Monday, March 04, 2019

Autonomous Cars - Are they a magic bullet



Over the years it seems that there is always something on the horizon that is going to solve all our urban design problems. In the early 1900’s the implementation of zoning ordinances was supposed to be the magic bullet that would solve the difficulties facing cities at the time. Then there were highways, exclusionary zoning, easy to get mortgages, urban renewal, and pedestrian malls among others that were all going to solve our urban problems. Today we know from history that while each of these things had their benefits, they also came with unintended consequences and in the long run did not solve our urban problems. Today we have a new magic bullet on the horizon that many feel is going to revolutionize the world and solve all of our urban problems – the autonomous car.

Autonomous cars could have a major effect on our cities but maybe not in the way many people think they will. My first planning professor had a favorite saying, “What do we know about the future…nothing” and when it comes to autonomous cars there are those that believe that the adoption of autonomous cars will revolutionize our cities for the better. But as with all technological advances there comes a cost and what the final cost will be we will not know for some time. In addition, the changes we see will be different than envisioned and like so many of the magic bullets from the past, the unintended consequences may be more severe than we expect.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Life around Stadiums


Hundreds of Millions and even Billions of dollars are spent to build new sports stadiums around the country and each time it seems that the new stadium is more elaborate than the last one to be built. In 2009 the New York Yankees bought a new stadium that cost a whopping $1.5 billion dollars while in 2017 Atlanta built a new stadium for the football and soccer teams which came in at $1.6 billion dollars. Today I plan to talk about the football stadium in Minneapolis that cost $1.1 billion and the baseball stadium that opened on 2010 that cost a measly $555 million. While the cost can seem astronomical I am not going to be talking about the construction cost but instead I am going to discuss the urban environment around the stadium.

    While sports stadiums seem to create a lot of excitement when they are proposed and cities are willing to throw whatever money they can to get a stadium built in their location, like convention centers they often sit empty a majority of the time and can create dead zones around them. While on a trip to Minneapolis last summer, I was able to a take a close look at the area around the stadiums and see exactly what the urban environment looks like today.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Mixing Active Transportation, Transit, and Freight Service

Nederlands: Luchtfoto van Nederlands hoofdkant...
Nederlands: Luchtfoto van Nederlands hoofdkantoor Bosch Rexroth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most difficult jobs of effective transportation planning, is the compromise between creating good environments for active transportation and transit while at the same time taking into considerations the need of freight carriers such as trucks that provide an important economic tool for many communities.

A great example of the problem areas for this compromise is in industrial areas. Industrial areas see a large amount of freight traffic (hopefully both on rail along with trucks) but you also need workers in industrial areas but they can be extremely difficult to serve with transit. Many transit advocates don't see the need for industrial areas and would love them to just go away. The problem with this line of thinking is that industrial areas tend to be the best sources of jobs that can lift people out of poverty. They provide a good paying jobs that do not require a college education.

The question is how do you serve industrial areas with transit and consider the last mile problem? One of the problems with transit service in these areas is that most of the ridership occurs only during shift changes which means if the industrial area is the primary point of travel for a transit line, it will only be busy during certain times of the day and run empty the rest of the time. There is a couple of solution to this problem.

One is to ensure that the industrial area is not the primary destination of the transit route. For example TriMet route 16 in Portland travels through the Northwest  Industrial District but also serves downtown, the St. Johns area, Linnton and Sauvie Island. Two other routes the 15 and the 77 do terminate in the area but they are long routs and the industrial district makes up only a small portion of their total route mileage.

A second solution is to provide a shuttle service to the industrial area from a major transit stop. Companies such as Intel and Nike provide shuttle services from MAX light rail stations in Portland to their transit unfriendly campuses. Another example is the Burbank, CA Metrolink Commuter Rail station that sees a large number of company vans providing service from the train station to their offices although in this case they are not in industrial unfriendly industrial areas. In the cases cited the service is only provided by a specific company for their employees. A third example is in the Chicago Suburbs were employers pay the PACE transit agency to provide shuttle service from train stations to their businesses and these can be used by anyone willing to pay the fare.

