Shared posts

18 Nov 19:12

Seattle Makes Guerrilla Bike Lane Permanent

by Angie Schmitt

How about a round of applause for Seattle? This spring, a group of activists calling themselves “Reasonably Polite Seattleites” installed a protected bike lane on Cherry Street. How did Seattle officials react? Well, this week the city made it permanent.

New pylons installed on the Cherry Street bike lane are nearly identical to the ones installed by a group of activists months before. Image: Seattle Bike Blog

Tom Fucoloro’s report at Seattle Bike Blog indicates that Seattle may have the coolest traffic engineer in the world:

To recap, the anonymous group installed the pylons under the cover of night this spring. They then sent an email to Seattle Bike Blog and SDOT explaining why they did it and pointing out the fact that they used a simple adhesive to make them easy to remove should SDOT choose to do so.

In many other cities, such acts are met with scorn and threats of legal action from city officials. But Seattle’s Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang did not. Instead, he wrote an equally polite email back apologizing for the fact that they needed to remove the pylons, but thanking the group for making a statement about road safety.

Well, now Chang and the city have gone a step further. They have installed permanent pylons with safe clearance space for bike handlebars and extra buffer space on the roadway. They also completed a safer connection to First Hill by installing a bike lane on 7th Ave between Cherry St and Marion, which is a signed bike route across First Hill that will soon connect to the Broadway Bikeway when it is completed.

Chang even wrote a friendly letter to the “Reasonably Polite Seattleites” saying, “I have good news to share. SDOT worked with WSDOT to reinstall your thoughtful protector treatment on Cherry Street.” Confirmed: Coolest traffic engineer ever.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Raleigh Connoisseur shows off the city’s impressive new parklets. Urban Indy explains how arterial roadways divide city neighborhoods. And Greater Greater Washington reports that while D.C. works to make streets more walkable and less highway-like, Virginia is endeavoring to do just the opposite.

12 Feb 21:36


by Reza


11 Jan 02:33

Is This Anti-Speeding PSA Too Real for America?

by Angie Schmitt

Wow. This public safety spot from New Zealand really brings home how decisions we casually make while driving can have grave consequences.

The PSA questions the whole idea that traffic violence is somehow unavoidable, the result of fate more than human error. In the United States the notion that traffic collisions are nothing but tragic “accidents” remains baked right into the language that most people use to describe these incidents.

We were alerted to this video by Erik Griswold, who asserted that the Federal Highway Administration and the Ad Council “would never allow” such a powerful public safety message about speeding to air here in the United States.

04 Jan 02:01

Level the Commuter Playing Field By Reducing the Tax Break for Parking

by Angie Schmitt
Volker Neumann

damn straight

Happy New Year, transit riders! Congress has a special present: Some of you will be getting a tax increase this year.

Some transit riders will get a tax hike this year. Image: Ohio Watchdog

Legislation that puts tax subsidies for transit commuters on equal footing with car commuters has been allowed to expire by Congress. That means people who drive to work can deduct up to $250 in parking expenses each month from their taxable income. But for transit riders, the new limit is $130.

Last year the two were equal at $245, thanks to some shrewd last-minute manuevering by lawmakers in New York and Massachusetts. This year, no such luck, straphangers. Drivers, on the other hand, get a little bump.

Many observers — from outlets including Timeand the New Jersey Star-Ledger — have pointed out that this is obviously backward policy. And they’re absolutely right: It’s a bad idea to provide an additional financial incentive to commute by car, which has so many negative consequences for society, from air pollution to increased congestion.

Common sense dictates that at the very least, there should be equity between the tax incentives for transit commuters and car commuters. While the path of least political resistance seems to be to raise the maximum transit benefit again, the fact is that most American transit commuters (though definitely not all) would not be affected by that.

Congress should instead achieve commuter tax benefit parity by reducing the incentive for parking so that it’s equal to the transit tax break, especially since deficit reduction is purportedly a high priority on Capitol Hill.

How is the national interest at all served by a tax break for parking? It’s hard to imagine there are many workers for whom this incentive is essential to afford access to a job. The parking tax benefit is more like a popular but unnecessary perk, enabling car commuters to reduce their taxable income by as much as $3,000. Meanwhile, we’re slashing food stamp benefits. As a simple matter of social policy, anyone car commuting to $250 a month parking spot probably doesn’t need another handout.

But commuter financial incentives do affect how we get around. Multiple studies have proven that leveling the playing field between different modes of commuting leads people to drive less and choose other ways to get to work.

Today, it’s the very cities with high land values like Boston and Chicago — places where parking rates reach $250 a month or higher — that most need to reduce congestion and cut the number of cars flowing into the city. Using federal tax policy to subsidize parking in a city like Boston leads people to consume more parking and, in turn, space that could be put to more productive use. But monthly costs for most transit commuters in these cities don’t come close to $250. While commuter rail and express bus passengers might get something out of the higher tax benefit, the vast majority of train and bus commuters won’t.

It won’t be politically popular, but lowering the parking benefit is the smarter way to achieve commuter benefit parity.

As a compromise, there’s a bill with bipartisan support on the table that would create a $220 maximum monthly tax-deductible benefit for parking and transit (and include bike-share as a form of transit). Unfortunately, so far, Congress seems to be less interested in sound policy than in keeping a broken system of incentives.

02 Jan 22:41


by Adrienne Johnson
Don't we all know deep down that WE are the cause of all traffic in the world?  We should be ashamed!

Really.  We should be ashamed.
02 Jan 22:38

two dropped chains, two feel good stories

by calitexican
after riding a bike for more than a few years, one is bound to have more than a few dropped chains. for me, they happen at the most inopportune times, like shifting my downtube shifters to go up a hill. there was an incident a couple of months ago where i looked rather funny on polk street trying not to fall. i was rather determined not to do so on my way to work.

this is not the dropped chain from either story, but to gives you all an idea what i'm talking about.

so, this not about my dropped chain, but rather two dropped chains from people i don't know.

one friday i was rushing home to work before rushing out to sf bike party and a block away from home i see two bikers on the sidewalk. the woman appears in her 50s, and her bike is upside down. there's a younger man with her in about his 20s (son perhaps?) on the phone. both are looking around rather helpless. i decide to stop to see what the problem is because if it's a large problem, i know where the bike shop nearby is.

so i pull over, ask what's wrong, and i see the chain. THE CHAIN. it also looks like there is all that's wrong with it, so i get my fingers in, turn the cranks a bit, and voliá. chain back on. the woman and the young man look incredulous. she said they had been there for 15 minutes trying to fix it. i show her what to do if it happens again.

the woman clapped her hands, brought them to her chest, and said, "thank you so much!" i said, "it's no problem." she looks at my chain greased fingers, and apologizes, i said, "again, no problem since i live a block away."

i ride off feeling good that my limited bike knowledge helped out two people in minor distress.

fast forward to 10 days later, which was wednesday of last week. i'm off to a fancy pants dinner event on foot in the financial district. i see a woman with a nice and new cannondale, with a male colleague, in a similar state of distress, only this time everyone involved was well dressed. not going to get bike grease on anything this time.

i take a look, and again, looks like a dropped chain. i said "i can fix it, if someone has a pen." the woman says, "we're reporters, we have lots of pens." the man produces a pen, i pop the chain back on, and they again were so grateful. she said, "now i'll be on time for my meeting! thank you so much!" i forgot her name, but she introduced herself.

all of these scenarios took less than a minute to diagnose and fix. but the gratitude and the good feelings are still around a few weeks later.

so go out and help out some people. feels good.
18 Nov 22:03

The Times Blows a Chance to Tackle America’s Broken Traffic Justice System

by Angie Schmitt

In the United States, it’s pretty much legal to drive into and kill a cyclist, as long as you’re sober and stay at the scene. Writer Daniel Duane made that point last weekend in a New York Times op-ed titled, “Is it O.K. to Kill Cyclists?

