Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
-Jane Jacobs

NPR gets it right again

NPR has recently came out with a new journalism handbook to help focus their reporting. Here is a quote from the new handbook.

"In all our stories, especially matters of controversy, we strive to consider the strongest arguments we can find on all sides, seeking to deliver both nuance and clarity. Our goal is not to please those whom we report on or to produce stories that create the appearance of balance, but to seek the truth.”

Previously, NPR tried to express the varying view points on any given topic without lending support for either side. In other words, they tried to be neutral in their topical coverage. This has not changed so much, except now they are focusing more on the truth. 

"At all times, we report for our readers and listeners, not our sources. So our primary consideration when presenting the news is that we are fair to the truth. If our sources try to mislead us or put a false spin on the information they give us, we tell our audience. If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side, we acknowledge it in our reports. We strive to give our audience confidence that all sides have been considered and represented fairly.”

Kudos to NPR for recognizing a serious issue in journalism today and trying to do something about it. It has frustrated me to no end how most of the major news sources are more concerned about offending one side or another than they are about reporting the truth. If there are two or more sides to a story it is great to report all of them. But if some of the points are dishonest / lack truth / are not based in reality, it is the duty of the good journalist to call that out. 

Lets call out people for being blatantly dishonest and see what happens. I don’t think that it could harm our political discourse. 

You can find some more details on the handbook and its influence on NPR reporting in the below links. 

Info on new handbook 

a little more info 


Thoughts on: $2.50 gas

Did you watch the GOP debate a few days ago?  I watched it, mostly because I have been battling the flu and I was laid up on the couch, but I ended up enjoying it in a sick sort of way. Kind of like when you have blister from too much hiking and you can’t stop poking it. 

It seemed like Newt was really excited about his claim that he could bring the price of gas per gallon down to $2.50. I don’t really blame him, that would be pretty remarkable if a President could toss world market demand aside and come up with a creative way to price a highly desired commodity exactly at the price he wishes. The only way that I can think of that this could be possible is with an extremely heavy subsidies or price controls, and I am pretty sure he would not stump on further subsidies / price controls (who knows maybe he would though). 

But whether or not $2.50 gas is possible is not even the real problem. Is this something that we should be focusing on as a top level goal? 

Recently I was talking with a friend about it. He said to me, “well, the price of gas is a big issue to a lot of people and it is important to them, even though it is not important to you”.

I’ll admit, the price of gas is not a big issue to me. I hardly ever even look at the price before I fill up. I do try and get gas outside of chicago when possible and conveneinat, because I know it is less expensive, but I don’t activley pursue it. I drive so little that the price of gas is just not that big of a deal. A few cents here or there, when filling up my car at most once per month is not going to worry me. But what about those people that drive more, or have to drive because of their job? Is $2.50 gas an issue so important that they should support a candindate based on that promise? 

What exactly does $2.50 gas stand for? In my mind it stands for complacency. Complacency, with our country’s energy strategy. It stands for fear. Fear to realize that we are at the end of the road when it comes to our oil dependence. It stands for short- sightidness. We are too short sighted to see that the oil that is left in the world comes at extremely high economical, political and humanitarian costs. And that the oil in our country comes at the cost of destroying our own natural beauty. It stands for preferring Immediate satisfaction over smart long term planning. It stands for greed. Where greedy corporations are actively lobbying to destroy clean energy technologies and opportunities, and greedy citizens let them get away with it. It basically stands for almost everything that is wrong with this county. 

So when someone Like Newt Gingrich, makes a promise that sounds too good to be true, not only is it likely that it is untrue, but he is also appealing to the most base and flawed elements of humanity. This seems to be the GOP strategy in which Newt excels at better than most.


Selling Highway Removal

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy has released a new study outlining how highway removal works, and why it is a good idea. It also shares some significant success stories, including the removal of Embarcedro freeway in San Francisco.

