Monthly Archives: March 2014

In Boston: Get On A Bike, And Call Me In The Morning

Photo courtesy of The Hubway

Photo courtesy of The Hubway

Many people ride bicycles for health reasons. Now, in Boston, doctors have begun prescribing bike rides to improve the health of low-income residents.

According to the Boston Globe, the city-run program, called “Prescribe-a-Bike,” allows doctors at Boston Medical Center to prescribe low-income patients with a yearlong membership to Hubway bike sharing program, for only $5.

For the $5, patients can ride bikes as many times as they want for 30 minutes or less at a time. They also will get a free helmet, said an announcement from the city and the medical center.

There are nearly 900 Boston residents are already enrolled in an existing subsidized Hubway membership. City and hospital officials are hoping the new program enrolls another 1,000 residents, the Globe said. Continue reading

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Which U.S. City Is Really The Best For Getting Around? Hint: Not LA

Detroit doesn't always show up on Best Cities lists. But it does on one of these.

Detroit doesn’t always show up on Best Cities lists. But it does on one of these.

It seems like every other day there’s a new “top cities” list. There are the top cities for foodies, the happiest cities, the best cities for families, and even the weirdest cities. And of course, we care most about the best cities for transit — walking, biking, public transportation, and traffic flow.

While it’s hard to compare lists, we thought it might be useful to see if there are any notable similarities or differences on these “best cities” lists.

Here are five lists from the past few years. Let’s see how they compare.

Livability’s Top 10 Best Downtowns
Livability ranks America’s best places to live, work and visit, based on a wide array of criteria. This particular list, created in 2014, looks at cities; downtowns, based on population growth, the ratio of residents to jobs, income growth, home vacancy rates, affordability of housing, and the vacancy rates of retail and office spaces. We like this list because it is includes some lesser-known cities in lieu of the major U.S. cities seen on most lists.

  1. Fort Worth, Texas
  2. Providence, R.I.
  3. Indianapolis
  4. Provo, Utah
  5. Alexandria, Va.
  6. Frederick, Md.
  7. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  8. Bellingham, Wash.
  9. Eugene, Ore.
  10. Birmingham, Ala.

Top 10 Best American Downtowns, ranked by Top Tenz
Top Tenz, a site solely dedicated to top 10 lists, included the usual favorites in this list from 2012. But this list deviates from the norm with its inclusion of Detroit and Milwaukee, both of which appear do not appear on any of the other lists we looked at for this post.

Detroit in particular is a noteworthy choice — it seems to wind up on more “worst cities” lists than those that rank the best. But Top Tenz calls Detroit’s downtown “one of the most architecturally impressive in the country” and notes that the city has been revitalized in the recent years following intensive development.

  1. New York City
  2. Washington, D.C.
  3. Chicago
  4. San Francisco
  5. Philadelphia
  6. Miami
  7. Boston
  8. Seattle
  9. Detroit
  10. Milwaukee

Continue reading

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Filed under advice, bicycling, cars, cities, urban planning, walking

Could Paris’ Battle Against Smog Spread To Other Cities?

The Eiffel Tower, before and after the Paris smog. Photo via StrangeSounds.org

The Eiffel Tower, before and after the Paris smog. Photo via StrangeSounds.org

By Adam Rubenfire

Dangerously high pollution levels this past week prompted officials in Paris to take some drastic measures to curb the city’s smog problem.

The most radical measure came Monday. About half of the city’s cars were forced off Parisian streets when the French government announced that vehicles with even-numbered license plates would not be allowed to drive within the limits of the city or its suburbs.

Taxis, carpools, and commercial electric or hybrid vehicles were exceptions to the rule, which, combined with favorable weather conditions, appeared to alleviate the smog that consumed the Paris skyline, according to the BBC.

Although thousands of individuals faced ticketing for violating the ban — some less cooperative motorists even had their cars impounded — there was an upside for commuting Parisians. All forms of public transit were free of charge from Friday through Tuesday.

The 100 percent discount on fares cost the region four million Euros a day ($5.5 million), according to online publication The Local.

Loosening the turnstiles and taking automobiles off the roads may seem extreme, but car free streets are the norm in some communities around the globe.

Continue reading

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5 Things On A City’s Shopping List For a New Transit System

A preliminary design for public transit in Ottawa. Image: courtesy Perkins+Will

A preliminary design for public transit in Ottawa. Image: courtesy Perkins+Will

The Marine Gateway development in Vancouver. Image: courtesy Perkins+Will

The Marine Gateway development in Vancouver. Image: courtesy Perkins+Will

Broadway and Commercial station in East Vancouver. Image: courtesy Perkins+Will

Broadway and Commercial station in East Vancouver. Image: courtesy Perkins+Will

A study for Vancouver's Cambie Corridor. Image: courtesy Perkins+Will

A study for Vancouver’s Cambie Corridor. Image: courtesy Perkins+Will

The Brentwood Skytrain station in Vancouver. Image: courtesy Perkins+Will

The Brentwood Skytrain station in Vancouver. Image: courtesy Perkins+Will

By Matthew Varcak

Jeff Doble is playing a key role in the future of one of the world’s most dynamic cities, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He is designing the new Riyadh Metro System and Bus Rapid Transit System — the largest transit system in the world to be designed and built at one time.