The New York Times weighs in on the issue of traffic justice, with a largely laudable but imperfect story that has inspired some thoughtful responses. Image: ## New York Times##

The image of a devil-red fixie rider with knuckle tattoos was one sign that something was off-kilter in a recent piece about traffic justice in the New York Times. Image: New York Times

The question mark in the headline was the first sign that the piece wasn’t going to take a firm stand, even though Duane sets up the essay with some good insight:

When two cars crash, everybody agrees that one of the two drivers may well be to blame; cops consider it their job to gather evidence toward that determination. But when a car hits a bike, it’s like there’s a collective cultural impulse to say, “Oh, well, accidents happen.”

If that was the high point of the article, the low points come when Duane equivocates, suggesting that “everybody’s a little right” despite the fact that people are capable of far more harm when they’re behind the wheel than when they’re in the saddle.

Bike Snob (a.k.a. Eben Weiss) called Duane out for concluding that the response to reckless drivers who bear no consequences should be for cyclists to “obey the letter of the law”:

We deserve respect for being human, and it ends there. Yet we’re supposed to be good little boy scouts and girl scouts–even when it’s more dangerous for us to do so–to prove we’re deserving of not being killed? That’s just stupid and insulting.

Where Duane and the Times failed, the Economist nailed it, pointing to the differences between an American justice system that imposes little or no consequences on deadly driving, and the Dutch system of strict liability. In the Netherlands, writes the Economist, “if a motor vehicle hits a cyclist, the accident is always assumed to have been the driver’s fault.” Even in cases where a cyclist is breaking a rule, the onus is on the motorist to explain why the collision could not have been avoided. As a consequence, American bike fatality rates per mile are five to nine times higher than in this famously bike-friendly country.

And, far from being victimized, motorists in the Netherlands also reap the safety benefits from this legal system:

Does this result in rampant injustice to drivers when accidents occur? No. It results in far fewer accidents.

In the end, writes the Economist, people’s willingness to accept a strict liability system “depends on how much one values human life, as against the inconvenience of having to look in the rearview mirror more often.” Will such a clear case for reforming America’s broken traffic justice system ever appear in the Times?

18 Oct 02:08

“Bikes vs Cars” Director Fredrik Gertten Sets Out to Expose the Car Lobby

by Angie Schmitt

Films like Fast Food Nation and Gasland introduced critiques of the food industry and fracking to a broad audience. But as of yet, the active transportation movement has lacked a full-length documentary feature that screens widely in theaters or goes viral on Netflix.

Fredrik Gertten, a Swedish filmmaker with two full-length documentaries under his belt, hopes his film Bikes vs Cars — trailer above — just could be that film. Gertten’s first film – Bananas! — prompted a defamation lawsuit by Dole Food Company. The lawsuit is the subject of his second film, Big Boys Gone Bananas! (Gertten ultimately won.)

Gertten is trying to raise $50,000 before November 1 via Kickstarter to make a film focusing on the global bike movement. So far, it has brought in more than $24,000 in pledges. I caught up with him by Skype recently to learn more about the project:

Angie Schmitt: So I think the trailer sort of nails it. Can you tell us more about why you’re trying to raise this money?

Fredrik Gertten: My last film opened at Sundance and we’ve been playing at all the major festivals, so we have the ability to make a big splash if we do it well. At the same time we, as anybody else in this world, have to fight for survival. It’s complicated when you talk about arts. Both my last films have played in 80 countries and every single state in the U.S.

Documentaries now, is a very strong genre and so they really reach out. We are kind of stuck we have like 50 percent finances. We need a Kickstarter to get moving again.

AS: What’s going to be the gist of the film?

FG: I read a survey about young people, what their biggest worries were, and they were all about climate change. I mean so much that they had pains in their stomach every week. And at the same time the [auto] industry is rolling like nothing ever happened. I mean in Europe and the United States car sales aren’t going up anymore, but in the rest of the world … I’m kind of interested in the mechanisms that make us not change when we know that we should change.

The car industry, the oil industry, the construction industry, they’re all lobbying for all this really big-scale urban planning, so they just push for no change. So that’s what I’m interested in: those forces. I’m also looking into the lobby.

AS: So the car lobby will be part of your focus?

Bikes vs Cars Director Fredrik Gertten. Image: Bikes vs Cars

FG: Yes, because they’re very influential in making the changes that are needed. So that’s something I’m looking into but I’m also looking into the bike activists. Because the bike activists are not kind of a traditional political force. A lot of people are just people that started to go on the night ride somewhere and got a passion for bikes and then one day they decided, ‘you know what, if I can do this on a Friday or in evening, maybe I can do this on a Monday to my work.’ And then are out in very dangerous traffic, they also become politicized, because then they have to enter into debate about city planning. We also know that there are more bicyclists killed in traffic than ever before because there are more bikes on the streets now. These people who are not traditional political people, they get political and they are now becoming a very important force in many cities for better city planning.

The Brazilian girl in the trailer says, “this is not a war, it’s a city.” The title is, of course, provocative but for me it’s the war between two kinds of city planning, where one kind of machine took away all space. That’s something you see a lot of time in America. It’s a fight for space. In many places there is no space left anymore.

If you drive through the big American cities, you can see these big car pool lanes, and there’s no cars in the carpool lane. So there is one person in every car, and together they can consume all the space. Imagine if you 100 years ago said, ‘oh in the future we will all be sitting in big boxes and we’re not going anywhere, we won’t get anywhere because we’re all waiting for each other.’ Somebody, a professor in L.A. said that if you put all the space created for cars and you put it flat out in L.A., it would cover 80 percent of the livable area. Can you imagine selling that idea? People would say it was crazy.

I think this is a result of the lobby. They have been lobbying for suburban housing and for suburban shopping and for more cars and more streets and we shouldn’t blame the guy in the car because most of us are sometimes forced to drive by car. We are all victims of a very poor city planning, and of city planning that is kind of lobbied for by mighty forces. We know that we shouldn’t consume that much oil. But we cannot just keep going. The only answer is the people that would lose if we change, they invest so much to keep it going, in publicity and lobby and PR.

In the US, 25 percent of all trips are less than 1 miles, 40 percent are less than two miles. People could keep their cars, if they need to go further, longer distances, then have a car, but they could maybe try to go by bicycle to buy the milk or have coffee with their friends instead. In most of the United States, city planning is totally car based. So it’s very hard for people, it’s not an easy change, but it’s not impossible.

A number I would like to play with in this film … I live in Malmö, which is a really bike friendly city rated like number 7 in the world in bikes. But our neighbor, right near by, Copenhagen 40 percent commutes on bike every day. Take 40 percent and move it to any big American city or all big American cities, and you could say, wow if we had 40 percent less cars, imagine the oil consumption or the climate effect it would have and it’s totally mindblowing. This is an existing utopia, it actually exists and it works.

19 Sep 01:14

Apartment Blockers

by Alan Durning

Alan Durning is the executive director and founder of Sightline Institute, a think tank on sustainability issues in the Pacific Northwest. This article, originally posted on Sightline’s blog, is #9 in their series, “Parking? Lots!”

Have you ever watched the excavation that precedes a tall building? It seems to take forever. Then, when the digging is finally done, construction rockets upward in no time. For the past few months, I’ve been watching a crew excavate the site of a new condo tower on Seattle’s First Hill. It’s on a route I walk three times a week, so I’ve had a ring-side seat. And here’s the thing that finally dawned on me, after years of not really thinking about these holes in the urban ground: what’s all the excavation for? It’s for parking. Underground parking. In most cities and in most soil conditions, the giant holes are only there to satisfy off-street parking rules, and to do that, you need a deep, deep hole. A hole like this one.

