Blog: October, 2010
New Biography on Bay Area Environmental Champion
Dorothy Erskine: Graceful Crusader for the Environment doesn't exactly relay the magnitude of impact that one woman had on the entire Bay Area some 50 years ago. Janet Thiessen's brief biography delves into the life of a one-woman powerhouse whose influence is on par with other, more well-known civic leaders, like Dianne Feinstein, Willy Brown, Jr. and Harvey Milk.
UC Berkeley geography professor Dick Walker recently reviewed Thiessen's story of "a pivotal figure in the history of Bay Area environmentalism." As Walker puts it, "[Erskine] was at work behind the scenes on almost all the defining moments of regional open space from the 1950s to 1970s," but even that hardly sums up her level of involvement in planning, good government, transportation, environmentalism and equity issues during the course of her life.
Get a copy of the book here to read the story for yourself. Also, see this fascinating conversation between John Jacobs (executive director of SPUR in the early 1970s) and Erskine from 1971. SPUR was lucky enough to get a hold of the interview, part of the Regional Oral History project at UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library.
Sinking ARC: On Thursday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie cancelled the ARC project, the nation's largest mass infrastructure plan to connect New Jersey and New York with a much needed second tunnel under the Hudson River. Rather than raising the state's relatively low gasoline taxes to cover the cost of the rail, the governor opted instead to funnel the money into local road projects and existing transit repairs.
A Car-free Street Grows in Queens: Two years ago the park-starved community of Jackson Heights, NY banded together to turn a busy street into a car-free public space on Sundays. This year, the makeshift park moved one step closer to permanence when neighborhood activists were able to get the street closed 24/7 for the entire months of July and August.
Threat of Global Warming Sparks U.S. Interest in Geo-engineering: With the threat of global warming looming and the recent collapse of climate legislation, policy-makers are debating if "wacky" geo-engineering strategies, such as reflecting sunlight back into the sky, or sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, are a good idea for tackling climate change.
Evil People Live in Modernist Houses in Popular Films: Why is it always the "bad guys" that live in modern homes? A new book by author Ben Critton offers an investigative but lighthearted exploration into how modern architecture is maligned in popular culture through the repeated image of evil people residing in modernist dwellings.
My Commuted Commute: A short film made by Oikofugic Productions shows how some cities have poorly designed bike lanes that don't account for how the roads are actually used, oftentimes putting cyclists in greater peril than if they were just to use the car lanes.
Operating with a much larger canvas than SF, and the ability to shape its surroundings, the planned Dubai City dwarfs SF and takes on the Bay Area
Sprawl Crawl: A CEO's for Cities study shows sprawl as the true cause of traffic. As opposed to the Urban Mobility Report, which focuses specifically on travel times, this report takes into account such factors as land use and community design into its traffic calculations. GOOD magazine and Atley G. Kasky teamed up for this infographic.
Journalism in the age of Data: How will the way we absorb data evolve? Where has the field of journalism started to drift, and what have we learned about what impacts us. Produced as part of the John S. Knight fellowship program at Stanford.
Visualizing.org: A new initiative launched last week, with aims of becoming the ultimate resource for data sets and corresponding visualizations. Using an open platform that operates under a creative commons license, visualizing.org is another intriguing development in the world of open data.
BBC Dimensions: Urban geographies are often a product of available resources, proximity to goods and services, as well as reaction to environmental factors. BBC Dimensions allows you to think about these land use patterns on both a global and historical scale. Users are able to take existing areas on the map and place ancient cities, large concert events, disasters, and many other things that consume land, on top of areas that they are more familiar with.
Notes from Abroad: Dublin's Bike-Share a Success
All photos by Colleen McHugh
In its first year, Paris' popular VÃ©lib' bike share program — one of the first major programs of its kind and the largest system in the world — battled higher-than-expected rates of vandalism and theft. But in Dublin, where dublinbikes launched last September, the surprise has been just how smoothly and successfully the program ran in its first year.