Another problem presented by industrial areas is access by active transportation such as walking and bicycling. While few people will probably walk all the way to the industrial area from their homes, they may have to walk a distance from the bus stop to their place of employment and many times there is few if any sidewalks. A bigger problem is the conflict between trucks and bicyclist. Industrial areas can be congested with truck traffic that makes it dangerous for bicyclists. Trucks are large and have a hard time seeing cyclist in their mirrors. The best solution in this case is to provide dedicated infrastructure for bicyclists so they are separated from the trucks but not may not always be possible.

When bicyclists and trucks do have to share the road one of the most dangerous times is when a truck is making a turn because once the cab of the truck is at an angle it is very difficult for the driver to see what is on his right side. While there is no fail safe solution to this the problem, there is some relatively inexpensive things that can be done to increase safety. One would be to install mirrors along driveways giving truck drivers an additional way to see in their blind spots and the other would be put up more signage warning bicyclist and trucks of the dangers. A final idea would be an educational campaign that would teach both truckers and cyclists how to be safer around each other. The problem here is reaching the large number of long distance truck drivers who may come into the area only occasionally.

Industrial zones are important part of our economy but create unique transportation challenges especially when trying to serve them with transit and adding active transportation. It can be done but it takes cooperation from all parties to make a system that works.


Saturday, October 04, 2014

Anniversary Missed...


A couple of months ago a major anniversary took place that I let pass by without any fanfare mainly because how busy I have been over the summer and continue to be. The anniversary that took place on August 4th when this blog turned 10 years old.

Back then it was called Transit in Utah and was started to discuss transit issues in the Salt Lake region and other parts of Utah. Having been a transit and rail passenger advocate for many years, it was an opportunity to discuss some of the things I have learned over the years and saw as opportunities to improve transit service.

As the blog matured I became interested in how land use and transportation have interacted over the years and how we have ended up with the land use patterns we have today. I have also become very interested in Urban Design and how our built environment works and doesn't work.

It only took a short time for this blog to start focusing on issues outside of Utah considering I have plenty of transit experience outside the region having grew up in Pasadena, CA and having lived in Spokane, Seattle, and Charlotte over the years. However, it took until 2011 when I moved to Portland to officially change the name of the blog to something that more reflected what this blog is about.

Sadly over the last few months I have not been able to post as frequently that I would like and cannot see that changing before next June at the earliest. I have plenty of ideas for stories and will try to post when time allows.

Thank you for reading over the years and I hope you will stay tuned for the articles to come.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

What makes a Successful Public Space?

Hotel Portland, since demolished
Hotel Portland, since demolished (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Pettygrove Park in Portland, Oregon. ...
English: Pettygrove Park in Portland, Oregon. Created by Lawrence Halprin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Occupy Portland protest at Pioneer Co...
English: Occupy Portland protest at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland, Oregon on October 6, 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What makes a good public space? One that people want to use and is used by a large number of different people? The Project for Public Spaces is a good source for information about what a successful public space should have, today I am going to look at two public spaces in the city of Portland Pettygrove City Park and Pioneer Courthouse Square.

The latter one is known as Portland's "living room" while the other languishes despite being close to office buildings and residences.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Can Alternatives to Owing a car be made More Convenient?

TriMet bus parked near MAX tracks (helping out...
TriMet bus parked near MAX tracks (helping out on opening day) in Portland, OR. Public domain photo, taken by the poster. Category:Transportation in Portland, Oregon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Honda Civic Hybrid used by Zipcar, a ...
English: Honda Civic Hybrid used by Zipcar, a carsharing service. Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Public bike sharing station (Bicing) in Hospit...
Public bike sharing station (Bicing) in Hospital del Mar, Barceloneta District (Barcelona, Catalonia). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you like me and have a large number of the chain store loyalty cards attached to your key ring that your rarely if ever use? One of the reasons that the stores use these cards is that their marketing people tell them that a customer that if a person has a loyalty card they will more likely shop at that store when they have a choice.

The problem is you get so many of these cards and many of them are nothing but a program to get access to your information so they can target even more advertising your way. There is not a benefit for you as a consumer to have these cards unless you actually get something for your effort.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Is it the Pathway or is it the Urban Fabric?


TriMet is looking at closing a pathway that connects the Willow Creek Transit Center which is located just northwest of the intersection of 185th and Baseline on the MAX Blue Line. The reason behind the possible closure is because of crime and drug problems along the path so I decided to take a look at the situation first hand to see what the problems truly are here.