At Eighth Ave. and Seneca St. in Seattle. Photo by Alan Durning

Digging these holes is astronomically expensive. They’re real-life money holes. The crew I’ve been watching has been laboring away for weeks, deploying enormous machinery and keeping a fleet of dump trucks in constant motion. They’ve undoubtedly spent millions of dollars removing rock and dirt. One Portland developer told me that each successive layer of excavation—each floor down in the garage—costs two to three times as much as the previous one.

Such costs are one reason housing is so expensive nowadays. A one-bedroom apartment in the city of Seattle rents for upwards of $1,300 on average. In Portland, rents are approaching $1,000 and, in Vancouver, BC, $1,400.

City requirements for off-street parking spaces jack up rents. They jack it up a lot at the bottom of the housing ladder. Proportionally speaking, the bigger the quota and the smaller the apartment, the larger the rent hike. For one-bedroom apartments with two parking places, as is required in places including Bothell and Federal Way, Washington, as much as one-third of the rent may actually pay for parking. A flotilla of studies supports that claim, and I’ll summarize them in this article, but first, a case study of residential real estate development may illuminate how critical parking is to the affordability of housing.

A Housing Dream (in which you are a developer)

Imagine you’re starting business as a developer of housing.

You take a loan from a bank and buy a city lot zoned multifamily. You sit down with your architect and start laying it out for apartments. The more apartments, the more housing you can provide, and the more money you can make. So the architect fills the lot with housing, right out to the city-required “set-back” boundaries near the edges of your property. She builds it as tall as the legal height limit for that zone too. You can erect 50 one-bedroom apartments, she announces, each of about 550 square feet. You do some figuring and realize you can earn a 7 percent return on investment while charging $800 a month in rent. That’s not a screamingly profitable venture, but it’ll do. And you’re sure that price will be popular with tenants, which will keep the building full. A schematic diagram of the development looks like this:

No parking diagram, courtesy of the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability

But there’s a problem, the architect points out. She reminds you that your city requires you to provide off-street parking on the property for each of the apartments you build. Cities such as Kent and Yakima, Washington, and Nampa and Meridian, Idaho, require two spaces per unit, but fortunately yours only requires one. You say, “That’s OK. We’ll put it underground.” The architect makes you a new drawing. It looks like this:

Underground parking diagram, courtesy of the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability

Underground parking diagram, courtesy of the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

She tells you that the access ramps to the underground garage will subtract six apartments, and your general contractor estimates that excavating will cost $55,000 per parking space—almost as much as the $60,000 you’ve budgeted to build each apartment. To make a 7 percent return on investment, you’ll have to raise the rent up to $1,300 a month on the remaining units. Will the market support that price? You’re not sure. They’re one-bedroom apartments, after all. Worse, the floor space of your garage won’t even fit one slot per apartment. You’ll have 44 apartments and parking for 33 cars or 0.75 spaces per unit. You’ll either have to apply to the city for a waiver from the usual one-space-per-unit parking code—a risky and time-consuming process—or give up more apartments on the ground floor to add more parking. That’ll push rent even higher.

You contemplate whether to dig a second subterranean level in the garage, but the deeper you go, the contractor explains, the more expensive it gets. In fact, the cost grows geometrically. Unfortunately, your architect says, you can’t just dig enough space for 11 more cars. You have to do an entire additional level, at a cost that might approach $100,000 a slot. Then you’ll have 66 spaces, the total construction cost of which would be substantially greater than the cost of building the apartments. Obviously, going deeper won’t work.

“What if we shrink the building and do a surface lot in the back?” you ask the architect. She lays it out for you, like this:

Surface parking diagram, courtesy of the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability

You’re now considering a building with 30 apartments, plus 19 spaces behind. That’s only 0.6 parking spaces apiece, so you’ll still be in trouble with the city. To get one space per apartment, you’ll need to drop down to 25 apartments or fewer and raise the rent again. Your architect says it’s hard to fit the stairs and halls into the building with so few units. (You might have to lower your aesthetic standards and do a parking-courtyard building.) Even if you can get a city waiver to put in just 19 spaces, you calculate, you’ll still have to charge rent of $1,200 a month. Will you be able to keep the apartments full at $1,200 a month? You’re not sure.

You try other configurations, such as devoting part of the first floor to parking. This option gives you nine indoor spaces (nowhere near enough to meet your parking quota) and sacrifices five apartments. Out of curiosity, you calculate that if you could charge $250 a month for each of the parking spots, you’d make up for the five lost apartments. That would let you leave rent at $800 for the apartments, same as in the no-parking scenario. But you doubt you can rent the slots for $250 a month, because parking is abundant in the neighborhood.

Tuck-under parking diagram, courtesy of the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability

The whole situation is aggravating, because the area surrounding your building has vast, untapped reservoirs of parking: surface lots at grocery stores and movie theaters, underground spaces at shopping complexes and office buildings, and idle spots at nearby apartments. Each category of parking has its own rhythm of filling and emptying: the theater lots, for example, fill during the evenings, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, but remain empty during daylight and after the late show. Overnight, when your tenants’ cars will most likely be at home, the office buildings’ garages are usually empty. And, of course, there are hundreds of curb spaces within six blocks of your building, though neighbors’ vehement territoriality about “their” spaces would make it impolitic to mention those in an appeal to the city for a parking waiver. Odds are that your tenants could secure whatever parking they wanted for much less than $250 a month per spot. You could even rent a group of overnight spaces at a nearby garage and sublet them to tenants, but such innovative solutions are not a legal substitute for on-site parking in your city.

You’re stuck with no good options: a long and risky waiver application, underground parking with extremely high rents, or a half-sized building with high rent and slots out back. You now understand why architects, in moments of dark humor, change their discipline’s mantra of “form follows function” to “form follows parking.” And you’re starting to understand how parking requirements are such an enormous barrier to affordable housing.

Five Rent Raisers (in which I hear the ghost of Econ past)

This case study, based on scenario analysis by the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability that uses state-of-the-art real-estate planning tools, illustrates the way parking requirements raise the price of housing. It also hints at how they elevate the rent for everyone, even people who do not own cars or use parking spaces. But let’s be more precise. How do parking requirements raise rents? They do it in five ways, some of which affect all of the housing market and some of which only affect parts of it.

1. More Costly Housing. Parking quotas drive up construction costs. (“But supply and demand, not cost, set prices,” I hear my Econ 101 professor Hirschel Kasper pointing out. “Raising costs doesn’t raise prices.” “Yes,” I respond in my head, “but costs limit what goes to market, as you often said.” He nods approval.) High parking costs for construction effectively exclude new, less-expensive apartments from the market. There’s no way you can legally build your no-parking $800-a-month apartments, nor can anyone else, anywhere in town. The whole apartment market will be missing its bottom end. (It’s already missing most of its granny flats and rooming houses, as I argue in my new book Unlocking Home.)

Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute has modeled a typical affordable housing development and concluded that including one parking space per dwelling raises the cost of each rental unit by 12.5 percent; adding a second parking space doubles that to 25 percent.

2. Less Housing. Parking quotas constrain the supply of dwelling units, particularly of modest, economical ones, which causes their price to rise. (Dr. Kasper affirms: “Supply and demand, not cost . . .”) You may end up building only 25 apartments, rather than 50. The same goes for every other builder in the city. Fewer new apartments mean more competition for all apartments. Rents go up.

3. Building Conversions Blocked. Parking quotas often make it prohibitively expensive to adapt buildings for other uses. Developers cannot convert vacant warehouses into lofts, or aging office blocks into condos, unless they somehow shoehorn floors of parking into the historic structures. (Again, Dr. Kasper intones, “when supply is constrained, prices rise.”) This effect may keep fewer apartments off the market than does effect 2 (above), but in older cities, it can still keep thousands of apartments from getting built.

