Wednesday, January 29, 2014

LaHood-Foxx love-fest?

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx in 2012 as city's bike-share program opened.
When former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told President Obama he was leaving the job, he suggested Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx as his replacement. At least, that's what LaHood tells Chicago magazine, in a wide-ranging interview with Carol Felsenthal, "A Complete Q&A With Ray LaHood."

Here's the section about Foxx, who did indeed win the job of U.S. Transportation Secretary (and who snagged some noticeable face-time on national TV on Tuesday night during Obama's State of the Union Speech):

Q. Did you get the chance to consult with the president about who your successor as transportation secretary would be?
Absolutely. When I met with the President and told him that I wanted to leave, he and his team gave me lots of opportunities to consult with the White House.

Q. Did you suggest the name of Anthony Foxx [LaHood’s successor; previously mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina], or did you have other people in mind?
I did, but they knew Mayor Foxx because the Democratic Convention was in Charlotte and they liked very much working with him on that. One of the reasons I suggested him is because we worked with Mayor Foxx a lot on his streetcar and his light rail project…. He was a transportation leader so it was pretty easy to recommend him.

Photo credit: Mary Newsom, 2012

Thursday, January 23, 2014

You call that an auto mall?

An auto dealership in an urban environment in Manhattan
I was in New York over the weekend for a meeting, and Saturday morning I went out for a quick walk beforehand. I was staying on West 55th Street so I decided to walk west toward the river.

By the time I got down to 11th Avenue I realized I had been walking past a large auto dealership. Sure enough, a look at signage told me this Mercedes dealership was taking up a substantial part of the block.

New York-style dealerships
Nearby was another new-looking, large building selling Audis. Across 11th Avenue was a building with the names for numerous makes of car - Ford, Volvo, Mazda, Jaguar, etc. I had stumbled on an urban auto mall! (It was the Manhattan Automobile Company.)

It seems developers - at least those who are not in Charlotte - are perfectly capable of designing auto dealerships, even facilities housing several dealerships - that sit right on a sidewalk along a city street, and do not require vast surface parking lots designed with the elegance of a Walmart superstore.

Back home in Charlotte, of course, the City Council just unanimously OK'd a rezoning to allow a vast expanse of auto mall asphalt within the quarter-mile walk zone of a to-be-built light rail station. (See "Don't derail transit areas with an auto mall," and "University City auto mall rezoning complete.")

This was after the appointed planning commission recommended it, and after the city planning department recommended it. Those decisions remain a bafflement to me. None of it matches the city's stated goals for its transit station areas. While in New York, I mentioned this transit-station-area rezoning vote to a former city planning director from another state who now teaches planning at a large state university. His jaw dropped. He was incredulous.

The said thing is, as these photos show, there are creative ways to have both auto dealerships and a pedestrian environment. I'm left to conclude that our local folks may just be too provincial to know better.

Mercedes-Benz Manhattan.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Not just unwalkable. Charlotte is 'least dense city in world'

 A new article from Wendell Cox at New Geography, "The Evolving Urban Form: Charlotte," is probably bringing glee to suburban real estate champions and heartburn to uptown boosters and those who support a more transit-supportive city.

" ... among the urban areas with more than 1 million population, Charlotte ranks last in urban population density in the United States (Figure 1) and last in the world," Cox writes. Wow. This, on top of the Walk Score analysis that found Charlotte the least walkable large city in the U.S. (See "Charlotte trails nation in walkability rankings.")

Cox is a long-time critic of cities' pursuit of public transit systems and of trying to focus development policies on more compact neighborhoods that allow people to drive less and walk more. His Wikipedia page says, "Cox generally opposes planning policies aimed at increasing rail service and density, while favoring planning policies that reinforce and serve the existing transportation and building infrastructure." It also says, "He has authored studies for conservative think tanks such as the Cato Institute, Heartland Institute, Heritage Foundation and the Reason Foundation, and for industry groups such as the American Highway Users Alliance, a lobbying and advocacy group for automobile-based industries."

Even if you don't agree with where he lands with his analysis, the simple numbers of urban density are worth noting. Of course, it's always worth remembering that the geography that any Metropolitan Statistical Area takes in can make a big difference in what you're calling "city" and that the MSA is different from what's deemed the "urbanized area." See "Boundary change boosts Charlotte metro population" and "Carolina metros, changes in the landscape."

Take a look. Comments welcome.

Update, 2:48 p.m. Jan. 8: One reader points out that using the larger geography of zip codes tends to mask pockets of higher density, and also points to the U.S. Census listing of the most populous counties, which includes population per square mile, as shown here via Wikipedia. I looked, and it shows Mecklenburg County (not the Charlotte metro region, not the "urbanized area") as in no way at the bottom of the density scores. Mecklenburg is denser than Maricopa County (Phoenix), San Diego County (Calif.), Miami-Dade County (Fla.), Honolulu County and Salt Lake County, among others. In other words, results depend a lot on which specific set of statistics one chooses to view.