Want to channel your inner Jack Kerouac but too broke to own a car? Then this one is for you. This incredibly detailed map, created by the bus travel organization American Intercity Bus Riders Association, charts every major bus and Amtrak route across the Land of the Free.
When city streets were a public space
“In the early days of the automobile, it was drivers’ job to avoid you, not your job to avoid them,” says Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia.
Excitement about autonomous vehicles has been high in the engineering and planning fields, and much of the media coverage about them has been favorable. The driverless car, it’s been predicted, will result in the following benefits to mobility:
- a reduction in traffic congestion (permitting roads to be redesigned);
- a decrease in car ownership (and a concomitant reduction in pollution);
- a diminished need for parking (permitting this land to be repurposed); and
- an 80 to 90 percent reduction in automobile collisions (because humans are error-prone and computers are not).
The VTPI report is a sober, and perhaps more realistic, look at the impacts of driverless cars on transportation planning. The main conclusion of the report, called “Autonomous Vehicle Implementation Predictions: Implications for Transport Planning,” is that predictions that self-driving cars will soon be all over the roads are optimistic. – See more at: http://mobilitylab.org/2015/01/16/fully-driverless-cars-will-be-ready-in-2060-report-finds/#sthash.OGrOdxkA.dpuf
“Vehicle innovations tend to be implemented more slowly than for other technological change due to their high costs, strict safety requirements, and slow fleet turnover.” Acknowledging this, VTPI’s report projects that a true, level 4, driverless car will not reach market saturation, and be affordable to middle income families, until around the year 2060 or later”
Full report: http://www.vtpi.org/avip.pdf
This article explains Steve Pepple’s submission to the Ford Parking Lot 2.0 challenge.
Ford’s Challenge: “How can Los Angeles outdoor surface parking lots be repurposed to increase their variety of uses, or aesthetic value, while enabling parking in the city?”
Parking lots are the places where drivers become pedestrians.
My initial idea for this challenge was to repurpose select parking lots to encourage the use of public transportation and walking in downtown L.A. and other urban centers of Los Angeles county. While I personally believe there should be less outdoor parking in urban parts of most cities, it is not realistic to imagine dramatically less car usage and parking in a city like Los Angeles. So what are some ways that parking could be less of an urban problem and even part of the solution?
My proposal, Park Here L.A., is to retrofit existing parking spaces into pedestrian-friendly information hubs that include kiosks for information, payment, and wayfinding.
A single parking space is about 160 square feet and costs tens of thousands of dollars to build and maintain. I propose that parking lots around the city reserve just two spaces — one from hundreds of spaces in most lots — that will be transformed into an inviting and safe area for parking lot users to connect with other transit systems and find information about nearby places and services. Existing payments systems will be leveraged for internet connectivity that can be shared with the information kiosk. The web connection will allow for scalable web-based maps that display data from city APIs including the L.A. Metro Developer API and Google’s Places and Civic APIs.
There are many steps in the driver’s journey and they will use several system to navigate to their desired destination. The wayfinding step, which is a person’s ability to orient their self in space and get around the city, is one of the last steps in the process. Park Here L.A. is designed with an awareness of this overall experience.
Both automobile and mobile devices urge the user to go directly from point A to point B. This system would invite the user to explore the urban environment, while providing information to arrive at their destination on time.
Earlier in the year, I worked on a multi-modal transit routing App for locating affordable parking in the outer ring of the London metropolis. As part of this work, I realized that the payment and information experience at the Park-and-Ride stations was a critical part of the user’s journey. The interchange to public transportation is one of the biggest hurdles for Park-and-Ride stations and I think the same could be said for parking that requires the user to walk to their destination. If this part of the journey can be made easier and more enjoyable, then people are likely to use mixed-mode transportation.
I realized that parking lots could be designed as micro transit terminals, which reassure the user and help them find their destination.
Software in the user’s car, i.e. a Ford Sync app, or mobile app for finding parking would provide the user information and directions to desirable parking. After the user parks, they easily pay for parking and as part of this process find useful information about the area where they have parked.
My idea was inspired by many other existing systems and ideas in architecture, public transportation, and urban planning. I have also been inspired by more recent trends known as “tactical urbanism,” including on-street Parklets and Park(ing) Day. For the physical and interface design of the kiosks, I borrowed heavily from the Legible London signage system, the Walk NYC wayfinding project, and the City ID Interconnect system.
It used to be difficult for me to visit San Francisco. As a native of Southern California, I represent one of the few things San Franciscans just can’t tolerate, along with greenhouse gases, the Central Freeway, and coffee shops that don’t have a separate bin for compost. But recently, San Franciscans have had to deal with something that irks them even more than insufferable bubble heads from southern half of their state like me: Google buses.
Over the past few years, tech giant Google has phased in a new luxury bus service for the multitudes of young, hip programmers who work at its sprawling Mountain View headquarters but live in San Francisco. Other Silicon Valley titans such as Facebook and Apple have followed suit.
These buses are nothing like the drab, gray buses run by MUNI, the city’s transit agency. They are tall, white, and feature tinted windows, cushy seats and onboard wi-fi. Often referred to as Google buses, or “G-buses” for short, they have unleashed a firestorm of criticism that speaks to the hard economic truths of the city. Critics decry the massive amount of space the buses take up and that they often park for extended periods of time in public bus stops. But perhaps their most stinging critique is that they symbolize, and perhaps even worsen, the widening divide between the city’s rich and poor.
Though this feud has been stewing for a number of months, it boiled over last month when citizens banded together to protest Google buses. In San Francisco, protesters blocked a bus, holding a coffin with the words “affordable housing” etched on the sides. In nearby Oakland, also affected by the G-bus phenomenon, protesters took it even further by throwing a rock through the window of a Google bus.