4. Dispersed Housing. By suppressing the number of apartments on each city lot (see 2 and 3), quotas force housing demand to spread outward across the landscape. In a word: sprawl, which raises travel distances and commuting expenses. Instead of 50 apartments on your in-city lot and many others like it, there may be only 25. Apartment hunters will have to go farther afield, increasing their cost of living, if not their rent.

5. Billing Non-parkers. Parking quotas shift the cost of storing vehicles from those vehicles’ owners into the rent of non-owners. By flooding the market for parking, quotas make it impossible to recoup the full cost of parking by charging its users. (Dr. Kasper agrees: “Supply increases, prices drop.”) You can’t charge $250 a slot, because the neighborhood is awash in mandatory parking stalls. Fortunately for you, the same parking quotas that have flooded the parking market are starving the apartment market, making it possible to charge higher rents. This effect does not raise the rent on average beyond what effects 1, 2, and 3 do, but it does shift the cost of storing vehicles from car owners to non-owners. Even tenants who do not use parking pay for it.

A forthcoming Sightline analysis will likely reach similar conclusions. If preliminary results hold up, it will show that, at actual apartment and condominium projects in Seattle, the cost of parking is as much as 35 percent of monthly rent. The cost of parking, furthermore, exceeds its market price almost everywhere in King County, so even tenants who do not own cars end up paying for parking through their rent.

These five effects interact and reinforce one another. They knock the bottom off of the apartment market, pushing working-class people to double up or commute longer distances. They raise the rent for everyone, driving up the cost of living while lowering the price of parking. And they shift parking costs to those who don’t use it.

Two Proofs (for extra credit)

Together, these five mechanisms raise housing prices. How much? It’s hard to say exactly. No two dwellings are exactly the same, so rigorously distinguishing the effects of parking requirements—as opposed to the many other variables like “look” and “neighborhood”—on housing prices is what Dr. Kasper would have termed an extra credit problem. Fortunately, studies from Oakland and Los Angeles have earned at least part of the credit.

In 1961, Oakland introduced a quota of one space per new apartment. Immediately, as housing economist Brian Bertha has documented (see page 143), the construction cost per apartment jumped by 18 percent and typical apartment buildings shrank: the number of units per new building fell by 30 percent. Developers built fewer, larger apartments, and the rent rose.

A newer proof comes from urban planning professor Michael Manville of Cornell University. He described in the Journal of the American Planning Association what happened in downtown Los Angeles after 1999 when the city enacted an adaptive reuse ordinance (ARO). Manville writes, “The ARO exempted qualifying buildings from minimum parking requirements. Although developers could not remove any existing parking, they were under no obligation to add any. New ground-up residential construction in the downtown, however, was still subject to the city’s parking requirements.” Quickly, the deregulation of parking yielded more than 6,000 new apartments and condominiums, some of them in previously dilapidated historic office buildings that dated from the Art Deco era. Meanwhile, new developments were erecting thousands of other dwellings in the same neighborhoods. The side-by-side existence of ARO buildings with new buildings gave Manville a natural experiment to study. The findings, as Manville summarized them:

When parking requirements are removed, developers provide more housing and less parking, and also . . . developers provide different types of housing: housing in older buildings, in previously disinvested areas, and housing marketed toward non-drivers. This latter category of housing tends to sell for less than housing with parking spaces.

Manville’s research confirms in detail everything you’d expect from your own time as an imaginary housing developer. Minimum parking requirements do not jack the rent up much in the kinds of pricey buildings where the developer would have installed an abundance of parking anyway. The richest renters and condo owners expect parking spots of their own, on-site, and plenty of them. What minimum parking requirements do is force more-modest buildings to squeeze out living space in favor of parking space.

Across all of the ARO rental projects, the average amount of parking installed was 1.2 spaces per unit. That’s more than the waived quota of one space. Does that mean that the parking quotas didn’t matter? No. High-end buildings pulled up the average. (Remember, this is in high-rent, downtown, auto-centric Los Angeles, often in restored historic buildings.) Meanwhile, many ARO buildings provided fewer than one space per unit, and some provided none. It all depended on the developer and what the building’s structure would accommodate cost-effectively.

A Market to Park It (in which developers act like you)

What’s more, half of the parking spaces developers provided to tenants were at neighboring or nearby properties. In fact, at 16 of the 57 ARO buildings, all the parking was off-site. These developers did what you wanted to do for your 50-unit building: they secured tenant parking not by pouring concrete but by sipping coffee with the owners of nearby garages.

Some developers did not assign individual spots. They used a pooled parking system. Just as airlines overbook flights, statistically confident that a few passengers won’t show up, pooled parking takes advantage of probabilities: at any given time, some cars will be away.

Some developers put in tandem spaces, where two cars nose into the same slot, one behind the other. Others looked into parking lifts, contraptions that double the capacity of each place by stacking cars.

Lifts and tandem parking at The Strand condominiums in Portland. Photo by Ari Ronai-Durning

Developers in 20 of the buildings unbundled parking charges from rent: they leased them separately. Residents could take an apartment without parking. Or they could take two spaces. Or three. In some buildings, they could rent one space on-site and another off-site. They could adjust month by month, depending on their needs. In short, they could participate in an actual, functioning market for car storage.

Compared with the new non-ARO buildings in the same area, Manville found that ARO buildings had about 0.3 fewer spaces per dwelling total, and half of it was off-site—illegal for the new-built structures. In the ARO rental units, each additional parking space (again, many of them off-site) raised the rent by about 6 percent or $85 a month. No one can build parking spaces in downtown Los Angeles for as little as $85 a month, but the availability of abundant off-site parking—the legacy of decades of parking quotas—pushed parking’s price below its cost. (Dr. Kasper again.)

Reading the Meter (in which I guess)

The research hints at the rent increases caused by some of the “rent raisers” above: 6 percent higher rent per parking space in Los Angeles, 12.5 percent in Litman’s model, up to 35 percent in the forthcoming Sightline analysis.

But none of them captures the most powerful rent raisers: numbers 2 and 3, in which parking minimums constrain apartment supply and thereby push up rents across the entire city. Detecting and measuring that effect would be exceedingly difficult, because it is incremental and market-wide. Still, anything that so constrains the number of apartments—30 percent in Oakland, for example, or enough that a narrow parking exemption for adaptive reuse of buildings in downtown Los Angeles could induce the rapid-fire construction of 6,000 new units—surely has enormous impacts on rent. If parking minimums in Northwest cities have reduced the number of in-town apartments by 30 percent, the resulting average rent hike must be giant. A quarter? A third? More? It’s impact on sprawl must be similarly big.

Los Angeles’s ARO experience illustrates another important lesson: deregulating parking eliminates neither on-site parking nor its construction. It simply allows developers and residents to come up with innovative solutions to the age-old question of where to park. It lets millions of individual actors making daily decisions about alternatives and costs determine how much parking gets built, rather than expecting city councils and a few officials in planning departments to decide how much parking to build based on nonexistent theory or divine revelation. Parking deregulation lets residents decide how much they’re willing to pay to park, how far they’re willing to walk to park, and ultimately how much it’s worth to them to own a car that needs parking.

Eighth and Seneca, a few days later. Photo by Alan Durning

As the cost of parking disentangles itself from the price of housing, ending parking quotas will bring rents down, especially for those with few or no cars and for people looking for modest dwellings. Developers, for their part, will be free to build the least-expensive parking spaces but stop before the cost skyrockets, as when they’d need to start excavating craterous, multi-million-dollar holes in the ground.

Thanks to the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability for permission to publish its diagrams and to Hirschel Kasper for teaching me economics.