Recently I was doing field work around 18th and Halsted, on the near south side of Chicago and I was struck by the difference between the areas just east of the highway over pass and those areas just west.

The highway arches up and over on 18th between Ruble and Union streets creating a vast cavern that is almost intimidating in its size. These areas are pretty barren, with little to no commercial development. A few blocks down, at the intersection of halsted and 18th, there is mixed use, and pedestrians are out and about.The contrast is striking.

It is pretty clear that the highway overpass has damaged the vitality of the area east of the overpass. The overpass has succeeded in its goal of encouraging people to pass through in a hasty manner, but isn’t it a better more noble goal to encourage people to want to be where-ever they happen to be? Whats wrong with staying and enjoying where you are at?

When you think about it, it is amazing how cars have taken such priority over planning. It is encouraging to see some remedies and it is important to talk about their successes. Lets try and make the communities we live in better for the people that are there now. Lets not sacrifice their well being for the people merely passing through.


Chicago Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

It looks like there has been some progress with creating a BRT line in the loop. TIF money is now going to be used to create the first BRT line in Chicago (or maybe even the Midwest). 

It is unclear if the BRT route will have things that….umm make it an actual BRT route like stop light timing, dedicated BRT lanes and sophisticated pre-boarding payment facilities.  Without theses features I am unclear how this project would be an actual BRT line.

The good news is the details are still being worked out so hopefully the city will get it right. BRT, in my opinion is the future of transit within large cities on a tight budget.  We will just have to see what happens. 



Just finished Jeffrey Sach’s “The price of civilization” @JeffDSachs Exceptional read. Even with the difficulties society faces today, there is hope. I strongly recommend this book to anyone that is interested / scared / hopeful for the future of our country and the world.


Thoughts on: California High Speed Rail (HSR)

It looks like California high Speed Rail is finally getting off the ground. In what I think is a smart and economical move, the HSR project has teamed up with CALTRAINS (CALTRAINS is a  commuter rail line in the bay area)  in a rail-sharing effort. Originally, the California’s HSR project was intended to run on its own tracks, perhaps reaching 10 trains per hour. Now, the HSR project is going to share rail with CALTRAINS in an effort bring the projects cost way down, and its start time way up. 

Some in the transit community may think that this is a loss, since it does not look like CA HSR is getting its own rail, but I think this is some real progress, just maybe not as much as some of us would have hoped for. As far as comprises go, I can live with this one quite easily. The trains are still going to go over 100mph and the start date is going to be a lot sooner. I think it is very important for the future of HSR for the first few HSR projects to get off the ground in a positive manner (on time or early, at or under budget etc).

It is disappointing that transit has become such a partisan issue. It has not always been this way. As Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stated

I often say that there are no Democratic or Republican roads or bridges or rail lines, and that’s just as true now as it was when our parents and grandparents built the state-of-the-art interstate and freight rail systems we benefit from today.  Unfortunately, some in Congress these days would rather score partisan political points than make the critical investments in transportation we need to put Americans back to work and leave our children and grandchildren an economy built to last.” Ray LaHood

Where has the can-do attitude of this country gone ? It has been a long time since we have done anything truly great. Something that required a general consensus, that crosses party lines. Things are too expensive, too time consuming, they don’t provide enough short term profits, or they are poltically difficult. It seems like war is one of the few things that we slouch off the difficulties of and are eager to embark on, which is very troubling. 

I view HSR in this country as a great civic achievement, similar to the building of the Hoover Dam or the Federal Highway System. Beyond providing great utility to all people in this country,  I think these types of grand projects make all Americans feel good about themselves and their country. These endeavors become concrete examples of what a group of people with a common goal can achieve regardless of their political differences. I think Americans need to be reminded about what they have in common, and how they have so much more in common then they realize.  Done well, a grand project like Californians HSR can do just that. 


"A society of compassion, mutual help, and collective decision making is not good just for the poor, who may receive help, but also for the rich, who may give it."

J Sachs, “the price of civilization”


How did we get into the mess that we are in now?