He talked about the priorities that cities set down in creating their new systems.

1) Iconic design. Doble says that the goal is to design structures which residents will recognize. Branding becomes important for cities establishing a transit system where there previously was none, according to Doble.

2) An easy ride. Clients also strive to create the best passenger experience. This means riders must feel safe and have clear signage and way finding.

3) A good fit. Another important factor is how the transit system is integrated into the community. “It must respond to and respect the community,” Doble said. Continue reading

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Inside The Future Of Public Transit Design

A study for the Olayya Batha Corridor in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Image: courtesy of Perkins+Will.

A study for the Olayya Batha Corridor in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Image: courtesy of Perkins+Will.

By Matthew Varcak

A public transit system does more than just get people from point A to point B.

“Cities can be defined by transit systems,” said Jeff Doble, director of transportation design for the Vancouver office of Perkins+Will. “A station’s design affects the whole community. It affects future development.”

Doble is playing a key role in the future of one of the world’s most dynamic cities, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He and his team recently completed the preliminary design of the new Riyadh Metro System and Bus Rapid Transit System — the largest transit system in the world to be designed and built at one time.

“The goal is to get an oil rich population out of cars and into public transit,” Doble said. In order to convince them to do this, mass transit must be more comfortable, convenient, and a high quality experience for passengers.

But designing such systems is an everyday event for his company. A global architecture and design firm for everything from the aviation to the transit industry, Perkins+Will currently has projects under way all over the world.

Among other projects, Doble’s work has him developing stations for the Evergreen Line in Vancouver, British Columbia, and for the elevated rail line on Oahu, Hawaii, which we spotlighted in an earlier article. Continue reading

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Why States Are Lining Up To Block Tesla

By Micheline Maynard

Consumers and investors are fascinated by Tesla Motors. The Tesla Model S electric car has won rave reviews from publications such as Consumer Reports, while shareholders are making a killing on Tesla stock.

The Tesla Model S

The Tesla Model S

So, why would any state want to block Tesla from doing business?

Yesterday, New Jersey officials affirmed the state’s law that allows only franchised auto dealers to sell vehicles. That essentially blocks Tesla, which sells its vehicles directly to consumers. The carmaker is expected to close its operations in New Jersey by April 1.

New Jersey joins Texas and Arizona in specifically blocking companies that sell directly, and since there’s only one out that, that means Tesla isn’t welcome in those three places. Other states have rebuffed Tesla’s efforts to open showrooms and service cars.

The reason is that car dealers are one of the strongest lobbies in the country, and they’re determined to protect their turf. Continue reading

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Riding The Bus, The Subway, The Streetcar: U.S. Transit Use At Its Highest Since 1956

Streetcar1By Micheline Maynard

During the past year, American gasoline prices dropped and more people went back to work. But they also did something else: jump on public transportation.

More people rode public transit in the United States last year than at any time since 1956, according to a new report from the American Public Transportation Association.

Some 10.65 billion passenger trips were taken on transit systems during the year, which is up 1.1 percent from 2012. That surpassed the most recent peak of 10.59 billion in 2008. It’s the eighth year in a row that Americans took more than 10 billion transit trips.

Moreover, public transit growth over the past two decades has risen 37.5 percent, outpacing population growth, which was up 20 percent from 1995 to 2013.

There’s a ton of great data in the report, and we’ll be breaking it out for you over the next few days. Meanwhile, did you use public transit in 2013? Did you use it for the first time? Let us know your transit stories.

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Curbing Cars @ The Movies: The Magnificent Ambersons And The Invention Of The Automobile

Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotton) demonstrating one of his automobile prototypes, from Orson Welles’s film The Magnificent Ambersons (RKO Pictures, 1942)

Here’s the first installment of Curbing Cars @ The Movies, in which our Research Director Rick Meier explores four cinematic visions of the future of cars and driving.  In Part 1, we look back to turn of the 20th century, and the invention of the automobile. We see  how the horseless carriage transformed the idyllic, pre-industrial city of Indianapolis, in Orson Welles’  The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).

 

By Rick Meier

In 1942, immediately following his spectacular debut in Citizen Kane, Orson Welles delivered his second feature release to RKO Pictures: an elegant adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Magnificent Ambersons (originally published in 1918).