19 Sep 00:46

Alan Durning on Reasons to Be Optimistic About Parking Reform

by Tanya Snyder

We hope you enjoyed part one of our Q&A with Alan Durning, which we published yesterday. Durning is publishing a series of articles on his blog at the Sightline Institute — where he serves as executive director — about the ways that underpriced parking drives up rents, eats up space, and makes no sense.

A reader asked in the comments yesterday whether performance pricing could actually lead to more driving — a question that I also asked at the end of the interview. Durning responded in the comments, but his thinking on the subject is more fleshed out here — along with his thoughts on the political calculus of parking policy, how cruising drivers can be a menace to cyclists, and reasons to be optimistic about the future.

Sometimes the revolution in transportation reform looks like this. Photo: ArsTechnica

Tanya Snyder: Free and abundant parking gives drivers an incredible incentive to drive, because they can just put their vehicle wherever they want and they won’t have to pay for it. But even with all the ways parking policies incentivize driving, it’s still not enough to fill all the spaces developers are building. You are still counting all these empty spaces. Considering the cost that goes into building those spaces, why is it taking so long for cities and developers to say, “Oh, we’re doing this completely wrong; we’re losing tons of money.” You’d think the bottom line would have translated a long time ago into a correction of this. Why has that not happened?

Alan Durning: I’ve thought about that a lot and that’s why I started the series with “Who Parked in My Spot?!” to describe the intensity of territoriality that residents feel about free on-street parking. Business owners feel a similar protectiveness of free on-street parking for their customers. So you look around city, and there’s no neighborhood where there isn’t intense, visceral political pressure for lots of free parking.

So that’s the political fuel that perpetuates the whole system. Local elected officials are not passionate about parking. No one goes into politics or runs for elected office because they want to change parking policy.

Developers hate parking requirements but because all the developers in the city have to obey the same rules, they can usually pass the cost on to the tenants or to the buyers. So the loser in this is always the person who’s moving into a building. Those people don’t have a say. All the actors in this process are responding rationally to the incentives that they face.

TS: And it’s the people who are losing the most that have no way to respond.

AD: Right. So [parking requirements are] the perfect political solution to the problem. That’s why it hasn’t been fixed — because from a political perspective, it’s not a problem. It’s a solution.

But [if a city implements Donald Shoup’s recommendation to charge for street parking and rebate some of the meter revenue to the neighborhood] some residents in the neighborhood will switch sides. And now you have a situation where politicians have to choose, have to lead. And it doesn’t take that many people switching sides until the political dynamic is all scrambled and new things become possible.

The last article I’m planning to do [for the series] is going to be called “Seven Reasons Why Parking Reform Is Now Possible.” We’re going to talk about the things that are shifting, that are reasons to hope. The number of cities that are doing this whole package, of performance pricing, plus revenue sharing, plus reducing off-street parking requirements. The steady spread of information technology into the backwater of parking –

The ultimate gamble is that the benefits of urbanism beat the benefits of sprawl. And we’re winning it. Even though parking rules and transportation spending patterns are against us.

TS: Which allows enforcement to be easier and less costly.

AD: Exactly; which reduces the transaction cost so it makes sense to charge for parking in more circumstances, which makes enforcement easier. And it also allows the emergence of markets for small numbers of parking spaces. So there’s already a market for a parking garage full [of parking spaces], but ParkAtMyHouse and other apps make it possible to rent out a single space much more efficiently.

Car-sharing is a substantial factor. Some cities are now recognizing that if you have a car-sharing vehicle close to a new development you can eliminate four parking spaces. The scrambling of the taxi market that’s happening through ride-share companies like Lyft and Sidecar. And then peer-to-peer car-sharing — RelayRides, GetAround — that are allowing a private market to emerge for your neighbor’s car, by the hour. And even the Buck Rogers stuff about self-driving vehicles, the Google car that drives itself.

One of the biggest impacts of that — if it happens, which I expect will be much longer than the five or 10 years [projected] — is that right now, a car is parked 23 hours a day and driving one. But taxis — which are the present-day analog of these self-driving vehicles — are driving for how many, 18 hours a day?

TS: Well they’re just cruising around for some of those hours, but yeah.

AD: I’d be interested to know what share of the time taxis have a fare. But in any event, they’re on a trip way more of the time than private cars are — many, many multiples.

The point is, we continue to build parking and require new developments to build parking on the assumption that future automobile use is going to be the same as current automobile use. That is, that it will be mostly private cars and that almost everyone will have one or two or three.

TS: So, the same way we’re critical of travel forecasts that are prompting cities to build more and bigger and wider roads based on usage demand models that we think are antiquated, cities are also overbuilding parking for the same reasons.

AD: Exactly. For all the same reasons. And it’s not just that millennials haven’t yet fallen in love with the car, it’s that all these new alternatives are emerging. And we can see even more on the horizon, like self-driving vehicles, whenever they come. Even if that’s 50 years from now, that’s still within the lifespan of the parking requirements that we’re imposing on new developments.

And every one of these innovations reduces how much parking is really needed — even under the old model, where you assume it’s free. So those are some reasons we can be hopeful that parking reform will pick up speed after so many years of wringing hands among green urbanists.

TS: So there are all these factors that disincentivize driving, but one thing we haven’t talked much about is how free parking induces driving.

AD: We know it does — we know that free parking induces driving and even vehicle ownership. If you live in a building that charges even $50 a month for each parking space, you’re going to have on average, what, five to 10 percent fewer vehicles. People sell that third vehicle. And the same goes for individual trips.

If everyone had to pay for their parking every time, they would drive less. They would also carpool more.

When they do surveys asking people why they took transit on a particular trip, the number one answer is usually because there was no free parking. This is why suburban malls — some of them — get so excited about putting in put in lots of parking, because they think that they’ll attract more drivers. And to a certain extent, they’re right, people are very sensitive to parking. But they’re also sensitive to parking availability as opposed to price. So it’s the total opportunity cost of parking.

This is the way you parallel park, and this is the way you hit cyclists and annoy buses. Image: Driving School

TS: But if you are charging for parking and other places nearby are not… On U Street in DC, when they upped parking rates to $2 an hour, business owners were so sensitive to the idea that their customers were going to go to the suburbs.

AD: That’s a part of the political dynamic — the competition between shopping destinations. It tends to reinforce the territoriality. But if you don’t ask people what they think and instead just look at their behavior, you’ll find that people value certainty about parking. They may grumble a little bit, but they’re quite willing to pay for parking if they’re sure they’re going to find it. And they weigh the time plus convenience plus cost in choosing their destination.

So if they can drive further to free parking, sometimes they’ll do that because the total cost of that seems better than going someplace closer and paying for parking. But also, lots of times people choose to go to places where they have to pay for parking. And the most popular neighborhoods in America tend to have congested parking you have to pay for. People are not fleeing those neighborhoods.

The ultimate gamble for all us urbanists is that the benefits of urbanism — the huge agglomeration of people and activities — beat the benefits of sprawl. And we’re winning it. Even though so many rules like parking rules are against us, and transportation spending patterns are against us. We keep putting most of the transportation dollars in the United States into suburban freeways, giant engines of auto dependence, but still cities are hot. And suburbs trying to become more urban.

TS: I wanted to get back to the parking apps, and even market pricing, which seem to work both ways because they might be making parking more expensive but they’re also making it easier. There are people who live in dense neighborhoods who, if they’re going to be home after 6 p.m., just won’t take their cars out because they’re afraid they won’t find a spot when they get home. But if they know there will be a spot or two, they will.

AD: So let me phrase your question this way: Is information technology going to encourage driving because it makes it so much easier to find a parking space?

TS: Or even market pricing.

AD: There will be all conceivable effects, but the net effect will be big improvements. Here’s why.