Well, I won’t / can’t / don’t want answer that question in full. But I can give you a tidy example about some of the issues that we are facing as a people (particularly US Citizens).

Just a touch of background first. JOBS! We all want them, but there does not seem to be enough to go around. What sort of things could we be doing to create industry here? Ponder that cliff hanger for a moment.

Have you heard about the big transportation bill that is making its way through the house? If you are into transit issues, you have heard about it so I won’t get into the dirty dirty DIRTY details. Lets just say, that it is a great bill if you love driving, and prefer not to have any other way to get someplace. Picture a Madmax style dystopia. That’s kind of what this bill is setting up. Funding for safe routes to school, public transit, air quality initiatives….all CUT!  Oh, and how is the house proposing to pay for these auto-centric goodies?  Yup, arctic drilling! Feel free to do some research your self on this one if your brave enough  (House Transit Bill info).

Coincidentally, BART ( Bay Area Rapid Transit) Is looking to spend over $1B over the next few years to replace some supposedly dank and dreary train cars. That is a lot of money that could create a lot of jobs. But you know what? There are no local (US based) manufactures of these types of train cars. So BART officials are traveling all over this green globe (soon to be less green) of ours to find suitors to unload American tax payer money on. Some of the train cars may end up being assembled stateside on a temporary basis, but its hard to say how much value (beyond the use of the updated train) is going to make it into our economy. Here is more info on the BART order. 

So, why arent there any US manufactures? Well, thats a big big question with a super long answer. Part of the problem is that manufacturers on this level (big expensive items purchased irregularly)  operate in a tough market that needs some government backing. A good example is defense manufacturers. Defense contractors know that they can rely on the government for some big orders so they can develop a business plan based off of at least a percentage of known business. With out government orders, there would not be major defense manufacturers in this country or probably anywhere at all.

What if our transportation bill placed high importance and value on transit solutions? What if manufacturers could count on the government to place some big transit orders every once and a while? This would have to be demonstrated through bills that consistently appropriate funds for transit issues. Transit related manufactueres might say “Gee, hold on here. The US government is taking transit seriously. Look at this recent bill. They are going to make a real investment in transit. Lets set up shop and try to meet this need!”

This would take some time and our legislators would have to make a real commitment to making transit a priority but I think it is possible. I know that transit is becoming a partisan issue, although that is not the norm for transit. Historically, transit has been a bi-paritsian issue and I hope that it can become one again. 

All of our actions are connected. You want jobs? Well, where is the kind of money being spent that can create jobs? Oh, in transportation alternatives? Lets gut our transit bill of anything that is not auto related! That sort of thinking (or lack of thinking) does not work for anyone but the legislators that get to pay back favors and collect new campaign contributions. 



Spice rack!


Preservation of Abandoned Rail Road Corridors

Below is a piece I wrote for an urban planning class last year. I am having trouble uploading pictures that would go in the appendix section so just use your imagination. 

The success or failure of transportation corridors since the late 1950’s has often hinged on the support or opposition of the Federal Government. Frequently, Government support or opposition for various modes of transportation infrastructure has had unintended consequences that has influenced transportation corridor creation, preservation, and abandonment.

The National Trail System Act (NTSA) is an example of Government initiative and unintended consequences. Before the creation of the NTSA in 1983, rail right-of-ways had to be transferred to the original property owner upon abandonment, effectively returning a transportation corridor to private use and severely limiting the opportunity for future corridor development.

The NTSA promoted transportation corridor preservation through railbanking. NTSA allows civically minded and qualified organizations, such as the Rails to Trails Conservancy, to hold and use corridors for the public benefit through railbanking. Civic organizations would hold these corridors until they could be put back into use for transportation purposes. The NTSA’s railbanking program has created 10,000 plus miles of preserved right of way. A weakness of the railbanking program is that it only maintains the rail-right-of-way, and not the physical rail infrastructure. The removal of rail infrastructure is big deterrent to bringing back rail to abandoned corridors.