With all this Google bus brouhaha distracting Bay Area residents from their traditional disdain for Southern California, it was the perfect time for me to visit. And as soon as I got into town, stepping out of a BART station in the Mission district, one of the first things I saw was a giant G-Bus lumbering south.
As I continued north on Valencia Street, I decided to stop into a bookstore I passed along the way. It’s a San Francisco classic, in a hundred-year-old building with high ceilings and two stories of vaguely Victorian apartments above, with a mix of new and old books in sitting in the storefront, a cruiser bike hanging above the entrance, and a clever name: Dog Eared Books.
I decided to casually ask the cashier what she thought about the Google buses. Her sunny demeanor quickly turned sour. She fell silent for a moment, then muttered in a hostile deadpan, “They’re ruining the city. They make it harder for average people to live here.” But she also recognized that they’re part of the many dangers city dwellers face. “San Francisco has always been about hustle,” she tells me. “A lot of people are upset about these buses. But I won’t let it get to me. I ride to work on my bike every day.”
Though plenty of people share this sentiment, it may not be fair to blame Google buses for single-handedly raising home prices in the City by the Bay. Although some research, such as a paper done by a former grad student at UC Berkeley, suggests that there is a positive correlation between Google bus stops and higher housing costs, many factors are at play. And it’s important to remember the positive effects of Google buses: they take traffic off the highways, reducing carbon emissions and congestion. Perhaps it’s a testament to how advanced San Francisco is in the field of mass transit that people can travel by bus there and still be seen as anti-progressive.
There are a number of solutions in the works. San Francisco officials have proposed charging G-buses one dollar for every city bus stop they use (opponents naturally think that that’s not enough). Google has complimented its bus service with a new ferry line to its campus. Naturally, Google ferries also come equipped with wi-fi.
But the core issue has as much to do with the rest of the Bay Area as it does with San Francisco. San Francisco, with a population of roughly 825,000 people, represents only 11.5% of the Bay Area’s 7.1 million residents, yet it’s the only place (besides Oakland) that Google and Facebook employees move to in large enough numbers as to justify G-bus service. The issue is perhaps summed up best by comedian Emily Heller in a recent SF Weekly article. “Like a lot of Bay Areans, when I’m traveling, I tell people I’m from San Francisco. I say this despite the fact that I was born and raised in a lovely old house in Alameda,” she explains. “I don’t claim S.F. just for convenience… Alameda is close enough and boring enough to always be in San Francisco’s shadow.” In short, people who work in the Bay Area want to live in San Francisco more than any other city in the region.
Why is this? In a way, San Francisco is a victim of its own success. In the 50s, while most American cities gutted their streetcar lines and bulldozed viable neighborhoods to build freeways, San Francisco managed to save key streetcar lines (today they’re run by MUNI) and put the brakes on runaway freeway construction. Today, the city is a textbook example of the urban planning policies embraced in planning circles everywhere. But other Bay Area cities weren’t so lucky. Places like Hayward, Freemont, and Concord fell victim to the sprawl-centric policies more closely associated with other US metro areas, including (much to the chagrin of Northern Californians) metropolitan Los Angeles.
In a way, the overwhelming preference of well-heeled Google employees for San Francisco as opposed to sprawling Bay Area suburbs is a vindication of the planning policies so many planners are trying to create elsewhere in the world. But it’s also a cautionary tale. Though urban planning principles such as walkability, accessibility, and adequate public space serve to create vibrant communities, a key factor in the success of cities, these vibrant communities can’t just be the domain of a privileged few. But that’s exactly what happens in an urban area where 11 percent of the population lives in a well-planned city and everyone else lives in cities where planning policy is dominated by sprawl. The G-buses are merely a symptom of this overwhelming demand for vibrant communities.
At Dog Eared Books, there’s a special shelf dedicated to books on San Francisco. Collections of quotes from Mark Twain and Herb Caen, photo books of Alfred Hitchcock’s many San Francisco movies, and recent releases like Gary Kamiya’s 49 Views of San Francisco are piled high. One book stands out to me: Infinite City: a San Francisco Atlas, compiled by San Francisco native Rebecca Solnit, an author who by now has probably won enough awards to fill the entire bookstore. It’s a detailed, intimate reimagining of the many neighborhoods of the city, a celebration of the lively existence of each of the city’s many inhabitants.
It’s a thought provoking labor of love, and unfortunately, one that is hardly likely to be repeated for more mundane Bay Area cities. And sadly, some elements of San Francisco’s privileged spot within the Bay Area can never be replicated by other area cities: the history, the rolling hills, the scenic views of awe-inspiring bridges, the famous fog that rarely makes it past the Bay Bridge. But part of San Francisco’s success owes to repeatable planning elements: walkable neighborhoods, accessible transit, plentiful public parks. Bringing these elements to far-flung Bay Area cities will help to eat away at the demand that is the very reason for the existence of Google buses.
Building the same level of urban success experienced by San Francisco in the outer reaches of the Bay Area is no simple task. It will take decades of work, which in many cases will be threatened by the lack of public support in cities with political cultures radically different than San Francisco. But the Google bus controversy is a clear indication of the importance of good planning, not just in one city within a metro area, but everywhere.
It’s probably too much to hope for that cities like Hayward and Concord will ever pique the interest of world class talent like Twain, Hitchcock, and Solnit. But with the right planning, they can one day build the kind of culture that supports strong urban communities that can support places like Dog Eared Books and perhaps attract a few well-off Google employees who would otherwise move to San Francisco. Until they do, the G-buses will rule the San Francisco streets. And SoCal natives like me will have an easier time visiting.
Drew Reed is an online media producer and community activist specialising in sustainable transportation. He lives in Buenos Aires.