First here is a Google map of the area:


View Larger Map

The pathway in question goes south from the transit center to Baseline Road.
Looking from Transit Center toward Baseline Road
The picture above is looking from the Willow Creek Transit Center toward Baseline Road and instantly you can see two major problems with this pathway. The first is that there is high walls on both sides blocking views of anyone along the path and the second is that there is very little lighting along the path. In addition there is a child care facility to the left of the photo which is only open at certain times of the day and there is a single family residence located to the right of the photo.

Looking back toward the Willow Creek Transit Center from Baseline
The next picture is looking back toward the transit center from Baseline and once again you can see the problems along the path. Once again you have the fences which creates a canyon affect which is just asking for problems in addition to the bushes on the right that even further block the view of the path. While you want tree canopy to shade pathways and make them more walk-able in this case they combine with the high fences to further hide the pathway from the public.
Looking west along Baseline
Looking east from along Baseline

Once you get off the pathway you have more issues once you get to Baseline. The road is wide with narrow sidewalks and very few streetlights. As can be seen in the upper photo looking toward the west where most of the residences are you have fences that put even fewer eyes on the street. Looking east you have a child care place that is very auto centric and turns its back to the transit center then empty lot on one side of the street and a shopping center.

The problem with closing the path is that for people to residences located on either side of Baseline there it leaves a long walk. From the transit center you will have to travel out of your way and head north to Edgeway then head to 185th then south to Baseline with both of those streets being very pedestrian unfriendly. While walking is fine for many of us, we also have to take into consideration the elderly and those with limited mobility that will have a more difficult time reaching the center. The other alternative for these people will be to take the infrequent 88 bus that travels a short distance on Baseline to reach the transit center.

The problem here is not the presence of the pathway but the Urban Environment around the pathway or the lack there of. The pathway design creates a canyon and walled off effect that means that there is not eyes on the pathway. The solution is not to close the path but to find ways to make it safer which will require rethinking how it is laid out and the visibility onto it. Unfortunately it is just not the path that is the problem, the area around Baseline is auto-centric suburbia where pedestrians come last.

Hopefully a good solution can be found. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Looking for an Internship

English: A car of the Portland Streetcar syste...
English: A car of the Portland Streetcar system at the eastbound Portland State University stop, on Market Street at the South Park Blocks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Some of you may remember when I mentioned I graduated from Portland State University with a Bachelor's Degree. Well I immediately started the Masters of Urban and Regional Planning program in September with a specialization in Transportation plus an Urban Design Certificate.

Well now I need to do 400 hours of internship hours to graduate so I am currently looking for one. You would think that I would have enough experience (especially after writing this blog for 10 years!) plus my business related background but as an older student sometimes it is difficult to find the right position.

Therefore I am checking with my readers to see if they have any leads on internships. If you have any possible leads let me know at jdornoff(at)pdx.edu.

Thank you and I will be written more in depth articles soon.
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Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Barbur Transit Center - The Good, Bad, the Ugly, and the Really Ugly and how it doesn't fit into the urban form


In my first entry on how transit centers fit into the urban form and how they can they can fit better into a strong vibrant urban form I showed a worse case example with the freeway based Parkrose-Sumner Transit Center near the Portland International Airport on the MAX Red Line. 

Today's entry is an even worse example and that is the Barbur Transit Center which is stuck between Interstate 5 and its predecessor Barbur Blvd which was once US Highway 99W. The Barbur Transit Center is currently the oldest transit center in the Trimet system having opened in 1977 and as you will see it is showing its age. The transit center is actually nothing but a glorified Park N' Ride lot as the area around the transit center is very auto oriented and hostile to pedestrians and is not designed to blend into the community or the community to blend into the transit center.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

Trimet Parkrose/Sumner Transit Station - The good, bad and ugly


During my recent trip to the Portland International Airport for a trip to Los Angles, I took pictures of the three Red Line stations that only serve the Red Line to the airport. Unfortunately I was using a borrowed point and shoot which did not have the quality of my DSLR but the pictures will have to do. For these stations along with many others I plan to photograph soon, I will document what the existing conditions are, what the zoning is, what the plus and minuses of the station are, and what can be done from an urban design standpoint to make the station a better place now and in the future.

First up is the Parkrose/Sumner Transit Center which is the perfect example of why freeway based rail transit stations just don't work especially when all the conditions this one faces. That is not to say it is not a popular transit hub as it does serve several important bus lines but because of the freeway location will never be all it could be.