The NTSA has promoted rail abandonment by giving rail operators tax incentives to hand over abandoned corridors to trail organizations. This has been especially true for marginally profitable lines. The economic incentive for abandonment that the NTSA has created is a harmful unintended consequence of Federal policy. The NTSA economic incentive for abandonment along with its exclusion of preserving rail infrastructure has cast doubts over its long term feasibly of returning rail corridors back to transportation uses.

The deregulation of the rail industry that came in 1980 with the Stagers Act led to an era of economic growth for the rail industry. However, it also ushered in an era of abandonment, consolidation and reduction of service. This is another striking example of Federal policy that has had unintended consequences.

The Super Highway Era:

Government planning efforts were not limited to rail related items. Highway traffic congestion, in part, created the motivation for the preservation and creation of rail corridors, mass transit and super highways. In the early 1950’s there was unprecedented cooperation between city, state, county and federal government planners. Within the Chicago region, cooperation between Mayor Richard J. Daley, the IL Toll Authority, and local community leaders coincided with profits from bond sales and increased federal funding to generate the era of superhighway creation. Within a matter of years formerly diffuse government agencies, politicians, and citizens came together with a common goal of transforming the region’s highway infrastructure. They largely succeeded.

In the 1950’s the importance of a successful highway system was largely understood. However, the decentralizing factor that the formation of super highways would create, and its impact on the economic viability of rails was less understood at the time. Within a mere ten years these factors would become more well known, and lead to the “Highway Revolt” that stymied the creation of new transportation infrastructure in the 1960’s.

The enormous amount of resident and property displacement needed to create new highways within an already densely populated city helped further the sense of highway revolt. Highway building was no longer the top priority amongst planners and Federal and State Agencies. The transportation industry enjoyed media attention during the 1950s, but as the political tensions of the 1960’s grew, the medias focus on transportation waned.

Federal and State partnerships for highway funding dried up. Smaller, incremental changes that could be made to the infrastructure that was already in place became the new focus of Federal and State transportation planning groups. A prime example of the shifting agenda of planners, Government Agencies and citizens was the controversy surrounding the creation of The Cross Town Expressway.

Transportation Corridor Development:

There is still potential for the reintroduction of rail usage amongst previously abandoned or displaced rail lines in this country. Three areas that have vast potential for a new or improved rail corridors are already well known, Los Angeles (Newport Beach north to LA), Monterey to San Francisco, and a super corridor connecting Newport Beach to Los Angeles, north to Monterey, to San Francisco. It is likely that all three of these corridors would be successful.

Judging from the data I have collected that uses multiple K factors and has incorporated the influence of tourism, major universities, and state capitals (see accompanying spread sheet) to gain a more accurate judgment of the potential for rail transportation within these corridors; a Los Angeles rail line strikes me as especially attractive. Los Angeles is surrounded by cities with 100,000 or more citizens. A rail line connection going form Newport Beach, north towards Los Angeles and onward to Monterey Bay and San Francisco would have the potential of linking up a traffic prone region and reestablishing major metropolitan corridors.

Currently there seems to be a sense of highway revolt going on in LA and an effort to increase transportation connectivity through the use of rails may find advocates amongst the car driving masses in Southern California. Furthermore, the economic hardships that California is currently facing need to be addressed; increased connectivity through rails may be a tool to do so. This would also play off the green movement that seems to have such a grip in California. The climate of highway revolt, economic hardship and thinking green, may make a rail transit corridor within California more viable. As citizens and politicians search for a vehicle to turn around the California economy it is clear that the over reliance on the automobile will have to be tackled.

Future Transportation Demand:

After studying multiple corridors using regression analysis, population forecasting to 2030, and gravity modeling, three transportation corridors have became especially attractive and should be considered finalists for future funding. These corridors are notable for their growing population(wit the exception of Monterey City), proximity to densely populated areas and a shared history of rail usage. Furthermore, these areas are experiencing rapidly increasing traffic congestion, which has become a particular problem in their respective regions.