Cruising for parking is a particularly egregious form of driving. Cruising for parking is, on average, a third of vehicles moving through popular commercial districts in cities. It is especially bad for people on buses and for cyclists, because people who are cruising for parking are in the same lanes where the buses and the bikes want to be. People who are cruising for parking drive unpredictably; they suddenly slam on their brakes; they suddenly do a u-turn.

TS: And back up.

AD: And back up! The time I was closest to creamed on my bike was someone backing up trying to get into a parking space, and he was screaming in reverse right up the bike lane. So performance pricing — because it eliminates cruising — is an immediate, enormous benefit.

And it’s driving with no purpose. It doesn’t have any up-side.

TS: Right, there’s this idea that VMT and GDP are somehow inextricably linked, but you’re not getting any GDP out of cruising.

AD: Exactly. You’re getting negative utility. So performance pricing is a pure plus. And performance pricing ends up with same number of parking spaces being used. It’s mostly being put in, so far, in neighborhoods where the spaces are almost all full right now. It’s redistributing them a bit, and more efficiently.

The apps, more generally, that allow you to reserve and go directly to an off-street parking space may in some cases induce people to drive who wouldn’t have driven, but at same time, the apps are making apparent to owners of private spaces their value. And that flips around the political pressure for off-street parking. So I think the net effect of all that is hugely positive.

18 Sep 18:24

Google’s AOSP leader Jean-Baptiste Queru hired by Yahoo

by Cory Gunther

The entire Android community and Android Open Source Project (AOSP) has suffered a great loss this month, as the lead technical engineer known as Jean-Baptiste Queru left the team last month and has now been hired by Yahoo. We all know him as JBQ, who’s done fine work managing Android’s source code, but now he’s no longer with Google.


This all stems back to last month when he made the details public regarding Qualcomm’s patents which were preventing him from managing and releasing the factory images for the new Nexus 7. Essentially stating he didn’t want to go to work in the morning, and that he was quitting AOSP. It’s a little bittersweet, and here’s what it all came down to.

There’s no point being the maintainer of an Operating System that can’t boot to the home screen on its flagship device for lack of GPU support, especially when I’m getting the blame for something that I don’t have authority to fix myself and that I had anticipated and escalated more than 6 months ahead.” — JBQ

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 1.28.06 PM

This morning JBQ confirmed the news on Twitter, stating he’ll be in charge of mobile app development and engineering for Yahoo. According to reports he actually “quit” or left Google last month, and yesterday was his first day with Yahoooooo!

The folks from Yahoo haven’t had the best of luck lately with Android apps, and it took them forever to launch their Weather app for Android, which has been on iOS for quite a while. Hopefully this move will help their entire presence on Android, at least in terms of quality apps.

We are sad to see him go, but wish him luck with Yahoo and everything else moving forward.

VIA: Gigaom

12 Sep 00:51

Increased Risk

You may point out that strictly speaking, you can use that statement to prove that all risks are tiny--to which I reply HOLY SHIT WATCH OUT FOR THAT DOG!
12 Sep 00:49

Preferred Chat System

If you call my regular number, it just goes to my pager.
12 Sep 00:44


I guess it's a saying from the Old Country.
28 Aug 18:13

In Case SFPD Doesn’t Ask for Crash Footage, New Website Can Help Find It

by Aaron Bialick

Image: CommunityCam

A new online platform called CommunityCam provides a crowdsourced map of surveillance cameras on the streets that could help investigators and the public find video footage that may prove useful after a traffic crash.

As we saw last week, San Franciscans can’t rely on the SFPD to do their jobs when a pedestrian or bicyclist is injured by a driver, including taking a quick survey of nearby buildings for surveillance cameras that could provide key evidence in determining the cause of the crash. Instead, SFPD too often blames the victim by default.

CommunityCam currently lists the locations of more than 1,000 “outdoor, public-facing security cameras,” said Ellen Arndt, communications manager for, which hosts the map. “If a cyclist is hit and the driver fails to stop, he or she can look at CommunityCam’s map to determine if a nearby camera may have caught the incident on video.”

Sadly, it has indeed come to the point where the public may have to do investigative work on traffic crashes for the SFPD. At least now, it’s easier to find these cameras.

27 Aug 19:39

Hindu Man Describes Mistreatment After False-Positive Hand Swab

by Jay Stanley
Volker Neumann

oh for fuck's sake

When the TSA in 2010 introduced the swabbing of some passengers’ hands to detect for explosive residue, we got a call from CNN asking if we’d tell them on camera what we thought of it from a privacy standpoint. It seemed to us that particle sniffers particularly tuned to detect explosives were not a significant invasion of privacy, and that the intrusion of having a government agent swab one’s hand was not significant. Especially in comparison to many of the other airline security measures then (and still) being pushed by the TSA, this was a measure that seemed to represent a good balance between effectiveness and intrusiveness.

But we have learned all too well that if something can be abused, it probably will be abused, so in our role as watchdogs we tried to anticipate any problems that might arise. As CNN wrote in their story (the video is here):

The American Civil Liberties Union has "always supported explosive detection as a good form of security that doesn't really invade privacy," said Jay Stanley….

Stanley said the ACLU is chiefly concerned that the TSA does not discriminate when selecting people for enhanced screening—something the agency said it does not do—and that it treat people with dignity.

"We would not want to see it implemented in a discriminatory fashion, for example, in a disproportionate way against Muslims and Arabs or, for example, people with red hair or anything else. Security experts from across the spectrum will tell you that that's not just unfair and unjust and not the American way, it's also a terrible way to do security," Stanley said.

Swabbing also should not be used to test for nonsecurity-related contraband, such as drugs, he said. "Under the Constitution, searches in airports are only for the purpose of protecting the security of airline transportation; they are not general law enforcement stops. And so it wouldn't be permissible for the government to use these trace portal detectors to look for drugs," Stanley said.

In short, we added three caveats to our endorsement: no discrimination, only test for explosives, and don’t treat people like criminals just because the machine says they’re a positive. What I said on that third point is that these machines are known to generate false positives when detecting traces of certain everyday substances such as heart medicines and fertilizers, that positive results of these tests are likely in almost all cases to be false positives, and that travelers who are the subject of such positive results should not be treated as presumptive terrorists or otherwise treated poorly. (CNN summed up this point as “treat people with dignity.”)

Now, via Gawker, comes an account (laid out in an extensive blog entry) that suggests at least two of our fears were not misplaced.

According to Aditya Mukerjee, a New York City scientist, he was traveling to Los Angeles for a vacation with his family when a TSA swab of his hand turned up positive (later conjectured to be due to contact he’d had with some bed-bug spray). As a result, he was detained for four hours; interrogated repetitively throughout that time by agents from the TSA, the NYPD, DHS, the FBI, and JetBlue security, among others; interrogated about his religious beliefs and practices; and denied access to food or water, despite repeated requests for water.

Of course, unlike many incidents we’ve seen, in which people are questioned on no basis whatsoever, Mukerjee did trip up a particle detector, and so it may have been reasonable that he was subjected to some additional search.

But reporters should ask the TSA whether the average American who happens to trip up a swab because they’ve come into contact with particles of one kind or another that generate false-positives should expect to undergo this kind of treatment.

If the answer is yes, that’s bad news and Americans need to know it. If the answer is no, then that just confirms what seems clear according to Mukerjee’s account: he was the victim of discrimination because of his ethnicity. Although he is a Hindu, some of his interrogators made clear they thought he was Muslim. He writes that an FBI agent told him,

“You’ll have to understand, when a person of your… background walks into here, travelling alone, and sets off our alarms, people start to get a bit nervous. I’m sure you’ve been following what’s been going on in the news recently. You’ve got people from five different branches of government all in here—we don’t do this just for fun.”

Invasive questioning of perceived Muslims about their religious beliefs and practices is an abuse we have long seen at the border.

