that the previous cars were 8 months behind in arrived so Oregon Iron Works is actually doing pretty good.
I rode the next streetcar to the Lloyd District and took these pictures of that streetcar returning to OMSI. The area I took this picture is pretty desolate because the area is surrounded strictly by high rise non-mixed use office buildings that are ghost towns on weekends. You may also notice in the picture above that to the right there is a Honda Accord parked in the bike line which is supposed to be the lane on the right with parking to the left of the bike lane.
After grabbing a bite to eat I made a point to catch this streetcar on its next trip back to downtown. The car had a minor problem with its wheelchair ramp it was quickly taken car of and the we had a good trip back to 10th and Clay where I got off.
The line is currently U-shaped but in less than three years will become a true loop when the new bridge over the Willamette River is completed by TriMet and the streetcar will use it along with TriMet light rail trains.
It will be interesting to see how this line performs over the long haul. Right now frequencies are not what is needed and the area is no Pearl district however that may actually be a good thing. Do we really need lots of new high rises that bring the suburbs to the urban center, or should we see development that is more human scale? There is plenty of potential along the new line and time we tell what will be made of it.
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