It is the story of the once grand and prosperous Ambersons: rich and influential property owners in a small but thriving “Midland town” (based on Tarkington’s native Indianapolis, during the opening years of the 20th century).

Welles opens his film with a series of vignettes portraying the way it used to be in sleepy, pre-industrial Indianapolis.  In the first vignette we learn that, “back in those days” the only public convenience was the streetcar, and one on which the rules of chivalry were not yet dead.

The film follows the great Amberson family and its ever-watchful neighbors as succeeding generations of Amberson heirs fail to maintain the great wealth and position won by their patriarch, Major Amberson.  Faithful to Tarkington’s novel, Welles’s adaptation is set against the backdrop of America’s second industrial revolution (also known as the technological revolution). Behind each personal tragedy of the Ambersons we perceive the changing world of their bustling community as their quaint Midland town progressively spreads and darkens into a modern city.

Ultimately, the greatest threat to the eminence of the Ambersons comes from the newly invented automobile.  The family’s prospects begin to dwindle as the Amberson-owned houses on National Avenue (a district based on the real-life neighborhood of Woodruff Place, in Indianapolis) start to depreciate in favour of newer upscale suburban neighborhoods, now more accessible by car, and located further and further away from the increasingly smoky and bustling industry of the downtown core.

In a crucial scene, George—the current Amberson heir—disparagingly characterizes the automobile as a useless nuisance, giving rise to an insightful speech from the automobile manufacturer and family friend, Eugene Morgan (played by Joseph Cotton), about the ways automobiles could potentially impact human life.

The subtext that drives the Magnificent Ambersons is the story of how the rise of driving gave birth to the suburb.  Here at Curbing Cars we look at the still-unfolding story of how the now increasing burdens of car ownership is coinciding with an historic period of re-urbanization.

Tune in next week for the second installment in this four-part series on cars in cinema, featuring Minority Report (2002)

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Vegas, Baby: Could Sin City Become A Transit Model?

By Micheline Maynard

If you’ve been to Las Vegas, it’s likely that you’re not thinking about transportation. You’re looking at neon signs, hearing the jangle of slot machines, or watching an elaborate show. dentist-las-vegas-nv21

Yet, The Atlantic Cities reports that Vegas might wind up being a major laboratory for the future of car ownership. Specifically, the idea comes from Project 100, which has been launched by Tony Hsieh, the chief executive of Zappos, the online shoe retailer that is based downtown.

Project 100’s name derives from the quantity of vehicles it plans to offer, according to Cities: “100 Tesla S sedans equipped with professional drivers (a la Uber), 100 short-range electric vehicles you drive yourself (e.g. Zipcar or Car2go), 100 bicycles for sharing, and shuttles with 100 stops across the area. At launch, however, the service will be much smaller. No drivers, no shuttles — only a trolley car on an infinite loop and a handful of Teslas rentable by the minute or hour.”

While apparently a first for America, something like it has been tried in Germany. Continue reading

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Is It The Weather, Or Is It Just Us

Car makers insist that the polar vortices of early 2014 are the main reason domestic sales are down from 2013 levels

By Frederick Meier

2013 was a recovery year for the automotive industry in North America.  Improvements in housing markets and pent-up consumer demand had Americans buying more cars than they had since the beginning of the recession.  But it was a trend that began to slow down in the fall, and really decelerated in December, as fierce winter weather pushed potential buyers indoors, and off of showroom floors.

This past January, Americans bought slightly more than 1 million vehicles. That was about 32,000 fewer than in January 2013, for the first year-over-year monthly sales drop since August of 2010, according to Ward’s Automotive.  Ford and GM both failed to hit their sales targets in January. Both blamed the weather; and both expressed confidence that, once the snow cleared, we would be seeing a car-hungry market making up for lost time.

But the frigid weather affecting most of the country continued long into February.

And observers of the auto market continued to blame the weather, even while executives from several of the ailing auto dealer networks quietly retired amid rumors that the shake ups were actually in response to dwindling sales.

Now, with February sales figures coming this week, the industry will get a snapshot of whether slower sales can be blamed on the weather — or whether they can be blamed on us.

Some analysts are expressing optimism over the February performance.

J.D. Power and Associates contends that sales picked up in the last week of the month, while Cars.com predicted that new-vehicle sales would rise 1.1 percent year-over-year to 1.2 million units, and an estimated 15.4 million seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR).

If this turns out to be true, these numbers would reflect the highest sales for the month since February 2008.

But, analysts overshot the mark in January, somehow missing the fact that consumers were more concerned about getting out of their driveways than putting new cars on them.

Stay tuned for more this week about U.S. auto sales, and how they reflect changing attitudes among American drivers.

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