Newport Beach to Los Angeles:

Over the next twenty years Newport Beach will gain close to 17,000 citizens and Los Angles will add an additional 430,000. At Today’s population levels, there is an estimated 84,000 to 110,00 (depending on the K value) daily trips between the two cities. Furthermore, these figures are derived using the “core” population of Los Angeles (1.4m) and not the actual population of the city (3m+). These figures may be on the low end! As the population grows, these daily trips are expected to rise to 329,000 to 413,000. This future growth will no doubt bring increased traffic congestion. Long ago the model of creating more lanes and miles of expressways to counteract traffic has been proven not to work, and other alternatives are needed. As driving continues to become more of an irritant, alternatives will become more appealing. The Newport to Los Angeles corridor should be able to take advantage of the future conditions, but work has to start today.

Because of the proximity of Newport Beach to Los Angeles (44 miles) and the fact that Newport is a minor port town with more of a leisure / service industry; where as Los Angeles has more diverse industry, I am recommending a commuter rail with freight capabilities to meet the current and future needs of the region. Commuter rail would be the main priority, as many Newport residents would travel to Los Angeles for work. However, freight service could also help Newport Beach take advantage of its location along the Pacific, sending goods inland towards the greater Los Angeles market helping to fulfill the aspirations of Captain Dunnell and James Irvine. Additionally, Los Angelenos could more easily take advantage of the leisurely lifestyle that Newport is known for without having to battle severe traffic. The Newport to Los Angeles corridor should be the main priority of rail transportation planners within California. This is the corridor that has the most potential to benefit the most people.

Monterey to San Francisco:

The population of Monterey City is projected to shrink by 5,500 citizens by 2030. However, according to the US Census the County of Monterey has a population just over 400,000 and is growing at approximately 2% annually. Even though Monterey is shrinking, the county is growing. San Francisco, Monterey’s neighbor to the north, is expected to maintain robust growth over the next twenty years, to the tune of 94,000 new citizens.

The Monterey government has been able to maintain some of the original train right-of-way, even though portions of the track have been removed. Increased connectivity to San Francisco via a high-speed rail that could cover the 113 miles at a speed of 150 mph would make the commute an attractive 45 minutes. This would be well within the tolerable time range for commuters. Additionally, 113 miles is a tough distance for air travel to maintain competitiveness with cars. The region’s traffic and congestion problems would further bolster the opportunity for a high speed rail. Increased connectivity could also change the growth pattern that is projected for the City of Monterey, potentially giving it positive growth into the future by linking it up with a major job center.

This line has significant importance to the proposed “Super Corridor”. San Francisco would serve as the northern anchor to a massive mixed-use rail corridor that could provide increased connectivity, economic, social and tourism benefits to the whole state of California.

A Super Corridor, Newport Beach to Los Angeles to Monterey and San Francisco:

Over the next twenty years, the population growth of this corridor (500,000+) along with the ever-present congestion problems of Southern California should create a great opportunity for a super rail corridor. This corridor would demand high speed, freight and commuter rail. The 44 miles connecting Newport Beach to Los Angeles would consist of commuter and freight services (as described above). The 328 miles from Los Angeles to Monterey (with a stop in Santa Barbra) would be high speed rail with a speed of 150 mph making the trip in 2 hours and 10 minutes. A second track running freight up and down the coast would parallel the high-speed rail. Monterey to San Francisco would also be high-speed rail (as described above). The total amount of annual trips between these cities already ranges from 8,000,000 to 9,500,000. This does not include forecast for population growth that would increase those numbers substantially. A super corridor would have the ability to ease congestion and improve California’s economy by creating rail related jobs, as well as giving job centers a whole new prospect base for future employees. The efficiency and sustainability of rails would further bolster the green economy in California and make it a model for the nation.