As Gawker examines in more depth, although Mukerjee was eventually cleared by the government agents, he was also denied boarding by JetBlue and had to book an expensive last-minute flight on another airline.

27 Aug 18:14

Court Rejects Military Contractor's Attempt to Avoid Trial for Human Trafficking

by Rahul Bhagnari, ACLU
Volker Neumann

the sad part is that i'm not surprised

A federal court in Texas struck a blow last week to contractor KBR's attempt to thwart efforts to hold it accountable for labor trafficking in Iraq. After a review of the evidence, the court ordered that a case charging the former Halliburton subsidiary with human trafficking and forced labor proceed to trial.

The case, Ramchandra Adhikari v. Daoud & Partners, is brought by 12 Nepali men under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) against KBR and its Jordanian subcontractor, Daoud & Partners, for their participation in the trafficking and forced labor scheme. The ACLU and Yale Law School's Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Law clinic filed an amicus brief in support of the men.

As part of the scheme, the men were duped into working on U.S. military bases in Iraq after being falsely promised lucrative employment in hotels and restaurants in relatively safe countries in the Middle East. En route to the military base – on a dangerous highway with no security – the convoy in which the men were traveling, along with dozens of others in identical predicaments, was attacked by Iraqi insurgents. Eleven of the men in the convoy were later executed, their deaths broadcast on television. The survivor made it to the base but was refused permission to return home for another 15 months.

As the ACLU has documented in Victims of Complacency, while the fate of the men may be unique, the scheme of which they were a part was sadly all too common at the time. Since 2003, similar labor trafficking schemes resulted in thousands of foreign workers (known as Third Country Nationals or "TCNs") being hired to work on U.S. government contracts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

In an attempt to avoid accountability, KBR sought the dismissal of the case, arguing that the 12 Nepali men had not been subjected to labor trafficking and that regardless, it is shielded from liability under the TVPA. The judge rejected this argument, correctly ruling that the evidence presented:

[S]hows that each man was deceived about his promised job; each man was promised a hotel-related job in Jordan; each man's family took on significant debt in order to pay recruitment fees; when the men arrived in Jordan, they were subject to threats and harm; their passports were confiscated; and the men were locked into a compound and threatened.

The case can now proceed to trial, bringing the families of the 11 victims, along with the one survivor, an important step closer to holding their traffickers accountable. It is our hope that this trial, along with new regulations against the trafficking and forced labor of persons serving under government contracts, will help end modern-day slavery on government overseas contracts once and for all.

Learn more about human trafficking and other civil liberties issues: Sign up for breaking news alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

15 Aug 20:00

Bike-Share Station Rollout Continues, Plus a Glimpse of Bikes Ready to Go

by Aaron Bialick

A Bay Area Bike Share van spotted in Palo Alto. Photo: Bruce Halperin

Bay Area Bike Share stations continue to pop up in Palo Alto and Redwood City, according to the social media buzz.

Bruce Halperin spotted crews with the van shown in the above photo installing stations at the Palo Alto Caltrain station. As we reported, San Francisco’s stations are due to start rolling out next week.

A photo showing the first glimpse of the bikes dressed up and ready to go in the warehouse was also posted on the official BABS feed.

Things are getting real.

Downtown Palo Alto. Photo: @jarkatmu/Twitter

13 Aug 23:47

Meet Streetmix, the Website Where You Can Design Your Own Street

by Stephen Miller

Streetmix lets users mix and match design elements to create the street of their dreams. Image: Streetmix

Last fall, Lou Huang was at a community meeting for the initiative to redesign Second Street in San Francisco. Planners handed out paper cutouts, allowing participants to mix and match to create their ideal street. Huang, an urban designer himself, thought the exercise would make for a great website. Now, after months of work beginning at a January hackathon with colleagues at Code for America, it is a great website.

The principle behind Streetmix is simple: it brings drag-and-drop functionality to a basic street design template. Users select a road width and add or remove everything from light rail to wayfinding signs, adjusting the size of each feature meet their specifications.

“It’s a little bit like a video game,” collaborator Marcin Wichary said. ”We were very inspired by SimCity.”

But Streetmix is more than just a fun way for amateur street designers to spend an afternoon. “What we want to focus on is, how can this enable meaningful conversations around streets?” Wichary said. “For many people it’s a kind of entry point.”

The first version of Streetmix went online in January, but the latest version, which has new features and a slicker design, launched less than two weeks ago. In that short time, advocates have used the website to illustrate possibilities for Dexter Avenue in Seattle and Route 35 on the Jersey Shore. Streetmix has profiled how people from Vancouver to Cleveland use the website. Residents of Sioux Center, Iowa, even used Streetmix illustrations in their campaign to stop the state DOT’s road widening plan in their town.

“It’s giving power back to the people, allowing them to vocalize what their streetscape priorities are,” Huang said.

While the website can be a powerful tool for advocacy, its creators are clear that it has limitations. “It doesn’t look like a CAD drawing,” Wichary said. “It’s deliberately much more playful.” A common request is for the website to include drainage and topographical features.

The birthplace of Streetmix: a Code for America hackathon in San Francisco last January. Photo: Ezra Spier

“That’s something we’ll probably never include in Streetmix,” Huang said, adding that the goal is to make street design basics more accessible to the general public. “We’re not building a professional CAD tool.”

But there are some features that might eventually find their way to future versions of the website. Huang said that one of the very first requests was to add a plan view, so users could have a birds-eye view instead of simply looking at sections of a street. Huang is also interested in adding geolocation features, so users can explore what other people have proposed for streets in their neighborhood.

Some users have requested the ability to turn on and off design restrictions for certain projects — for example, setting a fixed right-of-way width or requiring inclusion of bus lanes, if those are the parameters of a particular street or campaign.

It’s uncertain whether these upgrades will become a part of Streetmix. Huang and Wichary are both fellows at Code for America through November, working with cities across the country on tools for everything from criminal justice to food trucks.

“It does remain to be seen what happens to Streetmix after our fellowship program is over,” Huang said. “Nobody wants it to die.”

11 Jul 03:13

Douglas Engelbart (1925-2013)

Actual quote from The Demo: '... an advantage of being online is that it keeps track of who you are and what you’re doing all the time ...'
11 Jul 03:12


Well, we've really only settled the question of ghosts that emit or reflect visible light. Or move objects around. Or make any kind of sound. But that covers all the ones that appear in Ghostbusters, so I think we're good.
24 Jun 00:31

I'm Sure She'll Never Notice

22 Jun 16:51

Video: A Dutch Perspective on U.S. Cycling Infra

by Brad Aaron

SF editor’s note: This video features plenty of examples of San Francisco’s stressful bicycling streets — the kind that the SFMTA hopes to transform in its Bicycle Strategy. The agency has determined that only 10 percent of the city’s bike network is “comfortable for most people.”

Last December I traveled to Amsterdam for the first time. I don’t ride a bike, but as a pedestrian, to be surrounded by human-oriented infrastructure (see these Streetfilms) was a little like visiting another planet. And the strangest part was how normal it was. In the Netherlands, bikes are about as controversial as umbrellas, and only once in eight days did I feel threatened by a driver.

From BicycleDutch, this critique of street conditions in the U.S. flips this dynamic on its head. You’ll chuckle and cringe as the narrator calmly eviscerates typical American bike “infra.” (See? Even their descriptors are more elegant.)

On the other hand, he seems impressed that American cyclists have the fortitude to ride the streets at all, and that bike lanes are “popping up everywhere.”

What do you think, Amerikanen?

17 May 05:33

“The Spokesman” A Great 3-Minute Video About Bikes

by Tom

This is a lovely little video piece. You must spare 3 minutes for this quirky character study about bike history.

The Spokesman from dean saffron on Vimeo.

Via the ever-awesome Gurldoggie.

Major bonus points if you can name that bike he is riding in the last shots.

