Monday, July 25, 2011

Cities and freeways: Carmageddon or Carmaheaven?

I've been blogless too long. (Didja miss me?) First up on my list of readable stories to share: The Carmageddon miracle.

Carmageddon was the feared massive traffic tie-up expected in Southern California when the 405 Freeway had to close down for the July 16-17 weekend. Guess what? No traffic problems. People stayed home. (Experts who have studied the phenomenon of induced traffic were probably not surprised.) The Los Angeles Times has a wrap-up here: " 'Carmageddon's' good karma." (Link thanks to And Planetizen's own Tim Halbur weighed in, noting that the whole episode illustrated the folly of depending too much on one transportation mode alone – automobiles.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, credited with coining the term "Carmageddon," dubbed what happened "Carmaheaven." The New York Times' Timothy Egan called the whole weekend an "urban epiphany."  His description: "No, the big lessons of Carmageddon are not about transportation. They are about something else, something less easily quantified. They are about the small salves in life that make a day easier, or even memorable. When millions of Angelenos decided to hold a block party, or go to the park, or ride a bike, or play soccer, or spend half a day at the farmers market, or take advantage of free admission at some museums, they found a city far removed from that awful commuter stress index."

And along those lines, this article, "Livable cities don't have freeways," refers to a Brown University study that found a city’s population can decrease 18 percent because of the building of a major highway. (See this interview with Brown's Nathaniel Baum-Snow.) That's one of the ways, notes conservative economist Edward Glaeser, that the government has disproportionately subsidized suburban sprawl.

Back to the Future?  UNC Charlotte urban design Professor David Walters has a piece on the website of the UNCC Urban Institute (disclosure: that's my new employer) looking at how, despite admirable progress in many ways, many of the development problems facing the Charlotte region in the 1990s are still with us. Maybe, Walters suggests, he'll start kicking up a fuss again and bring on more of that 1990s'-style hate mail.


Scott said...

A well-connected grid of surface street arterials and collectors, with an underlying transit network, is always more resilient than one large highway. Hopefully that's something Atlanta can figure out before it includes road projects in its local sales tax referendum.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully, that's something Charlotte can figure out as well. I mean, somehow folks got around town before 485. And now with 485, we don't exactly get around any more easily.

consultant said...

I like how Bill Maher puts it: "We are a nation of morons."

Not all, but mostly. We'll continue to build roads until there is simply no money left to build them.

By the way, the whole debt dance on Capital Hill is partly about the ongoing behind the scenes struggle to hide the roughly 2 trillion dollars of bad debt the Fed bought (at face value) from the gangster banks, and is now trying to spread out amongst us taxpapers.

Oh good citizens of the former USA, we have all become (debt) slaves. What's happening in Washington is just the updated version of the slave auctions.

It was cruel and ugly then and it is so now.

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