A modest system in comparison to VÃ©lib' — with only 450 bikes compared to Paris' 20,000 — dublinbikes had over 44,000 subscribers (28,000 year members, and 16,000 short term members), over one million total journeys, an average of 10 trips per bike per day, no major injuries to cyclists, only two stolen bikes and nearly no vandalism over the year period.
The dublinbikes program currently exists only in the city center of Dublin, but the city council intends to expand the system to other areas of the city and nearby suburbs.
On a recent visit to Dublin this summer, one of the first things I noticed was a seeming increase in bicycles — both privately owned and shared — since my last trip two years ago. And the Dubliners riding them were all ages, shapes and sizes — a sign that many people feel safe cycling in the city. After only two years, it was an impressive sight.
In other bike-share news, Washington DC launched its Capital Bikeshare program last month, replacing the much smaller SmartBike DC project and now making it the largest bike-share system in the United States with a planned 1100 bikes at 110 stations by the end of the month. If Capitol Bikeshare experiences similar levels of success as dublinbikes, it could provide a great model for other US cities.
Above: A Dubliner biking in heels -- a common sight.
For more photos of people biking in Dublin's city center, visit SPUR's Flickr page.
Banner Month for California Air Resources Board
CARB and MTC have adopted strong regional targets for reducing emissions through better planning and less driving.
[Photo Credit: flickr user Jovi Girl J]
In late September, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted unanimously to adopt a strong set of regional targets for passenger vehicle emissions reduction under SB 375, the state's anti-sprawl law. The historic vote was the culmination of a two-year effort which included the entire Regional Targets Advisory Committee process and report, intense research by modeling experts, proposed targets from metropolitan planning organizations, and public workshops around the state. In the end, CARB adopted the staff-recommended targets for the big four regions, including the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) -- 13-16% by 2035, and 10% for the San Joaquin Valley. These percentages represent a reduction in per-capita greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicle trips, and will be achieved through regional planning that will align housing growth goals with transportation funding.
For MTC, which in advance of the CARB meeting voted to adopt a 15% reduction in per capita emissions from passenger vehicles (from a 2005 baseline), this is a very significant change. The region's adopted Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) otherwise would have increased these emissions by 2% in 2035.
At the same meeting, CARB approved a 33% renewable portfolio standard for energy utilities by 2020. This means that the state's investor-owned utilities like PG&E, which are now required to source 20% of their electricity from renewables, will have to increase that percentage significantly over the next 10 years. This policy is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 12-13 million tons/year beginning in 2020. While the SB 375 targets will remove only 3 million tons/year in 2020, it will ramp up to 15 million tons/year by 2035.
The Tenderloin National Forest. [Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
Seattle Chooses NY Design Firm for New Waterfront: The same urban design firm that helped dream up the Highline in NYC has been selected as the lead designer for Seattle's new waterfront transformation, one of the more significant civic projects in the city's history. The $830 million project will attempt to reconnect Seattle to its central waterfront after the ancient Alaskan Way viaduct is torn down.
Austin Comprehensive Plan Process Frames Big Choices for Future: With Austin's population expected to double in the next 30 years, the city is finally doing what it has long avoided--creating a comprehensive plan of how the city will adapt to handle an influx of newcomers. Many hope the plan will allow Austin to grow economically, without sacrificing the small-town feel that made it attractive to much of the population.
How Sprawl is Lengthening Our Commutes and Why Misleading Mobility Measures are Making Things Worse: A new study by CEOs for Cities examines the costs and causes behind urban congestion, adding to the increasing body of evidence that compact development means shorter commute times and less money spent on highway maintenance.
Grocery Stores Try Setting Up Fake Farmers Markets: Local farmers markets have gotten so popular that chain grocery stores are now attempting to cash in on this success. Both Safeway and Albertsons were caught setting up fake "farmers markets" outside their stores in attempts to market their produce as locally grown.
Ads for Imaginary Buildings Highlight Real Lack of Development: In attempt to draw attention to the many vacant buildings in New Orleans, Rob Walker has created the "Hypothetical Development Organization," a project which gives dozens of empty buildings hypothetical futures by tacking architectural renderings of imaginary development onto their facades.