Post to Twitter

16 May 16:50

The Story of a Wooden Bicycle Crate

by CW

I first spotted it some time last Autumn. I was passing through Harvard Square and there it was – a wooden Harris Cyclery crate strapped to the rear rack of a mountain bike-turned-commuter, locked securely to a bike rack. How neat it is to see a Harris crate in the wild, I thought. I’ve always liked these handsome wooden containers.

A couple of weeks later, I passed the same spot and saw the bike with the Harris Cyclery crate again. I figured the owner must work in Harvard Square and this is their regular lock-up spot. It’s not unusual to “claim” regular spots on the bike rack.

Winter came, and it was a particularly bad one this year in Boston. Out on a stroll one frigid day, once again I walked through Harvard Square and saw the bike with the wooden Harris Cyclery crate. Both were now covered with a layer of snow. And when I passed by once more some time later, there was still more snow. It did not look like the bike had been ridden in some time. I started to think most likely it was abandoned. That happens here in the winter. Sad.

The winter lasted a long time. It was cold. It was wet. Snow continued to fall relentlessly through March. On occasion I would spot the wooden crate – at times soaking wet, at times covered in ice, at time filled with snow. I doubted it would survive until Spring; surely the wood would crack or rot.

But Spring came, and the crate emerged unscathed – save for a bit of evidence of a brief avian visit. Indeed, I would hardly have guessed that it had stayed outdoors all winter long.

Just this morning, I walked by the spot where the bike was locked up again. I saw that it was knocked over, now lying on its side. The crate looked as handsome as ever, not a mark on it. I picked up the bike and stood it up against the rack in its usual place. Maybe some day the owner will return for it. In the meantime, the wooden Harris Cyclery crates leave no doubt as to their durability. These are fine bicycle crates.

16 May 04:40

Watch: Time Lapse of Market Street Bike Traffic on Bike to Work Day

by Aaron Bialick

The SF Bicycle Coalition has released an awesome time lapse video of over 1,000 people on bikes rolling by the Market Street bicycle counter on the morning of Bike to Work Day.

The SFBC’s volunteer photographer Volker Neumann took photos every five seconds with a camera mounted to a nearby telephone pole.

Photos and statistics are great, but nothing shows the potential to grow bicycling in San Francisco quite like the sight of serious bike traffic in action.

14 May 20:47

Critical Mass – Now For Superstars

by Scott Spitz

lebronI checked a few times to make sure I wasn’t reading a joke news site when I poured over this article from Beta D News. It’s not new that LeBron James and Dewayne Wade are known for riding their bikes to and from Miami Heat practice (we touched on their involvement in cycling here), but their participation in the Miami CRITICAL MASS is certainly a development.

The monthly ride, originally organized by those on the outside of pop culture, has now attracted NBA professionals, but not as a publicity stunt. James and Wade showed up to the critical mass ride unannounced and simply rode along with everyone else. And they should…as they are both subject to the same perils all bike commuters face on the streets, whether beater-riders or multi-millionaires.

According to the article, Wade and James go on to talk about the benefits of cycling on their athletic performance, but the best quote is from Wade….

“I got lights on my bike. I’m serious. This isn’t a joke.”

So there you go. Stop hating on Critical Mass as some sort of rolling hippie party…we’ve obviously moved way beyond that. Get serious. Get some lights. Happy Friday.

14 May 20:43

Cycling Legalese: Road Rage Retribution

by Brendan Kevenides, P.C.

bkevinidesCycling Legalese is our online cycling law column from everyday cyclist and Chicago based injury lawyer, Brendan Kevenides.

Road rage attacks are a relatively rare but unfortunate reality of city riding. Brendan goes over why it may be best to not speculate on a motorist’s motives if you’ve been hit and concentrate on the facts of the collision.

Q: So many people seem to be angry behind the wheel. How can I go after a driver after I’ve been the victim of a “road rage” incident?

Brendan Kevenides, P.C.:In my hometown of Chicago bicyclists and motorists rarely use five fingers to waive at one another. Sad. The mutual animosity that exists between these two sets of travelers is strange really. After all, many of us are both motorists and bicyclists. Yet somehow we seem to forget our other selves while operating one mode of transportation or the other. I suppose it is because while traveling on congested city streets, whether on bike or in a car, we are trying to get somewhere as quickly and easily as possible while sharing a limited resource, usable street space.

Road rage incidents have the potential to turn out much worse for the bicyclist than for the driver. The motorist is, of course, wrapped in a cocoon of metal while the cyclist is not. A few years ago I represented a young bicyclist who was the victim of such an incident. He was riding his bike on the right side of the road in the city when a driver aggressively cut in front of him, nearly causing a collision. The bicyclist, pissed, rode after the vehicle, a red BMW, which eventually encountered slow moving traffic. As he rode by the car, the bicyclist rapped on the vehicle’s passenger window and waved hello with a single finger. That should have been it. However, the driver, now also pissed, sped forward at the bicycle and struck its back wheel causing the young man to fly forward, ass-over-teakettle. His injuries were not very severe, thanks to nothing but dumb luck. Later, he contacted me to represent him against the driver in a personal injury action, which, of course, I did.

I had one big concern in that case. Making a case that the driver was in the wrong would be easy. He seemed to have intentionally struck my client. But that was the problem. I was afraid that the driver’s auto insurance carrier would deny coverage because the incident seemed to have been an intentional act. Liability insurance, including auto liability insurance, covers an insured for his or her negligent conduct, not intentional acts. Insurance exists to protect one against the consequences of harm caused by errors in judgment, not malicious acts. “Negligence” under the law means a failure to act with due regard for the safety of others. In a civil personal injury lawsuit, a jury of one’s peers is often charged with determining whether a person failed to act with such due care (the so-called “reasonable man” standard), and thus caused an injury. Intent to cause harm is something else entirely. It is setting out to purposefully harm. In my road rage case, I knew I could sue the driver and force him to look to his personal assets to compensate my client, but I was not sure the guy had any money. Sure, he was driving a nice car, but it could have been leased; it could have belonged to his parents. As it turned out we resolved the case with the driver’s insurer paying most of the settlement and the driver kicking in some additional money from his own fairly modest assets. The point I wish to make, however, in recalling that case is that if you are involved in an incident with a motorist be very careful when describing the events to police, witnesses and insurance companies. Do not speculate that the driver acted with malicious intent. If you are badly hurt and decide to pursue a personal injury action against the motorist, having categorized the driver’s conduct as intentional may mean that his or her insurer will refuse to compensate you for your injuries. The insurance company and its lawyers may go to court and ask for a ruling that the policy does not apply because the injury causing act arose from malice, rather than negligence.

If your injuries are bad, requiring a lot of medical care, there is a low probability that the responsible motorist will have enough money or other assets to compensate you fully. There is no need for you to offer commentary when reporting a road rage incident. You should avoid the term “road rage” all to together. As they say, just the facts. Vent to your friends or family later.

Nothing contained in this column should be construed as legal advice. The information contained herein may or may not match your individual situation. Also, laws differ from place to place and tend to change over time. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented herein without seeking the advice of an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction. This column is meant to promote awareness of a general legal issue. As such, it is meant as entertainment. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.

Cycling Legalese Question Submission Form:

14 May 19:37

Stoopidtall 14.5 ft Tallbike in LA Ciclavia

by brad

This is a terrifying video of someone in LA riding a 14.5 ft tallbike through the Los Angeles Ciclavia and the first bike video is a long time to completely amaze me. Watch it to the end to check out some still images of the bike and rider from street level for a sense of scale.

12 May 20:46

Arthursday: dschwen

by calitexican
David Schwen is a Minneapolis based designer/illustrator type of person. I've been following him on instagram when I found out about his food pantone parings. And whaddya know? He has done some bikey designs too.